Sesquicentennial Celebration Brings Arts to Campus

Swarthmore will turn 150 next year, and to mark the celebration the Sesquicentennial Committee is putting together a slew of events. Though many of the events and most of the specifics are still up in the air, the arts will be making a big appearance on campus. Three aspects of the celebration will include the sesquicentennial logo contest, a music composition, and a book about the college.

Logo contest

In order to create the logo that will represent this year for decades to come, the Sesquicentennial Committee is calling all student graphic designers and artists to participate. As of February 11, according to an email from Maurice Eldridge, three students had submitted designs. As of press time the designs were being reviewed but the expected date of the final design’s announcement remains undecided.

Rather than choosing one winner, the logo will most likely be a compilation of different designs that the committee pieces together. “Once people submit designs we’ll have a committee look at it and maybe swap in ideas,” Eldridge said in an interview. “It may be you say ‘this is perfect,’ but it seems more likely that people would have good ideas and we’ll pull them together.”

Eldridge said he modeled this system of decision-making off of the Phoenix mascot’s creation, which involved a “solicitation of ideas and a combination of things that people came up with.” Though the mascot was made by an outside company, Eldridge stuck with the basic idea of a group effort. “I liked the collaborative piece, not winner take all,” he said.

The group that will choose the final design is somewhat distinct from the Sesquicentennial Committee. “We have a Sesquicentennial Committee but there are people on the staff here who do this work all the time who are graphic artists themselves or have a real eye for it,” Eldridge said, “so we’ll use that mechanism” to choose the logo.

One designer, Noah Weinthal ’15, runs a graphic design business on the side of school (he also created Like a Little v.2). He submitted three designs to the contest and was also the first submission received. One of Weinthal’s designs features the number “150” superimposed on a garnet-colored Parrish silhouette. “Parrish is synonymous enough with the school that any logo needs to feature it,” Weinthal said. “Just geometrically the silhouette of the building is really cool. It works well with fonts and typography and all that.”

Weinthal added that he enjoys designing graphics that focus on typography. “I do a lot of web design and that’s something very central to it,” he said. “Logos and graphics are about displaying info very quickly. By making the focus simple and straightforward you don’t distract from it.”

Though no plans have been set yet, both Eldridge and Weinthal expect that the logo will be used on “whatever we do that year because it’s that year,” Eldridge said.

Weinthal said that he saw his high school’s logo on everything during their centennial year, which he kept in mind when designing his own logo. “My logo is just one color so it looks good on whatever,” he said.

Orchestra and Chorus Composition

The Sesquicentennial Committee has commissioned Jim Matheson ’92 to compose a piece for Swarthmore’s orchestra and chorus, to be performed at some point during the sesquicentennial year. Matheson is a renowned composer and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Charles Ives Award (a $200,000, two-year stipend which supports Matheson’s compositional and musical endeavors). He composes work for the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Chicago and Albany Symphony Orchestras, Carnegie Hall and the Borromeo String Quartet

According to Matheson, the idea for the piece originated with a friend who is closely tied to Swarthmore and whose father is on the Board of Trustees. When Eldridge reached out to Matheson, he “jumped at the chance.”

The piece was conceptualized as including both orchestra and chorus, “probably so that I didn’t have to choose,” Matheson noted. Because the piece will include a lyrical component Matheson has decided to focus on finding a text first, then adapting it to music and composing the piece around it. Matheson said he is still in the early stages of the process: “Right now anything’s on the table.” However, he said that he is drawn to the idea of using a Shakespeare text. “[2014 is] also the celebration of [the] birth of Shakespeare, so I’m exploring that a little to see if [it’s a] connection worth drawing on.”

Matheson said he hopes to put the Sesquicentennial Celebration into context, a theme he intends to use to frame his piece. “What I want to do is find something that celebrates universal and specific,” he said. “I want to celebrate Swarthmore’s sesquicentennial but also within a larger framework, that locates that on the grid of human concerns, behaviors, and interactions.” Matheson said that finding a text that incorporates that larger framework has been challenging.

Matheson’s time at Swarthmore will be foundational for writing the sesquicentennial piece: “The values and the feeling there, the spirit of openness, the intellectual curiosity, rigorous work – those are things I will carry with me when selecting a text and writing a piece,” he said. Matheson also said that his musical training at Swarthmore was “absolutely instrumental in really shaping my life.”

Sesquicentennial Book

Jeff Lott, senior publications editor at the Communications Office, is contributing to the Sesquicentennial by taking an uncommon approach to thinking about the College: he is writing a book. This book, untitled as of yet, will attempt to encapsulate the essence of Swarthmore by providing multiple prisms through which to view the college: twenty alumni narratives; an essay on the Liberal Arts Institute by President Rebecca Chopp; and most crucially, five themes that have been identified as the heart of what the college stands for: “Quakerism and its lasting impact on the college,” “The realm of ideas and the life of the mind,” “A diverse and intentional community,” “Leadership in civic and social responsibility,” and “The physical campus and what it contributes to the College.” Lott will write a chapter on each theme and serve as the book’s overall editor.

Though Lott is the sole author of the original material (aside from certain contributors), the conception of the book has been a collaborative process. Lott said that the group charged with reading over manuscripts includes Chopp, Eldridge, Director of Editorial and Creative Services Sherri Kimmel, Secretary of the College and Vice President for Communications Nancy Nicely, and various faculty members ad hoc. “It’s been under discussion for about ten years,” said Director of Advancement Communications Susan Clarey. According to Clarey, the idea for a book came about when she was on a fundraising tour for The Meaning of Swarthmore (2004), a book of essays and interviews with alumni. That book was funded by alumnus Mark Pattis ’75 who Clarey met on her tour.

The conversation about the sesquicentennial book started with Clarey and Pattis, who both came from a history in the book publishing industry. “Mark [Pattis] has a long history of work in publishing – he was the CEO and principal figure in a major publishing corporation,” Clarey said. “We got to talking about publishing – the genesis of book came there.” As an alumnus, Pattis wanted to make a contribution to Swarthmore; with a history of making books, contributing to a second book about the College seemed like a natural choice.

“I was always struck by the fact that Swarthmore […] is a very bookish place, and there were no books really available about Swarthmore,” Pattis said.

The new book is set apart, however: it is not comprised of narratives; it is not a history of the college; it is not a dry, black-and-white text. Lott compared his current work to The Meaning of Swarthmore: “That book is all text, and this book is going be a beautifully-designed, pictorial and visually driven book about the college.” The book has a visual quality will make it unique and is being designed by the New York firm Pentagram.  The design is “very contemporary,” Pattis said. “This is going to be a friendly book for people to pick up.”

The book’s organization also makes it unlike most books about colleges. “The book is thematic, not a chronological history,” Lott said. “It’s not really a history, though there will be history in it.” It will examine the College from multiple angles, not just a historical perspective. “This holistic approach to college has never been in a book before,” Clarey said.

The book is slated to be published early this December. All members of the College community, including students, alumni, faculty, staff, and family, will be given the book as a gift around January, 2014. “That’s where beauty of Mark [Pattis’s] gift is coming from,” Lott said. Clarey said that the intention is for the book to reach the entire Swarthmore community: “kind of a unifying source, one great big college book club.” The book is not intended to pay for itself in sales, though it may eventually be available in the bookstore or even Amazon, Lott said.

Though the schedule of events for the Sesquicentennial Celebration is still largely undecided, the book is sure to play a large role. For example, “there will be a sesquicentennial website, and this book will inform it and provide content for it,” Clarey said. The book may also provide a discussion platform for the “current state of liberal arts education,” Clarey said.

Lott said that though the goal of the book is to commemorate the sesquicentennial, he hopes it will have meaning beyond 2014. “The hope is it will be something that has some lasting value that’s not necessarily associated with the anniversary,” he said, but that also serves to inform, educate, and remind those who read it what Swarthmore is all about.

“The book’s going to have a lot of stories in it and a lot of people,” Lott said. “People [are] who really made this place.”

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Mark Pattis ’75 contributed to The Meaning of Swarthmore before the current sesquicentennial book. 


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0 comments

  1. 0
    Jeffrey Lott ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive view of the sesquicentennial book that we’re working on. It’s a good overview of our project. Just one point needs clarification—and it’s a totally understandable error.

    The Meaning of Swarthmore was the title of a previous book of alumni essays about the college—and also of a fundraising campaign conducted from about 2000 to 2006. Mark Pattis ’75 underwrote the publication of that book, which was distributed to the entire college community in 2004 in support of the fundraising campaign.

    Mark’s contribution toward the current project is another fine gift to Swarthmore, but it is not his first.

    Jeffrey Lott

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