A William Rittase Gallery (II)

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
A William Rittase classroom image from the 1940s, with teacher Earl N. Johnston. The dramatic lighting, from floods placed outside the margins of the image, is characteristic. (Please click images to enlarge.)

William Rittase (1894-1968) was an American photographer based in Philadelphia.   On several occasions from the mid-1930 to the early 1950s, he was hired by Williston Academy to create catalogue images. He also, on at least one occasion in the ‘forties, shot photos at Northampton School for Girls. Rittase’s artistic interests lay in industrial and railroad subjects, for which his work is prized by collectors today. Catalogue photography was undoubtedly meant to pay the bills. But in retrospect, Rittase’s catalogue photography frequently surpasses the medium for which it was intended.

Rittase’s images are sprinkled throughout this blog, but only once, in A William Rittase Sports Gallery, have we devoted a full post just to his work. Not long ago his grandson left a comment on that page. That led to the realization that we have a great many wonderful images that we haven’t shared. Thus, this article.

South Hall, on the Old Campus, with the Easthampton Congregational Church in the background. The cloud effect is another Rittase signature

His style lent a distinctive look to Williston’s and Northampton’s marketing materials. Rittase’s work is typically characterized by dramatic lighting and high contrast between light and shadow.   In outdoor photographs, billowing clouds are another signature.  Sometimes he obtained his singular chiaroscuro through artificial means, placing floodlights at unusual angles, occasionally casting striking shadows. Retired Williston photography instructor Bob Couch ’50 has observed that Rittase’s trademark clouds sometimes repeat themselves from one image to the next. (And Rittase worked half a century before anyone had imagined digital photo editing.)

Chemistry at Northampton School for Girls, around 1945. Rittase has darkened the room, except for a flood placed low behind the glassware.

Most of Rittase’s photographs survive in the Archives as mounted gallery prints, in which the images measure approximately 13.75″ x 10.” Over the years, many of these have faded or the dyes in the prints turned sepia. But because we have the published images, and because other Rittase work is available as a reference, we have a good sense of what the originals once looked like. A number of years ago, using modern scanning and digital editing, we undertook a project to try to reproduce the photographs in something approximating their original state.

A Rittase print in its present state.
The preceding photograph, digitally restored. The tower of the old gymnasium appears in the background.

Beyond their often sheer beauty, Rittase’s pictures present aspects of student life and the campus that have long since vanished. Here are some of his best — or most interesting images. Viewers are encouraged to look for some of the Rittase attributes described above.

Faculty and Students
Classics master Lincoln Grannis, 1944. In this case we can date the photo from the calendar on the wall.
English teacher Chuck Rouse in conference.
A music class in Northampton School’s Scott Hall.
No, this is not a still from a film noir depiction of Williston. But to get the startling shadow, Rittase place a light above and behind the reciting student. The extension cord he required is visible on the floor. Compare this with the photo at the top of this article.
History teacher and eventual Dean A. L. Hepworth, very early in his Williston career.
Junior School Headmaster Edward Clare, with a class.
Another image of English teacher Charles Rouse. The electrical arrangements and the sagging curtains indicate the dire state of the Old Campus buildings.
Headmaster Archibald Victor Galbraith in his Homestead study.
A rare photo of a wood shop class.
A Beautiful Campus

At best, a good catalogue campus photo might evoke a kind of nostalgia for the Old School of legend. In a couple of images above, Rittase manages to bring that lump-in-the-throat sensibility even to shots of the crumbling Old Campus. Perhaps his task was easier on the New Campus (consisting, at this time, only of Ford Hall (1916), the Recreation Center (1930, now the Reed Campus Center), and the Homestead (1843)

The Recreation Center and the Pond. Today’s view is much the same.
Ford Hall, with the original landscaping.
Ford Hall, from the Quad.
The Science Lab
Before Wilmot Babcock became business manager and swimming coach, he taught physics.
Another science lab image. Rittase has accessorized the table; none of those objects likely relate to whatever is under the microscopes.
Is Rittase trying to achieve the same illuminated-glassware effect as in the Northampton School photo, above? This image seems less successful.
Another illuminated laboratory photo.
Recreation and the Great Outdoors
Chuck Rouse directing Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. (The title is visible on the script he is holding.) We can date the photo to the Glee Club’s performance in 1944.
Another Pirates photo. This is less convincing; costumed actors rehearse while painters and carpenters occupy the same space. Great shadow, though.
Butterfly hunting on the back campus at Northampton School for Girls.
A cookout on the crest of the hill next to the Junior School Schoolhouse, now Swan Cottage.
Activity at the school’s cabin in Southampton. This is a classic case of don’t-look-too-closely: what is the fellow with the axe chopping at?
Northampton School’s classic Woodie; Rittase’s classic cloud.
Shooting pool in the Junior School.
Hiking with snowshoes.
Riding the Lion, in its original location near the Junior School. The tradition persists today.
The Whitney Art Gallery in the Recreation Center. Who knows what they’re reading? Only the shadow knows . . .
Probably the school library in Middle Hall.
Rittase’s individual portraits are rare, but often striking.
The Dodge Room in the Recreation Center served as both student lounge and study space. The room remains largely unchanged today.
Just folks . . .
A nighttime view of the Dodge Room.
At Northampton School for Girls. Hathaway House is in the background.
The sleeping porch over the entrance to Williston Cottage (now Conant House) at the Junior School. Looking at those beds, one wonders how many of these gentlemen developed back trouble early in life.
This is the only known evidence of student auto mechanics at 1940s Williston.
And finally, an image from Northampton School’s gorgeous gardens.

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