An Architect of the Restoration: The Pencil Sketches of Thomas Mott Shaw, F.A.I.A.

Title

An Architect of the Restoration: The Pencil Sketches of Thomas Mott Shaw, F.A.I.A.

Description

BIOGRAPHY OF THOMAS MOTT SHAW, F.A.I.A.

Thomas Mott Shaw is best known as one of the founding partners and principal architects of the prominent Boston architectural firm Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn, which John D. Rockefeller Jr. hired in 1928 to design, plan, and supervise the groundbreaking historical restoration of Williamsburg, the former eighteenth-century capitol of Virginia.

Born in 1878 in Newport, Rhode Island, Thomas Mott Shaw received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1900 and continued his education at the atelier (workshop) of Jean-Louis Pascal at the Ècole des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1900 to 1905.[1] After graduation in 1905, he began working in Boston as a draftsman in the office of Guy Lowell, a prominent American architect and landscape architect who designed the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, as well as numerous other public, commercial, academic, and private buildings and spaces, including many distinguished estates and gardens.[2] Shaw’s connections to Lowell were presumably academic in nature, as Lowell was a former Harvard alumnus who also studied under Pascal at the Ècole, where he graduated just one year before Shaw.[3] In 1908, Shaw left Lowell’s employ and opened his own architectural practice, which he pursued until 1916.[4] During the First World War, he served as a first lieutenant in the 489th Aero Squadron of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).[5] He was stationed at the U.S. Army’s Air Service Production center at Romorantin, France, where he worked with the Air Service Construction Division #2. During this time, he helped design and build air fields, assembly plants for the fabrication of American aircraft, and barracks for military personnel.[6]

After the war, Shaw returned to the United States and partnered with Andrew H. Hepburn, an MIT graduate and practicing architect who had also worked under Guy Lowell.[7] The two men founded an architectural firm under the name of Shaw and Hepburn, which they managed together from 1918 to 1923.[8] When architect William G. Perry (another alumnus of Harvard, MIT, and the Ècole, as well as a former WWI Army Air Corps captain[9]) joined the partnership in 1923, the firm’s name changed to Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn.[10]

In January 1927, William Perry (representing his partners Shaw and Hepburn) was invited by Reverend William A. R. Goodwin (the rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg) to produce drawings of Williamsburg as it may have looked in the eighteenth century.[11] Goodwin planned to submit the renderings to an unnamed donor who was interested in restoring the town to its former eighteenth-century appearance.[12] Shaw noted: “I worked on those drawings. We all did. We all worked on them (just like a projet in the Ècole des Beaux-Arts) to get them out.” [13] In late November 1927, after spending eleven months working pro bono[14] on a series of illustrations detailing the prospective restoration of the town and the College of William and Mary’s Wren Building, Perry submitted the firm’s drawings to Reverend Goodwin to deliver to his anonymous benefactor for consideration.[15] Soon after reviewing the architects’ work, Goodwin’s patron decided to begin funding the restoration of Williamsburg, and by early December 1927, the firm of Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn was approved “'to proceed with work on [the] Wren Building’ and reconstruction of the colonial Capitol and Governor’s Palace.”[16] It was not until April 1928, however, that the architects finally learned the identity of the secretive individual funding the endeavor.[17] The three men were summoned to New York for a meeting, where Goodwin introduced them to the wealthy businessman and philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller Jr.[18] After meeting the architects in person and discussing the project with them over lunch, Rockefeller decided that he liked what he had seen and heard. On 1 April 1928,[19] he “assigned overall ‘authority and responsibility’” of Williamsburg’s building and restoration to Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn.[20] Soon thereafter, the architects set up a small office in Williamsburg near Bruton Parish Church to manage the project.[21]

The architects “soon found that drawing plans was only a minor part of the [project]. The hard part was finding out what kind of plans should be drawn.”[22] Consequently, they organized a staff of historical researchers to assist them in their efforts to restore and rebuild Williamsburg’s eighteenth-century structures as authentically as possible. “Very early in the project, [the architects] decided to establish the highest possible standards for the job. ‘Nothing was ever done without a good reason,’ Shaw once stated. ‘If there were no documented reasons for doing a particular thing, we didn’t do it.’”[23]

Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn’s dedication to the ideals of historic preservation at Williamsburg also paralleled a larger “preservation fever” that was sweeping the nation in the 1920s, called the Colonial Revival.[24] “Historic preservation formed the core of the Colonial Revival, a social and stylistic mindset that peaked during the 1920s [25]…fueled by the usual turmoil – a world war, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Red Scare, and another spike in immigration, all of which increased the nostalgia for the good old colonial days.[26] ….Creating museums from historic buildings became a preferred philanthropy for the wealthy…and John D. Rockefeller Jr. launched the single largest preservation project the country had seen: Colonial Williamsburg.” [27]

In the wake of the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent national economic collapse of the Great Depression, the fervor of the movement waned, as “only the wealthiest could afford to indulge in antiques, art, and architectural restoration.”[28] As one of the wealthiest men in the country, however, John D. Rockefeller Jr. was one of the few people who could indeed afford to finance his interests in the Colonial Revival. Despite the economic strife of the times, Rockefeller’s infusion of funds into Williamsburg not only helped support the research and restoration of this sleepy southern town back to its former eighteenth-century appearance as the colonial capitol of Virginia, but also provided Williamsburg with much-needed jobs during the worst years of the Depression. By the late 1930s, Rockefeller’s restoration had positioned the town as an architectural and cultural cornerstone of the Colonial Revival movement, fueled Colonial Revival sentiments in spite of the nation’s social and economic woes, and established Williamsburg as a pioneering example of historical preservation relating to the nation’s colonial and revolutionary past.

In time, Thomas Mott Shaw was eventually “placed on [a] consulting basis” with Williamsburg’s Restoration “when an architectural department was established by Colonial Williamsburg” on 1 October 1934.[29] In 1938, Shaw was recognized by the American Institute of Architects for his work on the Williamsburg Inn, “chosen for its excellency of design wedded to the sensitive appreciation of location.”[30] He was awarded the Institute’s Bronze Medal of Honor, the highest award given to a practicing architect in the country.[31] In 1939, Shaw was placed on an annual retainer with the Restoration, though he continued working as a consultant for Colonial Williamsburg on various design and restoration projects.

After a long and accomplished career, Thomas Mott Shaw died on 17 February 1965.[32]


THE THOMAS MOTT SHAW COLLECTION

This collection consists of thirty-four graphite and mixed media sketches drawn by architect Thomas Mott Shaw during the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg from the late 1920s through 1930s, depicting various architectural exteriors and interiors of historic buildings in and around Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. It is not known precisely why these drawings were created – whether for in-house or external purposes by Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn, for Colonial Williamsburg’s staff or other interested parties, or perhaps even for Shaw’s own personal use – but they have since become historically important artifacts and images of Williamsburg’s Restoration period. These illustrations take us back in time to the early days of Williamsburg as a reconstructed historic site and living history museum, capturing views that offer interesting opportunities for insight and reflection into the early research, planning, design, building, and restoration of the town’s landscape, architecture, and character as Virginia’s eighteenth-century colonial capitol.

The earliest sketch in this collection, drawn in 1928, features the Bracken Tenement (also known as the Bracken House) on Francis Street, which was one of the first buildings to be restored in Williamsburg by Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn[33] in 1928.[34] The latest sketch, drawn in 1938, depicts a proposed addition to the Williamsburg Inn which was never built. Otherwise, the majority of the drawings – thirty-two in number – were completed in 1933.

In the fall of 1944, Shaw offered this collection of thirty-four sketches to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation “for use in connection with publicity or any other purpose you would like to use them for.”[35] Upon review of the sketches, Colonial Williamsburg’s staff accepted them, stating: “These sketches are something which we definitely should have in our archives….Mr. Shaw has done them from photographs and that in this respect they are not such creative work as might be done on location without the use of photographs….We have not undertaken to determine how best they can be utilized but there are several possibilities which we should like to explore further.”[36]

Though the sketches were thought to be “very good” and might be used in various ways,[37] Colonial Williamsburg’s staff chiefly appreciated the drawings for their “sentimental appeal by virtue of Mr. Shaw’s connection with Colonial Williamsburg”[38] and “the fact that they are the handiwork of Mr. Shaw, which…will make them quite valuable to Colonial Williamsburg in the future.”[39]

Shaw’s sketches were purchased and accepted into the research archives of Colonial Williamsburg’s Architectural Department between November 1945 and January 1946. These drawings are now part of the Architectural Drawings Collection in the Special Collections wing of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library. While a separate collection of Shaw’s personal papers and drawings also reside within the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C.,[40] the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is proud to possess the majority of Mr. Shaw’s drawings and correspondence associated with his meticulous and pioneering work on Williamsburg’s restoration.


ENDNOTES

[1] George H. Yetter, “Thomas Mott Shaw, F.A.I.A., 1878-1965” unpublished biography, Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Williamsburg, Va.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Henry F. Withey and Elsie Rathburn Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects [Deceased] (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1970), 381-382.

[4] Yetter, “Thomas Mott Shaw, F.A.I.A., 1878-1965.”

[5] George H. Yetter, handwritten notes compiled from Thomas Mott Shaw Papers (in Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Sarah Quinan Shaw Johnson, Concord, Ma., 1975), Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Williamsburg, Va.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

[6] Ibid.; see also “Colonial Williamsburg Logbook” biographical sheet on Thomas Mott Shaw, dated 15 March 1947, Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Williamsburg, Va.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

[7] George H. Yetter, “Designers of Beauty: Academic Training and Williamsburg’s Architectural Restoration,” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Winter 2012): 58.

[8] Yetter, handwritten notes compiled from Thomas Mott Shaw Papers; see also “Colonial Williamsburg Logbook” biographical sheet.

[9] Will Molineux, “The Architect of Colonial Williamsburg: William Graves Perry,” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Autumn 2004), 61.

[10] “Colonial Williamsburg Logbook” biographical sheet.

[11] Fred Frechette, “Work on Restoration Started as ‘Bit of Fun,’” Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.), 21 May 1956, page number unknown, Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

[12] Yetter, “Thomas Mott Shaw, F.A.I.A., 1878-1965.”

[13] Ibid. (T.M. Shaw quote excerpted from “Reminiscences of Thomas Mott Shaw,” Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Archives, Oral History Collection, 11), Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Williamsburg, Va.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

[14] Frechette, “Work on Restoration Started as ‘Bit of Fun.’”

[15] George H. Yetter, “Thomas Mott Shaw” typewritten research notes, Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Williamsburg, Va.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

[16] Molineux, “The Architect of Colonial Williamsburg,” 63.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Yetter, “Thomas Mott Shaw” typewritten research notes.

[20] Molineux, 63; see also Frechette, “Work on Restoration Started as ‘Bit of Fun.’”

[21] Molineux, 63.

[22] Frechette, “Work on Restoration Started as ‘Bit of Fun.’”

[23] Ibid.

[24] Mary Miley Theobald, “The Colonial Revival: The Past that Never Dies,” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Summer 2002), 81.

[25] Ibid., 81.

[26] Ibid., 84.

[27] Ibid., 81.

[28] Ibid., 84.

[29] Yetter, “Thomas Mott Shaw” typewritten research notes.

[30] Frechette, “Work on Restoration Started as ‘Bit of Fun.’”

[31] Ibid.

[32] Yetter, “Thomas Mott Shaw, F.A.I.A., 1878-1965.”

[33] Frechette, “Work on Restoration Started as ‘Bit of Fun.’”

[34]Carl Lounsbury, “Bracken Tenement: Block 2, Building 52,” Colonial Williamsburg Foundation website, n.d., http://research.history.org/Architectural_Research/Research_Articles/ThemeBldgs/Bracken.cfm (accessed 5 May 2014).

[35] Letter from Thomas Mott Shaw to Vernon Geddy of Williamsburg Restoration, Inc., 25 October 1944, Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

[36] Staff memo from B.W. Norton to Vernon Geddy of Williamsburg Restoration, Inc., 1 November 1945, Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

[37] Staff memo from J.A. Upshur to Kenneth Chorley of Williamsburg Restoration, Inc., 12 January 1946, Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Letter from Michael A. Grimes (archivist, Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art) to George H. Yetter (Associate Curator of Architectural Drawings, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), 2 August 1989, Thomas Mott Shaw research folder, Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.



SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING

Chappell, Edward A. “Architects of Colonial Williamsburg” in Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, ed. by Charles
Reagan Wilson, William R. Ferris, and Ann J. Adadie. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989, 59-61.

Greenspan, Anders. Creating Colonial Williamsburg: The Restoration of Virginia’s Eighteenth-Century Capitol. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Hosmer, Charles Bridgham, and National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States. Preservation Comes of Age: From Williamsburg to the National Trust, 1926-1949, Vol. 1. Charlottesville: Published for the Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States by the University Press of Virginia, 1981.

Kimball, Fiske, et al. The Restoration of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. New York: F.W. Dodge
Corporation, 1935.

Molineux, Will. “The Architect of Colonial Williamsburg: William Graves Perry,” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (August 2004): 58-65.

Theobald, Mary Miley. “The Colonial Revival: The Past that Never Dies,” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Summer 2002): 81-85.

Yetter, George Humphrey. “Designers of Beauty: Academic Training and Williamsburg’s Architectural Restoration,” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Winter 2012): 54-60.

Yetter, George Humphrey. Williamsburg Before and After: The Rebirth of Virginia's Colonial Capital. Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1988.

Items in the An Architect of the Restoration: The Pencil Sketches of Thomas Mott Shaw, F.A.I.A. Collection

Wren Building, Exterior Entrance to Great Hall
Exterior view of the entrance to the Great Hall of the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary, 1933. Professors and students gathered in the Great Hall at long tables and benches to dine and converse during the colonial era. The room also…

Wren Building, West Facade
Exterior view of the west elevation of the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary, 1933. Begun in 1695, the construction of the Wren Building marked the birth of an academic center in colonial Virginia. One of the oldest academic structures…

Proposed Addition to the Williamsburg Inn, View from the South East, 1938
Proposed addition to the Williamsburg Inn, view from the southeast looking northwest, 1938. This proposed addition was never built. "Abby and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. were involved in every aspect of the design, construction, and furnishing of the…

St. George Tucker House, View Looking East
Exterior of the St. George Tucker House, view of the formal boxwood garden and the eastern facade of the Tucker House Kitchen, 1933. The St. George Tucker House is one of the Historic Area's original eighteenth-century structures, and this view…

St. George Tucker House, South Facade
Exterior of the St. George Tucker House, viewed from behind the fence of the Roscow-Cole Stable yard across Nicholson Street, 1933. This view of the St. George Tucker property shows the front elevation of one of the Historic Area's original…

George Reid House
Exterior of the George Reid House, western facade, viewed from Duke of Gloucester Street, 1933. Built around 1790, it served as a residence for a merchant who owned a shop further up the street. "Archaeological excavations revealed that a path near…

Raleigh Tavern Entrance
Exterior of the Raleigh Tavern, view of the front entrance looking north from across Duke of Gloucester Street, 1933. The tavern's signboard stands in the foreground to the left, while in the background, a gowned female costumed interpreter (once…

Raleigh Tavern, View Looking Northeast
Exterior of the Raleigh Tavern, view looking northeast from across Duke of Gloucester Street, 1933. The Raleigh Tavern was the frequent scene of both jollity and consequence, and was "....the foremost of Williamsburg's taverns in the eighteenth…

John Orrell House
Exterior of the John Orrell House, viewed on the south side of Francis Street, 1933. "Probably built between 1750 and 1775, the Orrell House takes its name from John Orrell, who acquired the property about 1810. The entrance hall, or 'passage,' of…

Ewing House and Josias Moody House
Exterior of the Ewing House and Josias Moody House, viewed to the south on Francis Street, 1933. The Ewing House (on the left) "...is named for Ebenezer Ewing, a Scottish merchant. When he died in 1795, Ewing left the house to Elizabeth Ashton, the…

Masonic Lodge
Exterior of the Masonic Lodge, viewed from Francis Street, 1933. "The...Masonic Lodge on the north side of Francis Street stands where 'the ancient and loyal society of free and accepted Masons' met in the late eighteenth century. The Williamsburg…

Magazine, View Looking Southwest
Exterior of the Powder Magazine, looking southwest toward the building's entrance, 1933. Among Williamsburg's original eighteenth-century buildings, the octagonal Powder Magazine has taken on many different functions over time. Constructed in 1715…

Ludwell-Paradise Stable
Exterior of the Ludwell-Paradise Stable, viewed from Nicholson Street, 1933. A dovecote is visible in the gable-end roof of the stable, with holes for pigeons to roost in (though the holes have recently been covered over). The Cooper's Shop is now…

Grissel Hay Kitchen
Exterior of the Grissell Hay Kitchen, viewed from North England Street, 1933. The one and a half story structure with a large chimney is a typical form for a colonial kitchen, and provided a freestanding building for cooks to work in. This allowed…

Governor's Palace Kitchen Interior
Interior view of the Governor’s Palace Kitchen, featuring a female costumed interpreter in the role of an enslaved cook or scullery maid, 1933. The Governor's Palace (and its outbuildings, like the Palace Kitchen) opened to the public in 1934. In…

Governor's Palace Smokehouse and Laundry
Exterior view of the Smokehouse, Laundry, Salthouse, and Bagnio outbuildings flanking the Governor's Palace to the west, 1933. In the foreground is the Palace Smokehouse (depicted by a whitewashed wooden structure with a shingled roof), where meat…

Governor's Palace Gardens, Bird's-Eye View of Boxwood Parterre
View of the formal gardens behind the Governor's Palace, flanking one side of the Ballroom Wing, 1933. These gardens, designed by Arthur Shurcliff, include boxwood parterres and one dozen large cylindrical shrubs known as the Twelve Apostles, a…

Governor's Palace North Facade Through Clairvoyee
Exterior view of the Governor's Palace Ballroom Wing and formal gardens, north facade, as seen through an elaborate clairvoyée (wrought-iron gate) behind the Palace, 1933. The Ballroom Wing of the Palace, featured in the background, was built as an…

Governor's Palace Gardens With Ballroom Entrance
Exterior view through a wrought-iron gate of the north facade of the Governor's Palace Ballroom Wing and formal gardens, 1933. In the background stands the Ballroom Wing, an addition constructed during the early 1750s by Governor Robert Dinwiddie,…

Governor's Palace and Gardens, View Looking Southeast
Exterior view of the north and west facades of the Governor's Palace and formal gardens, looking southeast from the pleached hornbeam arbor behind the Palace, 1933. In the background stands the ballroom wing, an addition constructed during the 1750s,…