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Circling the Square

The Pitman Studio

By Edward C. Haley

Had the Harvard Radio Network occupied its present quarters downstairs in Dudley Hall back in 1775, it would have been submerged in a small pond. This pond filled the hollow behind the stores on Massachusetts Avenue and covered the entire block down to Mount Auburn Street. According to the new Pitman Studio minature diarama of Harvard during the Revolution, which will soon be on display across from the 1936 model in the entrance to Widener Library, the region around Harvard Square had many similar ponds and creeks. Such fine attention to physiographic and architectural details in this reproduction has given the University another masterpiece of scale modeling from the studio of Theodore B. Pitman '14.

The Pitman Studio grew out of a hobby twenty years ago when the Assistant Curator of the Peabody Museum asked Pitman to help him construct an Indian model for the Buffalo Museum of Science. At first, Pitman worked only nights and week-ends but soon he became so fascinated by the work that he gave up his regular business in Boston to devote his entire time to the making of models. The Buffalo Museum liked the first production enough to order a complete set of Indian models and, with this contract, the Pitman Studio became a full time operation. It set up shop in Harvard Square, right above the Wursthaus.

Much of Pitman's work has been for the University. Not only has he made the two Harvard models (plus a third yet to come of the University in 1677) but also the various models in the Peabody Museum--the Hopi Indians, the cliff dwellers, and the 23 models for the Harvard Forestry Department. These forestry models were Pitman's biggest job; in one series, he had to exhibit the changes in the vegetation of a typical New England farm from the Seventeenth century to the present. In each of the models, the trees and shrubs had to be perfectly reproduced so that forestry students could identify the different species--even down to the number of whirls on a pine tree!

The Studio also has done a number of models for institutions outside the University. Filene's of Boston ordered a whole set of scenes depicting historical events in towns where a new branch was to be started. Each time they opened up one of these stores, a Pitman model would be on display. The miniatures are now used to illustrate historical lecture series sponsored in the towns by Filene's. Presently, Pitman is working on a job for the Museum of Science in Boston which will open in about a year. It is a model to explain how the pyramids were constructed and is one of the most interesting engineering problems Pitman has come across. He is trying to show how it was physically possible to haul the huge blocks to the top of the giant pyramids.

Pitman has eight assistants for the modeling work plus Henry H. Brooks '22 who paints the backgrounds and Rupert B. Lillie who does the historical research on the Harvard models. Pitman met Lillie when he overheard him trying to sell a map of early Harvard to the librarian in the Harvard Club of Boston. When he saw the map, Pitman was impressed and, before long, hired Lillie to do the research on the Harvard series which was just beginning. The Studio uses students from the Harvard School of Landscape Architecture and the Cambridge School of Design to help with the big jobs.

Theodore Pitman, himself a gifted craftsman demands accuracy in all the Studio's work--even down to the exact proportions of the trees and figures in the Yard. He confesses that he doesn't know how any of his assistants have the patience to fix the leaves on trees or to paint in windows on the buildings, for he personally prefers working on the interesting general problems in modeling rather than on the meticulous details. Yet it is the combination of Pitman's modeling genius and the fine precision work of his assistants that have gained the Pitman Studio the unqualified praise of the University.

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