High Art in McCartney Library - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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President's Desk
November 9, 2015

High Art in McCartney Library

McCartney LibraryFifty years ago one summer, I picked up Paradise Lost by John Milton and read it from beginning to end, not for a class but for itself. It was not easy reading, but as is often the case with classic literature, it stays with you. I recall vividly the horror of my sudden realization that I was finding Lucifer admirable in his defiance of God, and I can still bring to mind Adam’s soliloquy about whether to join Eve in her certain mortality.

Five years ago, I sat down in one of the reading rooms of McCartney Library. Blood pressure dropped, while a sense of old truths took hold in that restful room with its high ceiling. Then I saw the window at room’s end, with its scenes from Paradise Lost. I went to examine its panels. They defeated my ability to order them chronologically, but I knew that I was looking at high art, as good as anything I had seen in European cathedrals or museums. (To see the panels correctly ordered, read the delightful book by Shirley Kilpatrick and Howard Mattsson-Bozé.) How did this stunning art happen to be on Geneva’s humble campus?

Shortly before the stock market crash of 1929, three sisters in Philadelphia named Deal sold stock in Mum Deodorant Company. They gave the proceeds to Geneva College to build a library in honor of Clarence Macartney, last name spelled differently than the library’s name because Clarence wanted the library named according to his family’s spelling of his name, not his own idiosyncratic spelling. Today largely forgotten, in his day Clarence Macartney was one of the preeminent preachers in America, first in Philadelphia and later in Pittsburgh. He grew up on Geneva’s campus, living with his family in Fern Cliffe, and later died in the same house. His father was a Geneva College professor.

Architects from New Castle, a contractor from Beaver, and a foreman from Beaver Falls oversaw the construction of Geneva’s Gothic library. Henry Lee Willet of Philadelphia created the stained glass windows at the ends of the two reading rooms, Paradise Lost in one, and Pilgrim’s Progress in the other. The fourteen-bell carillon in the tower was cast in Baltimore; the bells weigh from 350 to 3000 pounds.

There’s the answer to my question of how such exquisite art graces Geneva College’s library. The beautiful library with its bells and mesmerizing windows honors the God concerning whose love Clarence Macartney preached such artful and compelling sermons for forty years. No one should leave this campus without becoming well acquainted with its library.

 

Dr. William Edgar, Interim President


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