Exhibit celebrates Waynflete's history in Portland

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PORTLAND — Founded 120 years ago, Waynflete School is celebrating its presence on the city’s West End with an exhibit that includes archival photos, original architectural drawings and more.

An opening reception for the exhibit, “Building Waynflete,” will be held on Thursday, April 13, at 6 p.m. in the art gallery at the private school. Seating is limited so attendees are asked to RSVP at events@waynflete.org or 774-5721, ext. 1222.

The event, which is free and open to the public, includes remarks by Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., former director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

Also speaking will be Paul Stevens, a great-grandson of renowned architect John Calvin Stevens, who designed many of the mansions on the West End, including many of those that now make up the Waynflete campus.

The exhibit is being held in cooperation with Greater Portland Landmarks and will run through May 26.

Kate Lewis, the director of development at Landmarks, said the exhibit “presents a fabulous opportunity to showcase the work of several of greater Portland’s most notable architects, the history of the West End neighborhood and its historic buildings (in) context.”

Deborah Sampson Shinn, a member of the board of directors, is the exhibit’s curator. In addition to Shinn, Judy Novey, the art gallery director and visual arts chairwoman, also contributed to the exhibit, as did Sarah Plimpton, Waynflete’s director of development, and Jona Rice one of the school’s visual arts teachers.

Shinn said the idea for the exhibit was sparked by the upcoming groundbreaking for the new Lower School building, which is planned for June, as well as a desire to fulfill a long-time goal of holding an exhibit based on the school’s collection of historic documents and photos.

Novey said that Shinn’s background as a museum professional and her willingness to spend the time and effort needed to make the exhibit happen was also a key factor in allowing the project to move forward.

“(She) had the time, interest and willingness to research the whole history of all the buildings and how they fit into the development of the west end of Portland,” Novey said. “Even though we have a few other artifacts in here, the focus of the show is architectural.”

Shinn said architecture made sense as an overarching theme for the exhibit in light of the upcoming Lower School construction project.

“The theme of the buildings on campus was sort of in the air, so it seemed like a good (idea) to focus material from the archive around the campus buildings and how they got here,” she said.

Shinn said that Shettleworth was invited to speak at the opening reception because of his knowledge of Portland’s history, and Stevens was invited because his great-grandfather “either designed or did alterations for about three quarters of all the buildings at Waynflete, so he’s going to talk about the legacy of Stevens in the West End.”

In addition to the archival items that Waynflete had on hand, Novey also did some research at the Maine Historical Society.

She said the society has “a wonderful collection of architectural drawings, in particular (those) by John Calvin Stevens. So we’ve added the drawings that we found for the houses of Waynflete to the exhibition, (along with) some other contextual photos of the neighborhood.”

Novey believes that different visitors will get different things from attending the exhibit.

“From the students’ perspective, I think it will be really interesting for them to see” the evolution of their school,” she said. “I also think that people interested in architectural history and Portland history will get a lot of it.”

The private school was founded in 1897 by Agnes Lowell and Caroline Crisfield, a pair of educators originally from the Ogontz School in Philadelphia.

During a trip to England, the two women became interested in 15th-century statesman and educator William Waynflete, who founded Magdalen College at Oxford, as well as an elementary school in his hometown.

The Portland school opened with 49 students.

In 1912, Lowell and Crisfield bought the Horace Dudley estate, which was between Danforth and Spring streets, to accommodate the school’s rapid growth.

Since then, Waynflete has added the Marjorie Robinson Thaxter Library, the Gymnasium, the Berle Student Center, the Upper School Science Center, the Arts Center and associated theater and also renovated Sills Hall.

The school now has about 560 students.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

A look at the various historic and architecturally important houses that now make up the Waynflete campus on Portland’s West End. The school is celebrating its long-time presence in the neighborhood with a new exhibit, called “Building Waynflete.”

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