Dallin: Molly HarperMolly Harper

All that is past, what we call history, awaits the surprise of rediscovery.

Molly Harper felt that wonder when she pulled from the hazy past and brought into the sharp light of the present Cyrus Dallin's 264th sculpture.

Her rediscovery of the 1913 seal portraying a child's outstretched hand at Buckingham Brown & Nichols private school highlights a truth about Arlington's most noteworthy artist: His work lurks among us less seen than it should be.

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"I have friends who have grown up or raised families in Arlington, and who had walked by the museum many times, and literally did not know who Dallin was or what was in the building. So, I wanted to help," Harper told YourArlington. 

Help she has. After becoming an associate trustee last January, she was appointed by the Select Board as a Dallin Art Museum trustee on Oct. 5.

Museum first

Member Joseph Curro Jr. asked her about the 264th Dallin sculpture. She explained briefly and expands on that here in a summary that keeps the museum first.

With her rediscovery, she told YourArlington, "I also learned at this time of the museum's great need for additional volunteers, particularly for docents, and current efforts to increase traffic through group tours."

A graduate of Cornell University after BB&N, Harper said she thought of the Cambridge private school "because I had taken art history there as a senior, and they do a great job promoting engagement with the arts and community service, and have had long-term partnerships with other local fine-arts institutions."

So she reached out to Rob Leith, a teacher of English and art history at BB&N. Immediately, he told her about the school's seal and forwarded research correspondence he had from the school's former archivist.

"It was exciting to then share this with Dallin Museum Trustee Chair Sarah Burks, who was quickly able to source the [1911] Cambridge Chronicle articles documenting the story." 

The museum needed to authenticate the piece, "so I just drove by and found it in the school's athletic center, where it is -- unmarked -- and took a picture with my phone." Burks and museum cofounder James McGough pretty quickly confirmed the seal as consistent with Dallin's style and work at that time.

An exciting find?

"It was honestly quite striking, and moving actually, to see the piece in person," Harper wrote. "It's large -- the hands are larger than life size. And they are not just beautiful in their realism, but the image itself is quite touching -- the strong, adult hand passing on the torch of learning/knowledge to the smaller, child's hand."

Her description moved to the personal side: "Dallin was a loving father, and seeing his son coming of age and recognizing it with this gift to his school was clearly very special to him.  It's a wonderful gift to a school - BB&N is very fortunate to have the piece."

BB&N was established in 1974 with the merger of the Buckingham School (girls in upper grades) and Browne and Nichols School (for boys). Vittoria and Cyrus’s oldest son, Bertram, attended B&N as a member of the class of 1911, but transferred and graduated from Arlington High School before attending Harvard.

Their middle son, Arthur, graduated from B&N in 1916 before perishing in France during World War II. The third son graduated from Chauncey Hall School.

That Dallin would create such a piece for his sons’ school is consistent with his life as a teacher and loving father who engaged his children with his art.

What drew her interest

She shifted from the sculptor to her own motivation: "It was also another example of why I was interested in helping the Dallin Museum in the first place. Here is this remarkable, original work of art, by one of America's foremost sculptors, with  a wonderful story behind it and wonderful symbolism, yet it does not have a label, with students and faculty members walking by every day. It's a great example of how much opportunity we have to raise awareness of Cyrus Dallin, his works, and his life."

Harper's first experience working in a museum was as an intern in the PR and archives dept at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum after her freshman year of college. 

She emphasized the museum's "acute need" for volunteers, especially docents. "The commitment is really minimal -- a total of four hours a month -- or two hours a weekend," she wrote.

"It's a great way to learn, support the arts, and give back. If you don't want to give tours, we can always use volunteers for other projects."

The Jamaica Plain resident grew up in Brookline and graduated from BB&N in the 1990s. She iis the executive vice president of operations at Relmada Therapeutics, a biotech company. 

Oct. 12, 2020: Dallin museum unveils newly acquired 1890 painting

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This news feature was published Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.