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The Curious Return of Dana Hall’s Amor Caritas Statue

The Curious Return of Dana Hall’s Amor Caritas Statue

The following is an excerpt of a story that appears in the Winter 2024 issue of the Dana Hall Bulletin.

Necessity called for former Associate Dean of Students Kathy Hamel to spend the 2022-23 school year in a different location. Displaced by the Upper School Building construction project, she took her colorful bulletin boards, cherished photographs and inspirational posters to a corner office in the Shipley Center for Athletics, Health and Wellness. With large windows on three sides and proximity to the building’s entrance, she was perfectly situated, and perfectly suited, to track students’ comings and goings and serve as an unofficial greeter for many campus guests. 

One such visitor was a “nice, older gentleman” who stopped to chat with Hamel on occasion. He revealed that he had once worked at Dana Hall, and shared stories of his time as a house parent living in Johnston A and Grey Lodge. Always friendly and happy to listen, Hamel did not give much thought to their encounters. 
The gentleman returned in July 2023, when campus was bustling with sweaty summer campers and Hamel was closing out her 23 years at Dana Hall and preparing for retirement. This time the visitor had a purpose: he said he had something that belonged to the School, an item that had been inadvertently packed up by movers when he (and his wife) left the employ of Dana Hall. With that, his son appeared with a large item on a dolly. Neither man would give Hamel their names. “Truly, when he delivered it to the Ship, I totally thought he was dumping off old heavy trash,” Hamel confessed. “I was off the next day and then kind of forgot about it. When I remembered it, I took a picture and sent it to Dorothy and Julia.”
Dana Hall Archivists Dorothy DeSimone P06, 10 and Julia Newman Kuljančić took one look at the photo of the Amor Caritas bronze sculpture by American artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens and knew it was most definitely not old trash. 

Found Treasure

DeSimone immediately called her colleagues in Campus Safety and made arrangements for the piece to be secured and transported to the Nina Heald Weber ’49 Archives in the Helen Temple Cooke Library. With the help of members of the Buildings and Grounds team, the archivists carefully removed the bronze reduction from its wood tabernacle frame. During the course of the summer and early fall, DeSimone and Kuljančić set out to learn all they could about the piece, which was thought to belong to Helen Temple Cooke, starting no later than 1907. Cooke was the Principal of Dana Hall at that time, and later Head of the Dana Hall Schools and Chair of the Board of Trustees, in all a tenure of 56 years. DeSimone and Kuljančić consulted former Archivist Pam Kaplan P’00, who had done extensive research on the Amor Caritas in 2009. At that time, it was thought that the Amor Caritas owned by Helen Temple Cooke had likely gone to the Chestnut Hill campus of Pine Manor Junior College when the school left Wellesley in 1964. In fact, that was not the case. Kaplan discovered that the Dane Estate, which Pine Manor purchased for its new campus, had its own Amor Caritas, meaning that Helen Temple Cooke’s piece of art was still at-large. Until now.
Thus, DeSimone and Kuljančić launched a research project to learn all that they could about both the mystery of the Amor Caritas reduction’s return and its place in Dana Hall history. 
DeSimone reviewed security camera images, poured through old school directories and yearbooks and conducted basic Google searches in an attempt to identify the gentleman who returned the piece. She also connected with former faculty members Jean McCarthy H01, John and Dwin Schuler P84 and Gene Scattergood about both their memories of past colleagues and the sculpture. A few leads that showed promise eventually fizzled. “It’s possible that some mysteries of the Dana Hall Amor Caritas will remain unsolved, and the archivists are okay with that,” said DeSimone. “We are grateful and amazed that this historically important and beautiful part of Dana Hall’s history has reappeared on campus and will be available for all to appreciate. New avenues of research and sources of information continue to turn up, and we will stay on the hunt for answers. It's been the most interesting and fun research project in my time in the Archives.” 

A Central Symbol in School History

Word of the Amor Caritas mystery created a buzz on campus among both faculty and students, and with good reason. In 1909, Cooke commissioned George T. Abell of Wellesley to design the Dana Hall seal based on the Amor Caritas sculpture by Saint-Gaudens. The seal was tweaked a few times in the ensuing century, most recently in 2007, when graphic designer Will Cook reworked the Dana Hall seal to focus on the angel bearing the tablet inscribed with the words Amor Caritas, the School’s motto.

“The phrase, often translated as ‘love and charity’ or ‘love and kindness,’ is central to our school and our identity. From our earliest years right up to the present day, we have been a community of people who care about each other and the larger world around us. When I told our students that the sculpture had been returned, there was a loud cheer in Bardwell Auditorium. They’re really excited!”  

Head of School Katherine Bradley

Helen Temple Cooke was well known to be an astute art collector, and it has long been assumed she was captivated by Saint-Gaudens’ elegant and graceful Amor Caritas. A photograph of the Amor Caritas first appears in the 1907-08 Dana Hall Catalogue. This image last appears in the 1934-35 Dana Hall Catalogue. Seeking to determine where the Amor Caritas was located on campus, the archivists recently read through the unpublished manuscript of Dana Hall history, written by former English teacher Mildred Grimes in the 1960s. Grimes’ brief mention of the original “Caritas” was that “the large plaster cast …hung by the main entrance” in Dana Main. The archivists had assumed the bronze Amor Caritas was displayed somewhere in the Dana Main complex, which was demolished in January 1972, though conversations with faculty and alumnae from that era have yielded little information to support that theory. “If anything, the ‘I don't recall’ responses to our queries are adding up to the possibility the Amor Caritas was not as visible as we might have expected,” noted DeSimone. 
The one word “plaster” in Grimes’ manuscript is yet another mystery to explore, and it is also likely that the question of how Cooke acquired either version of the Amor Caritas will never be answered. They may have been given to her or sold to her by a third party, or even the artist himself. Saint-Gaudens started casting the form in assorted sizes in 1880, the year before Dana Hall was founded. A 2009 article published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art says 30 reductions were made. The list of institutions that own or have owned an Amor Caritas reduction is long and impressive. A “heroic-sized” Amor Caritas was exhibited in Paris in 1900 and is now in the Louvre, and there is also a gilded one, cast in 1918, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. DeSimone and Kuljančić continue to follow leads to gain more understanding about Cooke’s ownership of a plaster cast and a bronze Amor Caritas

What’s Next

After years likely spent in a basement, the Amor Caritas was in need of a professional cleaning. In late November, it was sent to Trefler’s Restoration in Newton, Mass., where experts are carefully cleaning the sculpture without disturbing its natural patina. They will also repair and restore the original wood tabernacle frame and reattach the bronze reduction so it is ready for its return to campus later this year. It will be displayed in the main entrance of the new Upper School Building. “It is incredibly good fortune — just as we’re stepping into this exciting new chapter and opening a new academic space, a piece of our history has come back to us,” said Bradley. What a perfect way to honor our history as we celebrate our future.”

With so many unanswered questions related to the Amor Caritas, the archivists are looking for insights from alumnae and former faculty. Do you remember seeing it on campus? Do you have a thought about where it might have been before its return? The archivists want to hear from you.

The Amor Caritas was kept in the Dana Hall School Archives

The bronze reduction by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was kept in the Nina Heald Webber '49 Archives after it was mysteriously returned to Dana Hall.

Original Seal of Dana Hall school

In 1909, Helen Temple Cooke commissioned George Abel of Wellesley to design a seal for Dana Hall School based on the statue.

Class of 1907 pin

Class of 1907 pin

Artists at Trefler's in Newton, Mass., cleaned and conserved the wood frame that is the pedestal for the sculpture.