The Definitive Dwiggins no. 16—A snowy visit to Boston, part II: Diagrams and maps

During my Boston trip Elizabeth Resnick and I  had appointments to see the archives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was there to research the work of Muriel Cooper and Jacqueline Casey for the next Codex book I am editing while I was there to see what documents might exist about three projects that Dwiggins did for MIT: the design of a book on electrical engineering, the design of Technology Review magazine, and the design of second number of Footnotes: The Bulletin of the Friends of the Library.

The trip yielded little for either Elizabeth or myself. I accompanied her back to MassArt where she teaches with the notion of stopping in at the Museum of Fine Arts nearby to see if I might find some Dwiggins items in their archives. Previously I had been in touch via email with people in the archives about trying to locate several calligraphic resolutions that Dwiggins did for the Museum. They had been unable to locate anything, but I thought that maybe a personal visit might be more fruitful. It was—but not in the manner I had anticipated.

When I got to the Museum of Fine Arts I asked to visit the archives. The woman at the information desk told me they were in another building, the former Horticultural Hall on Huntington Avenua, several blocks away. I trudged through the snow to this beautiful building that is languishing, only to discover that it housed the MFA library but not its archives.

Fortunately, the staff there were incredibly nice and helpful. Insteading of looking for the calligraphic resolutions that Dwiggins did for the MFA, I was seeking to learn more about some cryptic entries in his account books: e.g. April 15, 1916 “Museum Fine Arts Lettering plan” and May 24, 1916 “Museum of Fine Arts sketch / plan.” The staff pulled out various books in an effort to help me. As they did the cover of one of the reference books caught my attention.

Handbook of the Museum of Fine Arts (1916). Cover with diagram by W.A. Dwiggins.

Handbook of the Museum of Fine Arts (12th edition, 1916). Cover with diagram by W.A. Dwiggins.

It had an odd design on the front. When I examined it closer I realized it had lettering that looked like Dwiggins’ work. The odd shape turned out to be a stylized depiction of the architectural footprint of the original building of the Museum of Fine Arts. The lettering indicated was a guide to the location of the various collections (China and Japan, Europe, Egypt and Greece, and Picture and Prints) and the orientation of the building vis a vis both Huntington Avenue and The Fenway. This was clearly the job referred to in those two 1916 account book entries.

The book was the 12th edition of the Handbook of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1916). It was the first edition to sport the Dwiggins diagram instead of the museum’s seal, reflecting pride in the new building that had been completed six years earlier. The diagram continued in use until 1929, not only on the handbook cover but on the covers or title pages of other guides to individual collections within the museum such as the 1918 guide to Indian Art. However, the diagram was not static. For the 13th edition (1919) the lettering was revised to reflect changes in the naming and content of the galleries.

Detail from the cover of Handbook of the Museum of Fine Arts (13th edition, 1919). Design and calligraphy by W.A. Dwiggins.

Detail from the cover of Handbook of the Museum of Fine Arts (13th edition, 1919). Diagram by W.A. Dwiggins.

The 13th edition also saw the  substitution of two floor plans designed by Dwiggins with calligrapically labeled galleries for the generic ones previously used.

Ground floor plan of Museum of Fine Arts galleries. Design by W.A. Dwiggins. From Handbook of the Museum of Fine Arts (13th edition, 1919).

Ground floor plan of Museum of Fine Arts galleries. Design by W.A. Dwiggins. From Handbook of the Museum of Fine Arts (13th edition, 1919).

My visit to Boston and environs may not have yielded what I was looking for, but nonetheless it was very fruitful in other ways as I discovered different works by Dwiggins.