Mantle Decoration, c.1917

3-piece bas-relief

Like a treasure hunt, sometimes information turns up unexpectedly. While sorting through papers and records kept by Agnes Allen, a letter to her dated 1979 was found. An excerpt from the letter read, “When we return to Wellesley the latter part of September I will get in touch with you, for I am sure we have mutually interesting facts to talk about. And if I am not very much mistaken your husband did three small bas reliefs that decorated the fireplace mantel of my father’s house in Newton, built about 1917 with Ralph Henry of Guy Lowell’s office as architect.” The author of the letter was Theodore E. Jewell, Jr.. Research on the father and son uncovered a real estate listing for a property once owned by T.E. Jewell at 125 Shornecliffe Road in Newton Corner, Massachusetts. This gracious brick Georgian home is listed as having been designed by Ralph Coolidge Henry, a friend of F.W. Allen who helped with the design of his iconic Italianate sculpture studio on Tavern Road. Pictures online of the interior show one fireplace over which is a wall of three panels which could have been the location of the three bas relief sculptures ordered by Lowell’s office as decoration.

Sherborn, Massachusetts home with a bas-relief sculpture framed and encased by the brick fireplace wall. Photo discovered by architects R&P Lowell when remodeling the house.

Previous research had taken the author to a home on Farm Road in Sherborn featured in a Boston news story about the information found behind the fireplace. R&P Lowell, Architects were doing a remodeling of the house when they discovered a photo of a large cast bas-relief sculpture that had been removed from above the entry hallway fireplace years before. The sculpture was framed and encased by the brick fireplace wall. Although the relief is of a style more classical and whimsical than Allen would have made, with youthful figures playing instruments and dancing, the use of a bas-relief sculpture over a fireplace is one that Lowell’s office favored. It seemed this was a dead-end project until the letter was discovered.

Current living room interior of 125 Shornecliffe Road, Newton, Massachusetts. It is highly likely that the three bas-reliefs ordered by Ralph C. Henry were once over this fireplace.

The Jewell’s home in Newton, estimated in 2017 to be valued at $2,279,702, boasted 6 bedrooms, 3.5 baths and 3492 square feet. A spacious classic brick Georgian was pictured in the listing. In the living room a fireplace is shown with three panels over the mantle, one large central and two narrow side panels could be the original location of these bas-reliefs. Mr. Jewell who wrote the letter to Mrs. Allen was the man who had purchased the Wm. G. Moseley homestead in Sullivan Maine where Mrs. Allen was born and brought up. Wm. Moseley was the 4th great grandfather of the author; a lovely surprise unearthed from this treasure hunt!

Title: Mantle Decoration (1917 or after)
Medium or Technique: 3-pc bas-relief
Provenance: Ordered by Ralph C. Henry, architect for Guy Lowell
Literature: List of works by Agnes Allen “Mantle Decoration, Guy Lowell”

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