Glencairn Museum News | Number 8, 2018
Visitors to Glencairn Museum encounter the seal of the Academy of the New Church in a variety of places throughout the building. The Pitcairns attended Bryn Athyn schools, as did their children, and were enthusiastic alumni and generous supporters of these educational institutions throughout their lives. So it is not surprising that Raymond Pitcairn’s Bryn Athyn Studios created some original artwork depicting the Academy seal for Glencairn.
What may be surprising, however, is the sheer scale of one of the depictions of the Academy seal in Glencairn (Figure 1). When visitors ascend the stairs between the Great Hall and the Upper Hall, they pass beneath an archway with a monumental version—fully three stories high—of the Academy seal crafted in brilliant glass mosaic. The individual pieces (tesserae) that compose this mosaic were hand-blown and painstakingly cut in the Bryn Athyn glassworks, and the design was created and installed in the 1930s by artists working for Pitcairn.
The history of the seal design dates to the 1870s. The original meeting about the seal occurred in Philadelphia in the spring of 1877, and various proposals were discussed by the Councillors of the Academy for about a year before a consensus was reached. The typical presentation of the coat of arms (Figure 6) consists of a shield divided into four parts: top left, a priest’s mitre (Figure 2); top right, an eagle protecting her young (Figure 3); bottom left, a temple (Figure 4); and bottom right, a man slaying a dragon (Figure 5). The shield is surmounted by a crowned lion with keys beneath his paws (see lead image). The quadrants of the shield are anchored in the middle by the Greek letters alpha and omega (Book of Revelation 22:13).
According to “The Origin of the Academy Seal” (New Church Life 1953, 435), the lion at the top of the seal represents Jesus Christ, with the keys signifying “the power of His Divine truth.” The mitre, a ceremonial headdress described in the Hebrew Bible and inscribed with words meaning “Holiness to the Lord,” represents the institution of the priesthood. The eagle brooding over her chicks represents “the instruction of the young.” The temple, bearing an inscription in Latin (Nunc licet, i.e. “Now it is Permitted”), represents the New Christian Church (as described in the works of the theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, 1688-1772). And the scene of Michael and the dragon (Book of Revelation 12:7) represents the New Church fighting for truth and against falsity. The identification of the four symbols in these quadrants with the various schools of the Academy of the New Church (Theological School, Girls School, College, Boys School) was a later development, occurring many years after the official adoption of the seal.
The job of producing a formal design for the seal was entrusted to the Dreka engraving house in Philadelphia. (Louis Dreka, the founder of the company, would later go on to produce a seal for the United States Senate.) The crowned lion, so familiar today as the mascot of the athletic teams for the Academy of the New Church Secondary Schools and Bryn Athyn College, was originally intended to be an eagle. However, Dreka was never able to draw an eagle that the Academy Councillors could agree on, so the idea of the lion was proposed by Councillor Walter C. Childs.
During the time that Dreka was working on a drawing of the eagle, the Academy produced a medallion of the seal with an eagle above the shield (Figure 7; 05.JW.98). The medallion was given to a committee member who was working on the project, and later gifted to the Academy Museum (now Glencairn Museum). Another medallion with a lion as the top element was worn by Vice Chancellor William F. Pendleton in the 1880s; this, too was later gifted to the Museum (Figure 8; 05.JW.99).
Herman Faber, a New Church artist, created a design for the Academy lion late in 1877. According to Childs, “do what the [Dreka] designers could, they never produced an eagle that gave satisfaction and from this cause months passed without our being able to get the seal made. From the instant, however, that the Lion was substituted, the difficulties seemed to vanish and Faber produced a design that seemed to strike all of our members with the idea that at last we had it” (Walter C. Childs. Letter to William H. Benade. 13 April 1878. Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library). Faber has been described as one of the founders of the profession of medical illustration in the United States. He served as a medical illustrator for the United States Army during the Civil War, and is remembered for his pencil drawing of President Lincoln’s deathbed, the only drawing actually made at the scene.
Faber’s design for the Academy lion was quickly accepted by the committee, and Dreka was then able to produce a watercolor design of the entire seal (Figure 6), using Faber’s lion as a model. It is not known whether the original Faber lion that was shown to the committee and Dreka still exists. However, Glencairn Museum owns a much later Faber watercolor in its New Church art collection (Figure 9; 07.WC.837). This small painting, which shows a robust Academy lion cradling a key between his paws, is signed, “H. Faber, June 19th, ’92, Philadelphia.”
While Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn were both alumni of the Academy of the New Church, their affection for the Academy seal went well beyond feelings of school pride. The goal of New Church education is not merely to prepare students for future employment, but to prepare them for a life of spiritual purpose and service to others. The religious principles symbolized by the various elements of the seal were important to the Pitcairn family, serving as visual reminders of the ideals they aspired to live by. In addition to the glass mosaic version of the seal in the Great Hall (Figure 1), Raymond Pitcairn asked his artists to create two other versions: one in stone, and the other in Plexiglas. The family chapel on Glencairn’s fifth floor features a version of the seal carved in stone above the doorway (Figure 10), and Frank Snyder, who worked on a number of projects for Pitcairn in the 1930s and 1940s, painted a six-sided Plexiglas lamp shade with the various elements of the seal for the chapel’s interior (Figures 11-17; 11.OP.01).
With that being said, one still might ask: “Exactly why would the Pitcairns choose a three-story version of the Academy seal as a visual focal point for the Great Hall (i.e. their living room)?” Perhaps the answer lies in the uses that Raymond Pitcairn envisioned for this monumental space. The Pitcairn family was generous with the Great Hall when it came to school and church activities, including hosting large-scale annual events such as the spring dance and the Glencairn Christmas Sing. The Great Hall sometimes served as a meeting space, and even as a classroom; for many years it was here that Raymond Pitcairn taught a series of music appreciation classes for college students (the room was equipped with a state-of-the-art sound system; Figure 18). For community events like these, the Academy seal provided an appropriate and inspiring backdrop, and to this day the annual Glencairn Christmas Sing, a variety of concerts, and many other educational and cultural events—for the Secondary Schools, Bryn Athyn College, and the general public—continue to be held in the Great Hall.
As E. Bruce Glenn, Raymond Pitcairn’s nephew, has observed, “The great hall was at the heart of Raymond Pitcairn’s first conception of Glencairn… It has its own ambience—at once majestic and warm, with high windows of stained glass but also comfortable furniture in a family sphere. The elements of its design and decoration blend uniquely the past and present, especially in the representational forms expressive of religious faith” (Glencairn: The Story of a Home 1990, 127).
A complete archive of past issues of Glencairn Museum News is available online here.