Photographs by library staff members Maggie Adams and Howard Golde are on display in Widener Law’s “Evening of the Arts” exhibition. The exhibit of Widener faculty, student and staff work is on display now in the Strine Atrium in the Main Law Building. Maggie’s photos were taken on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Howard entered a photo of Comet Hale-Bopp. Congratulations to Maggie and Howard! Be sure to take a look at their work as well as the others on display.
This painting of a tree, by Donna Sciarra, hangs behind the reference desk in the Widener Law Library. In 2000, when the library was remodeled, Eileen Cooper, our library director at the time, had the idea to commission the painting celebrating the roots and future branches of legal education. The inspiration for the tree imagery was a photocopy of an old print, titled “The Common Law in the Similitude of a Tree.” This picture had been found by our archivist, David King, but no one was sure where it had originally come from.
We made efforts to track the origin of the print down, but aside from the title and the copyright notice by “R.C. Bierce, counselor at law,” we had little to go on. We searched reference works, the internet and posted on listservs, but we found no trace of the print or the artist.
But how quickly things change on the internet. A few months ago I decided to research the print again and quickly found a copy of the print in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection. It had been originally published in 1878 by Cook & Co. A little more careful searching in Google Books and Google News, led me to the artist, Royal C. Bierce.
R.C. Bierce was born in Connecticut in 1808. He moved with his family to Portage County, Ohio where he read law with John Crowell of Warren, Ohio and became a lawyer. Bierce settled in Wisconsin in 1845, teaching school for a few years before establishing a law practice. During the Civil War he served as Colonel of the Bad Ax County, Wisconsin militia. He was the editor of a local newspaper, the Sparta Eagle. R. C. Bierce was also the uncle of the famous writer Ambrose Bierce.
The tree in Bierce’s print illustrates Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England. Like Abraham Lincoln and other lawyers in early America, Bierce “read the law,” serving as a clerk to an established attorney and learning law by reading cases and commentaries on law such as Blackstone or Coke.
The lettering on the base of the tree, “The Objects of the Law are Rights and Wrongs” is from Book 1 chapter 1 of Blackstone.
… the primary and principal objects of the law are rights, and wrongs. In the prosecution therefore of these commentaries, I shall follow this very simple and obvious division; and shall in the first place consider the rights that are commanded, and secondly the wrongs that are forbidden by the laws of England. William Blackstone, Commentaries *122
The divisions of the branches of the tree into topics also follows the outline of Blackstone’s Commentaries. There is a long history of using trees to illustrate legal systems and as an aid to memory. I’ve been unable to discover if this print was meant as an aid in studying Blackstone or was intended as a decorative print for the lawyer’s office, to remind him of his younger days spent reading the law.
This print illustrating the basics of legal education in the 19th century provided the inspiration for the Widener Law library’s painting illustrating the current branches of law and legal education. The growth of the internet and the increased digitization of information allowed me to make the connection between the two.
I really like this painting of a handsome brooding young man but unfortunately we know very little about it. It’s been hanging in the library for a few years now and was once in another building on campus. But no one seems to know where it originally came from.
Some internet research has turned up practically nothing about the artist either. It is signed Alice Emmons. A painting by the same artist was sold by KFAuctions in 2011, but the auction house could find no record of the artist.
There is a mention in a 1955 issue of Life of an Alice P. Emmons exhibiting a painting at the Corcoran Gallery but I can’t tell if it’s the same artist. The signature looks somewhat different.
If anybody knows anything about the painting or Alice Emmons the artist, please either leave a comment or email me.
Many of the portraits hanging in the law library are of former Deans or local judges and let’s face it, sometimes they do start to look alike. But if you’ve ever thought that there are two different portraits of the same person hanging in the library, you are not imagining things. But why does the law library have two portraits of Dean Weeks?
Arthur Weeks was Widener’s second Dean. Serving from 1974 to 1980, he was responsible for Widener Law’s successful accreditation by the ABA. In recognition of his service, the first graduating class commissioned a portrait of him in 1980. The portrait was done by artist Diane Keller. Unfortunately, it did not prove to be a popular success. Weeks was posed in front of a colorful oriental rug and students started referring to it as the “shower curtain portrait.” At one point it was stolen as a student prank.
So a second portrait was commissioned, this one by Edward Lis. The second portrait was hung at the law school and the first was quietly forgotten. No one was certain what had happened to it until one of our librarians discovered that Arthur Weeks had it in his home. Dean Weeks and his wife donated the portrait back to the law school and now both portraits hang proudly in the law library.
You can see more of Diane Keller’s work at her website and on the streets of Philadelphia where she has painted several of the city’s famous murals, including Italian-American icons Frank Sinatra, Frank Rizzo, and Mario Lanza.
Edward Lis died in December 2011. He painted portraits of many prominent people in the Philadelphia area as well as landscapes and taught at the Norristown Art League. You can see several of his portraits of Polish-Americans on the Poles in America Foundation’s website.