Date of Degree
Rosemarie Haag Bletter
Rose-Carol Washton Long
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
The focus of this dissertation is on the writings of Russell Sturgis (1836–1909) and Peter B. Wight (1838–1925). As part of a movement that professionalized the practice of architecture in the United States, they brought an awareness of the role of architecture to a larger public, both through their buildings and their writings. Their joint beginnings in the American Pre-Raphaelite movement led to their journalistic endeavors in the New Path, published between 1863 and 1865 in New York City. As proselytizers for Ruskinianism in their architectural work and words, this pervasive force was to remain an important influence throughout their writing careers. The concurrent functionalist influence of Viollet-le-Duc was equally important. As they reflected these currents in their writings and sought to forge an ideal drawn from both Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc, they were in turn able to influence their contemporaries.
This study analyzes the various ideas and themes they shared—truth in design; the nature of architectural style as a vehicle for truthful architecture; the problem of architecture as an art, even while the architect had to be a businessman; sound construction and especially fireproof construction and its implication for architectural design; and the nature and role of architectural criticism. Very few of Sturgis's and Wight's buildings survive, and the Victorian Gothic style in which they designed fell out of favor, but their prolific writings, which reflect their shift away from strict Ruskinian dogma to an ideal of "truthfulness" in design fashioned from Ruskin and the functionalism of Viollet-le-Duc, remain as a guide to interpreting many aspects of the development of American architecture in the second half of the nineteenth century. Overlooked or ignored by earlier scholars who have not found them to be sufficiently "modern," Sturgis and Wight can be better appreciated and analyzed as we have gained more knowledge and perspective on the development of nineteenth-century America and its architecture.
Pearson, Marjorie A., "The Writings of Russell Sturgis and Peter B. Wight: The Victorian Architect as Critic and Historian" (1999). CUNY Academic Works.