1890’s McCutcheon Drawings On Display at Chapter House
The large John T. McCutcheon ‘1889 color drawings now displayed in the Eldridge Room and Academic wing in the Delta Delta chapter house have had a long, long history. The drawings at the Sig house are 5 of the 9 original sketches by McCutcheon depicting events on Purdue’s campus in the 1890’s.
Fortuitous Luck Perhaps
How these 130-year-old drawings found their way back to 202 Littleton is one of fortuitous luck and is based on the recollections of John McConnell ’36, Bernie Sergesketter ’58, Phil Steele ’77 and notes from Sammie Morris, head of Purdue Archives, and Noah Phelps, Director, Information Management, Sigma Chi Foundation.
No one is quite sure when McCutcheon drew these large pastel images sometimes referred to as cartoons, sketches or drawings. Based on the content of the drawings, which depict campus life at Purdue in the early 1890s, it appears McCutcheon drew them in the early 1890s following his graduation in 1889.
In the February 1938 issue of The Magazine of Sigma Chi in their tribute to John T. McCutcheon upon his 50th anniversary as a Sigma Chi, it noted, “The Purdue University chapter letter to the April 1936 issue of The Magazine of Sigma Chi contained this historically significant reference: “While delving into the far corners of the “Goat Room” several months ago, nine cartoons of heroic size from the crayon of John T. McCutcheon were unearthed by Harold R. Larsen ’34.”
In a letter to the Purdue Perspective newsletter in 1999 John McConnell ’36 wrote that he visited with both George Ade and John McCutcheon at two or three Homecoming football game receptions at the Sigma Chi house in the early 1930s. In the fall of 1935 when cleaning out an old storage room (Goat Room) in the Sig house, John wrote the Sigs found a roll of nine drawings.
McConnell noted that “The drawings were unsigned, but I knew they had to be by McCutcheon. I was off to a weekend in Evanston the next Friday and carried the roll of drawings with me. From the south side of Chicago, I phoned Mrs. McCutcheon, who was cordial as usual and agreed I could stop by their Lake Shore Drive apartment when John would be home. We had a great time laughing about the cartoons which McCutcheon agreed to sign. This is where I learned that orginally McCutcheon drew these for display in the Sigma Chi house during special events.”
Again from the February 1938 issue of The Magazine of Sigma Chi which stated, “These sketches, representing the master cartoonist’s earliest work, now handsomely framed, were exhibited (for the first time) at the Lake Shore Athletic Club in Chicago at the 50th anniversary dinner (honoring McCutcheon) and now constitute a permanent display at the chapter house at Purdue.”
On Display Finally
Because of their size (each framed drawing is approximately 5 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide) it is hard to imagine where these nine framed sketches would have been placed on display in the pre-renovated chapter house. There are no photos from the 40’s or 50’s showing them hung on any wall. So it appears that they were put away in the Goat room closet (again) and forgotten until 1957 when Jim Dora ’58 came across them.
With no appropriate space to display the drawings, according to Sammie Morris, head of Purdue Archives, Sigma Chi loaned the Purdue University Library the nine McCutcheon cartoons: “Student Reading Thesis,” “Moses Stevens,” “Picnicking Couple,” “Purdue Football,” “University Hall,” “George Ade,” “Student Orator,” “Oscar Craig,” and “Delivery of a Dress Suit.” At this time all the drawings were hung in the Purdue Library in Stewart Center.
One of the stipulations of the loan agreement signed by Delta Delta House Corp President Cordy Hall on November 6, 1957, was that the McCutcheon drawings were to remain on public display for the entire period of the loan. It also noted that the House Corp would “furnish one brass plate for each cartoon on which the following inscription will be engraved: “Loaned to the Purdue University Library by Delta Delta of Sigma Chi”. The agreement also stated that Delta Delta could repossess any or all of the cartoons upon 30 days written notice to the Library.
Where Did They Go ….. Again
We now fast forward another 16 years to when Phil Steele ’77, as a pledge in the fall of 1973, recalled that as part of learning about Delta Delta history, his pledge class was expected to locate the McCutcheon drawings on campus. At that time Phil remembers finding them hanging on the walls of the Purdue Library.
Fast forwarding again to 1991 when Phil returned to Lafayette and became Chapter Advisor. In one conversation he asked the brothers if they still had to locate the McCutcheon drawings on campus? The blank stares that he received indicated they did not know what he was talking about. So now on a personal quest, Phil visited the Purdue Library to see if the McCutcheon drawings were still there. They were not, and no one was aware of where they had been moved. The library staff was able to track down a former Purdue librarian who told them that the drawings had been relocated to the Krannert Library.
Finally Returned to Their Intended Home
This is where in 2007 Jim Dora ’58 and Bernie Sergesketter ’58 found the drawings and made arrangements to retrieve five of the McCutcheon drawing to be displayed in the renovated chapter house. The remaining four drawings were then placed into permanent storage in the Purdue archives.
So after almost 115 years these remarkable drawings, sketched by one of Delta Delta’s most renowned alumni, finally found their way back to where they were originally intended to reside.
That one of the McCutcheon pastel drawings done in the early 1890s was of Professor Oscar J. Craig, a DePauw Sig, who taught at Purdue from 1883 to 1895. Craig left Purdue in 1895 to become the first President of the University of Montana.