Drawings, photographs and assignment sheets from a recently rediscovered collection offer a glimpse into the world of architectural education at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
“An American in Paris: the Beaux-Arts Education of Shepherd Stevens,” which opened Tuesday at the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, showcases artifacts from the personal archive of Stevens, a professor at the Yale School of Architecture from 1920 to 1947. Curated by Suzanne Noruschat, an archivist in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the Yale University Library, the exhibition highlights Stevens’ architectural training at the École des Beaux-Arts. Drawing on selections from the Shepherd Stevens Papers — an archive bequeathed to the library decades ago and brought to light four years ago by a researcher working with the collection — Noruschat said the show offers a valuable perspective on the typical trajectory of a particular class of architect at the beginning of the 20th century.
“This is a typical snapshot of a typical class of architects, predominantly male,” Noruschat explained. “[The exhibition] provides a new view into the scope of the pedagogical process of the École, as well as the social life of the students affiliated with the school.”
Noruschat said Stevens’ archive was rediscovered four years ago by a researcher who was writing about American architects trained at the École des Beaux-Arts. Papers contained in the collection chronicle Stevens’ education in Paris, his broader architectural practice once back in the United States and his teaching strategies as a professor in the School of Architecture. The exhibition displays sketches from Stevens’ years as an undergraduate at Columbia University, photographic travelogues and the drawing that secured his admission to the École.
Prior to the opening of “An American in Paris,” conservation policies had limited viewing of works in Stevens’ collection to a select number of students in the School of Architecture enrolled in classes on architectural drawing. Kerri Sancomb, the exhibition’s production coordinator, added that related conservation issues obliged organizers to digitize certain particularly fragile photographs and documents which were too delicate for extended display.
Noruschat said she hopes exposing the Stevens archive to a broader audience will generate greater interest in the research collection. She added that the collection — which contains speeches, correspondence and diaries kept by Stevens — offers extensive material on the social and professional networks of American architects affiliated with the Beaux-Arts tradition.
Current students at the School of Architecture expressed interest in the exhibition’s presentation of pedagogical strategies common to a Beaux-Arts education, which continue to influence architectural teaching today.
“The École’s focus on an architectural education based on design and competition is still very much part of the program in schools such as Yale,” Nicolas Kemper ARC ’16 said.
Noruschat added that “An American in Paris” also “speaks to a broader narrative” on display in “Pedagogy and Place: Celebrating 100 Years of Architectural Education at Yale,” the School of Architecture’s centennial exhibition, which features a historical survey of the institution’s teaching practices since its founding.
The exhibit will remain on display through Aug. 19.