15 Years Ago ... A Penn Sketchbook

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Just a few more days till I head to Philadelphia for my 15th reunion at Penn. Hotel's booked, reunion schedule's loaded onto my iPhone, plans have been made with faraway friends.

Our class was one of the first to get email/Internet (Telnet and Mosaic, anyone?), so there isn't much of an electronic archive to pull up from my time on campus. Of course, I've dug up old photos and college house newsletters to laugh over; might even make an early '90s mix tape -- uh, iTunes playlist -- for the drive down from Connecticut. But for me, what brings back the memories most vividly are my sketchbooks. It was my way of navigating the college experience, learning my way around a new city, adapting to the unfamiliar.

So here's a look back at my Penn undergraduate experience, in works on paper.

When I moved into English House (aka Kings Court English) as a freshman, I found that my dorm room window overlooked the construction site of the law school addition. For the first few days, we didn't have any curtains up, so it was like living in a fishbowl. There were construction workers right outside, and they could peer in. So I peered right back, and drew them.

Building the law school addition

More construction workers at the law school

Some of my classmates had teddy bears for comfort -- they turned up in my sketchbook, too.

Teddy bears

We didn't have laptops then, so when we weren't in our dorm rooms or computer labs, we studied with notebooks and pens. Furness (aka the Fisher Fine Arts Library, designed by Frank Furness) was a popular, and visually stunning, place to hit the books.

Studying at Furness (Fisher Fine Arts Library)

Studying some more


In nice weather, it was all about College Green.

On College Green

Getting some sun in front of Meyerson

Ben Franklin statue

Sometimes I killed time before classes by sketching the decor -- here's a rendering of the sunflowers in the Annenberg School building.

Sunflowers at Annenberg

As an upperclassman, I lived in an apartment in High Rise East (Harnwell House) with three roommates. One of the first things I did when I got there was to sketch out a color scheme and layout for my room. (Very Martha, I know.)

Decor for my dorm room

Of course, one of the best parts of going to Penn was being a few steps away from all of Philadelphia. Here's a hasty sketch of the city that I did from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philadelphia from the art museum steps

Since I'm on the reunion and class gift committees, there are a few must-attend alumni events over the three days I'll be on campus. But I'll definitely make time to feed my muse as well, with visits to the Sheila Hicks retrospective at the ICA, what's left of Secrets of the Silk Road at the Penn Museum, and Lauren Greenfield's Girl Culture at the Arthur Ross Gallery.

And naturally I'll be toting along my watercolors and a fountain pen or two, to record new memories of Penn. Go Quakers!

You Might Also Like


  1. Wow! These are fantastic. I love that library one. It's crazy that these weren't sketched that long ago, but the fact that you point out no one had laptops really changes the tone of the library. How quickly computers entered our lives...