In the classical tradition

Mary W. Griepen

November 10, 1993|By Mary W. Griepen

IT IS nearly mid-November, and the 1993-1994 season of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is in full swing. As a subscriber, I always look forward to entering the Meyerhoff's glamorous lobby and trudging up the red-carpeted stairs -- up, up, to the very top, to my senior citizen special reduced rate seat.

But I don't mind the stairs, for long ago my leg muscles were hardened on other stairs at the Meyerhoff's location, Cathedral and Preston.

The Bryn Mawr School for Girls was a formidable structure of brownish-yellow brick. It was entered by a long flight of slate steps and a very, very solid oak door. Inside was a great hallway with terrazzo floors, white ceramic tile walls and another long slate stairway with wrought-iron railings. Three more flights up, one flight down to gym, lockers, swimming pool. The conditioning of students' legs continued on a daily basis.

Bryn Mawr was built to last for centuries. Indeed, when it was finally razed to make way for the concert hall, demolition was extremely difficult.

Nowadays, schools are bright, colorful, people-pleasing. Art work usually features student drawings, sculpture, mobiles, whatever. Not so at the old Bryn Mawr. From the time the building opened in 1890 (it was founded in 1885 in temporary quarters) until it moved to its present Roland Park location in 1933, the art was strictly professional and highly educational.

Mary Elizabeth Garrett, a founder of the school along with M. Carey Thomas and a dauntless group of champions for female education who later coerced the Johns Hopkins Medical School into accepting women and, at the same time, raising its admissions standards, was a devotee of art, especially classical art. She traveled to Europe and brought back lithographs of paintings in European galleries, as well as photographs of cathedrals and Egyptian and Roman ruins.

Every classroom contained suitable pictures: classical ruins in the Latin room, famous authors in the English room. Halfway up the walls of the great, high-ceilinged study hall jutted a shelf of Greek and Roman busts, while higher up the room was circled by a plaster cast of the Parthenon frieze.

BTC Full-length plaster replicas of Greek goddesses greeted students and visitors in the entrance hall. It was education by osmosis, apparently, for during my years at the school no one explained the significance of these objects. Later, when I began visiting museums, I realized to what a remarkable collection of reproductions we had been exposed.

Cheerful and student-friendly Bryn Mawr was not, but the spacious rooms with high ceilings and enormous plate-glass windows were well-ventilated. No one regretted the lack of air conditioning. It hadn't been invented.

I am sure that the school's founding mothers would have been delighted to know that if the building into which they had poured so much time, effort and money had to be sacrificed to changing times and circumstances, an equally fine building was erected in its place, serving as a cultural and educational center for the entire community.

Mary W. Griepenkerl writes from Baltimore.

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