For over two decades, David Doret has given the Prints and Photographs Department a wide range of printed graphic material with varied subject matter, including maps, membership certificates, proof prints, and parlor lithographs. These pictorial documents often contain content that conceals their richness in understanding the culture, economics, and politics of their era. In the last year, Mr. Doret’s and his spouse Linda G. Mitchell’s generous gifts have focused on original works of drawings and watercolors that often date to the 20th century.
Works by the Philadelphia commercial artist Donald C. Taber (1895-1981) comprise this assemblage of captivating materials. Among them is this circa 1930 architectural drawing with the eye-brow raising title An Artist’s Conception of Swarthmore Crest. A Highly Restricted Residential Park. Ethereal and yet displaying an attention to vernacular details, the bird’s eye view shows the inverted, pyramid-shaped, post-World War I Swarthmore Borough complex between Swarthmore Avenue and Crest and Cedar Lanes.
Developed between about 1928 and the 1930s by real estate developer William E. Witham (1881-1966), the residential park would have been built, ostensibly, with restrictions to the construct of the houses, landscape design, use of the property, and sound nuisances. These standardizations served as subterfuge for restrictions for race, class, and ethnicity. A resident himself of the park by 1931, Witham advertised his houses not for their restrictions, but for “establish[ing] a standard for the future … substantial, without show.” The rendering of the park by “talking machine” salesman-turned-artist Taber presents this idealized vision. The drawing beguiles with its serene aesthetic and by consequence belies the discriminatory ideologies that influenced early 20th-century suburban development.
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs and Director, Visual Culture Program
Robert M. Fogelson, Bourgeois Nightmares: Suburbia, 1870-1930 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005)
Susann K. Morikawa and Patricia C. O’Donnell, Swarthmore Borough (Dover, N.H.: Arcadia Publishing, 2009)
The Swarthmorean, January 1, 1931
The Swarthmorean, May 23, 1931