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                                        Enlarged Drawing

The note on the long cylindrical tube said, “Fragile drawings.  Open only in an emergency.”  I looked at Reverend Jim Tinnemeyer, the only person I know who is as fascinated with Shadyside Church ’s architecture as I am.  We were standing in the church’s “undercroft,” having followed clues to the tube’s existence to the basement of the building.  An inventory list found in the archives had promised drawings of the chancel.

Jim said, “I’m declaring an emergency.”

Enlarged Drawing

The "Beasts of the Evangelists" on the lectern.  See  Ralph Adams Cram

After prying the lid off, we carefully slipped out a roll of sheets of vellum, a tissue thin but very durable paper used by artists, architects and engineers.  As we unrolled the sheets, we were relieved to find that they were not as fragile as the note claimed.  And we were elated to find scale drawings in pencil for the chancel furnishings: pulpit, lectern, communion table, baptismal font and choir screens, all installed during the 1937-38 sanctuary remodeling at Shadyside.

Enlarged Drawing

Osborn refers to "Symbols of the 12 Disciples"  In fact several are of Gospel writers who were not disciples.  See Apostles in the Pulpit

Reluctantly, we returned the drawings to their protective tube, leaving further inspection until sufficient time afforded careful handling.  Some weeks later, I returned to the church for a day of photographing the design depictions.  The purpose was to get a record of the drawings as an interim measure until they could be conserved and electronically scanned.

Enlarged Drawing

The vellum on which the drawings were made is a thin, durable, semi-transparent medium similar to tracing paper.

Although none of the sheets were signed, the designer’s identity has been well established.  The drawing list attributed them to Charles M. Osborn of Watertown , Massachusetts .  However, a remarkable letter in Shadyside’s archives reveals much more.  Elizabeth Macfarlane, a long-time Shadyside member, wrote to her parents, in January 1938:

“I was amazed the other morning to meet Marcus Osborn on the street. He is designing the church furniture for Shadyside Church and the Heinz Chapel. He works in the church office & is living at Webster Hall. I asked him for dinner but he is working nights & will work all tomorrow (Sunday) at the University. He wants to get through – said he came for a few days and will probably be here three weeks.”

Enlarged Drawing

Choir Screen carving including Shadyside favorite Church Mouse.  See THREE VINED MICE

In a note to Shadyside Pastor Dr. Robert Holland, more than three decades later, Miss Macfarlane explained,

“Marcus Osborn was first cousin of my first cousins and we all spent much time together.  He was with [architects] Cram and Ferguson , but I have a feeling that when he designed our furniture…it may have been a different firm.”

Indeed, the sanctuary remodeling was the work of Wilson Eyre and McIlvaine of Philadelphia.  However, it appears that he may have been brought to Pittsburgh by Charles Z. Klauder (also of Philadelphia ), the designer of Heinz Chapel and the Cathedral of Learning.  Osborn had worked for Ralph Adams Cram, the famed medievalist, but may have been free-lancing in 1938.

              Enlarged Drawing

Most of Osborn's drawings were full size, some to a reduced scale.

Wilson Eyre’s firm had submitted preliminary drawings of the chancel and its furnishings.  No information has surfaced explaining why they were rejected.  Osborn’s work is more fully developed and shows a depth of understanding of Christian symbolism (which he may have learned in Cram’s office).  The amount of explicit, carved Christian symbols is remarkable for a church in the Reformed tradition.  It is, however, paralleled by similar work at Heinz Chapel, at Cram’s East Liberty Presbyterian of a few years earlier, and nearby First Baptist Church.  That design, by Cram’s former partner Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, is remarkable, not only for a non-liturgical denomination, but its installation in the mid-teens of the twentieth century.

Enlarged Drawing

Perhaps just as remarkably, the exquisite carvings in stone and wood were ready for the sanctuary’s re-opening just three months after the late January completion of the drawings by Osborn.  The identity of  the magnificent craftsmen, whose gifts we still appreciate, has not been discovered.  The Boston firm of Irving and Casson/A. H. Davenport supplied the woodwork at Heinz Chapel, which might be a clue.

Intriguing questions remain:  Why were Wilson Eyre's designs not accepted?  Was Charles Marcus Osborn responsible for selecting the specific Christian symbols.  Who sculpted the limestone and the marble?  Who was the woodcarver?  Miss Macfarlane reported in another letter to her parents that a special service was held at Shadyside to honor the workmen of the remodeling.  Which of the craftsmen of the chancel furnishings attended?  Will light be shed on these questions by further Undercroft Discoveries?  

POST SCRIPT:  In the Summer of 2011, several of these wonderful drawings were framed and hung in the newly remodeled reception area, adjacent to the new Sharp Atrium.

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