Blanch wall displays mix antique plates with modern replicas

 Photo by Yingke Yang ’20  Blue and white Mount Holyoke china, contributed by President Stephens and the Alumnae Association, now decorates the walls of the Dining Commons. 

Photo by Yingke Yang ’20

Blue and white Mount Holyoke china, contributed by President Stephens and the Alumnae Association, now decorates the walls of the Dining Commons. 

BY  KATE TURNER ’21

Since its opening at the beginning of the spring semester, the Mount Holyoke Dining Commons (more commonly referred to as SuperBlanch) has been the talk of campus. And the display of plates on the wall in several areas of the Dining Commons are no exception.

“There was a strong feeling that we wanted the Commons to be very new and fresh, very modern,” said Shannon Gurek, Mount Holyoke’s Vice President for Finance and Administration and one of the co-project leaders on the Dining Commons’ construction. “But we also wanted to point to the past, and the historic nature of Mount Holyoke dining.”

Matt Hyatt, another co-project leader, agreed. “That’s why there are seven different dining room environments,” he said. “We were really conscious of giving students as much choice as they had in the old system.” Hyatt is a principal for Bergmeyer, the firm responsible for the design and construction of SuperBlanch, and was the leader of the design team at Bergmeyer that worked on the commons from start to finish.

According to Hyatt and Gurek, the plate display is an important element in the effort to allude to Mount Holyoke’s past. 

“About two years ago, as we were starting to conceptualize the interior decor, we made a bunch of Pinterest boards,” Hyatt said. The boards, which were open to students and other community members, began to reflect a couple of key themes. “One image we saw recurring was a ‘your grandmother’s dining room’ sort of aesthetic,” he said. “And one image that really stuck with me was the image of plates, of blue and white china hanging on the walls.”

It didn’t take Hyatt and his team much time to discover that college-themed Wedgewood china dishes are a relatively common collectible item. According to Erica Winter in an article published by Antiques Roadshow Insider, these dishes were made for many colleges and universities around the 1920s and 1930s, including Mount Holyoke.

“The plates are nice,” said Hyatt, “because it allows us to use that brand color blue in the space without having to paint the wall blue, which, you know, is sort of an appetite suppressant. So that gave us a nice nod to historical tradition and the brand color of Mount Holyoke, that blue you see everywhere associated with the college.” 

According to Gurek, it was the architect firm that tracked down most of the blue plates, although Hyatt confessed that much of the historical blue Mount Holyoke china was difficult to find or ended up being broken in transit. This means that many of the plates on the walls are reproductions the firm ordered from Etsy and other providers.

“We contributed some from the President’s House,” said Acting President Sonya Stephens, when asked about the plates. “I know that the Alumnae Association also gave theirs for this purpose.” 

The Alumnae Association was reportedly happy to contribute what they had. “We have lots of them still in the attic in blue, red and green... Sadly, no yellow that I’m aware of,” said Nancy Perez ’76, executive director of the Alumnae Association, referring to Mount Holyoke’s four class colors. “Many alumnae purchased them in the past, and some very old ones are turning up now as people are cleaning out the estates of their mothers and grandmothers.” Perez worked with Gurek, Hyatt and other project leaders to provide the Dining Commons with the china. 

Recently, a set of red Mount Holyoke china has been added to the collection of plates displayed on the walls of the Dining Commons, and there are more blue plates currently in transit. For now, their places are marked by paper plates that hang on the walls. 

“The layout of the plates is our way of adapting the designs we saw online, which were very sort of subdued and symmetrical,” Hyatt explained. “The way we have them is a little more contemporary, a little more lyrical. I’m really satisfied with the blend we achieved of old and new.”

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