Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Seminary

Just north of the center of Chesterland, Ohio once stood the Geauga Seminary, a Baptist school built in 1843.
The Free Will Baptist Church valued education. Members of the congregation came together, forming a board with the express purpose of establishing a school. Seminaries of this kind were meant to fill in the gaps left between local education and college. They also served those who wished to become teachers.

The Western Reserve Manual Labor Seminary, as it was called originally, received a charter by the State of Ohio. But the Baptists found a problem in Section 2, which informed them that if they allowed "blacks and mulattos into the same [institution], upon an equality with white persons," the school would forfeit the power granted by the charter. The board's unanimous response was as follows:
"...whereas the Western Reserve Manual Labor Seminary has been founded by the friends of the human race, by those to whom the rights of their fellow men, as moral, social and intellectual beings, are held dear and sacred..." The board's letter goes on to accept the charter with the exclusion of Section 2. This kind of stand taken even before the Emancipation Proclamation is striking. Another fascinating fact:  James A. Garfield, our 20th president, attended the seminary in the late 1840s. It was there he met his future wife, Lucretia Rudolph.

 Over the years the building's appearance changed dramatically. At one point the building was reduced from three to two stories. The school changed hands several times, and was eventually torn down in the 1920s.

Sadly, the lot stands vacant today. Perhaps this is why I chose to paint the Seminary, so that it may remain standing in our memory. Perhaps also because of its significant and surprising history. Commemorative  pieces are very inspirational as I have the opportunity to combine my art with history. Every time I choose an historic subject, it allows me to produce a piece that tells a story. I enjoy visiting the sites of my subjects and getting a feel for how the final work of art should look. This way a little bit of history can be passed along with each piece. Re-purposing old materials is another way of capturing a bit of the past. 
I used an old batten door for this project, which was commissioned for one of the local library's meeting rooms. Between the research and the painting, this project was an enjoyable one. 

Special thanks to Sylvia Wiggins of the Chesterland Historical Foundation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rebekah -- I enjoyed reading the story (our family has many connections to Free Will Baptists), and appreciate the work you put into your project! Thanks for sharing your talent!

    Dale Weaver

    PS -- my Sister, Wendy, told me about your blog. Glad you're posting. :-)