Each of the SPS Form plaques has a particular story to tell about the history of the School. John Gregory Wiggins, who briefly taught at SPS, began carving the Form plaques in the early 1920s – carving plaques for all the previous Forms back to 1859 (the first year of graduates) and then continuing until 1953. The styles since then have changed according to the carver, but the concept has been the same. In the Winter 1923 edition of the Alumni Horae it is described this way:
These Medallions are distinguished for their charm of execution and their sympathetic treatment, each one of them being connected with some episode in the history of the school, or of the Country.
Shown above is an example of one of the early plaques carved by Wiggins. The description below (from the same Horae article), likely written by Wiggins himself, describes the events of the year represented in the plaque:
1861—-The outbreak of the Civil War is suggested by Fort Sumter and an old-time cannon, the sort which was raised and lowered by using wooden wedges under the breech. The lower half of the panel shows the schoolboys drilling, and in the corners are a tragic and a comic mask to indicate the charades which were very popular as school entertainments at the time.
All of the plaques from 1859 through 1990 (the last Form a plaque was completed for) have followed this same basic theme – incorporating symbols from the SPS microcosm with major events from U.S. and world history. Collectively they form a visual history of the School, and the experiences of its students in the wider world. It will be interesting to see what transpires during this school year that will add another page to this unique history.
Historically, the Form plaques of SPS have depicted a combination of School and world events occurring during the specific Form’s senior year. When planning the Form plaque project I took into consideration that before I can begin carving the plaque, the Form of 2011 has to experience most if not all of the final year at SPS in order to choose events to have depicted on their plaque. There will be a few steps that can be taken along the way, but in the mean time I thought it would be good to document the carving process another way.
I have begun working on a carving of a pelican, the symbol of SPS. This carving is based on a motif that is carved on a decorative stone in the School cemetery (top image above). A similar carving also appears above the main entrance into the New Chapel (bottom image above), and may be more familiar to those associated with the School. I have adapted the design to work with a lovely piece of mahogany that has possibly been a part of the School since the days of the Boys’ Workshop, once located where the Hargate art center is now. I will document the process from start to finish here on the FPP blog to help give an idea of what will be involved when the time comes to carve the Form of 2011 plaque. Look for more photos of the process soon.
In the Spring of 2010 I was nominated to submit a proposal for a Form of 1973 Mentor Fellowship which was established to provided funds for personal development for members of the SPS faculty and staff. I was chosen as one of the recipients based on my proposal to create a Form plaque for the graduating class of 2011. The following is a brief summary of the proposal to serve as an introduction to the project:
My proposal is to work with selected students from the Form of 2011 to research the design concept for the decorative center plaque that is placed above the name plaques for each graduating Form. Using resources in the SPS Archives, I would introduce the students to the tradition of the Form plaques and how specific aspects of the School’s history have been represented in the past. Using Ohrstrom Library resources and my own experience as an artist, I would help guide the students in choosing the symbols to best represent their Form year. A brief, one page description of the symbolism would be drafted with the students to document the process of conceptualizing the design. After allowing the students and the appropriate administrators to approve the concept, I would then design and carve the plaque. I would complete the carving by the end of 2011.
While at work, my job involves creating web services for the Library and assisting with the School Archives. When I am home I spend my free time developing my skills as a wood carver. The Form Plaque Project is an intersection of my professional interest in preserving School history and my creative process of wood carving. The Form of 1973 Mentor Fellowship will provide me a rare opportunity to combine these interest into one project. I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to getting the project underway.
Image: Interlaced Birds: An example of the wood carving of L. Laughy