At the Historeum: Early 20th century works on display at museum

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Column by Pauline Thomson

We have friezes in the basement. 

Pauline Thomson showcases a frieze of the triumphant return of Alexander the Great to Babylon, with Victory at his side holding the reins (her personal favorite). 

Not to be confused with the refrigeration device, we are referring to plaster casts of intricate and beautiful works of art. The Colchester Historical Society recently received nearly 30 such artifacts from the Nova Scotia Teachers College Alumni Association. These friezes once hung in the Normal College building for close to 50 years. 

Installed in the early 1900s, they graced the entrance and auditorium until the building was decommissioned as a teacher’s college in 1961. They have been in storage and moved from one side of Town to the other until recently finding yet another temporary home with us.

There are several types of friezes. One type is an elaborate decoration such as that found on the exterior of Greek and Roman buildings.

Think Greek Parthenon in Athens - probably the most famous example. 

The friezes that are the subject of this article are not so large, and are of the interior variety. The works that we are currently studying are a plaster copy of a marble sculpture in a palace in Italy, one that had been commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810 and now the home of the Italian president. The sculpture itself primarily depicts Alexander the Great and his army. 

These beautiful sculptures in plaster once kept careful watch over those who trod the halls of the province’s majestic Normal School on their way to and from class. Greek and Roman history was widely studied by student and teacher at the turn of the century.

During the early 1900s, history was learned mainly from books and teachers, and travel for those who could afford it. 

Between 1900 and 1928, the principal of the Normal College was a Dr. David Soloan. Legend has it that Dr. Soloan oversaw the ordering and installation of the friezes from the Caproni brothers out of Boston. The advertised price at the time was $150, a considerable sum of money in 1911.

Through Dr. Soloan’s efforts, a little bit of European grandeur was transferred to Truro, N.S. No doubt he hoped the triumphs of the ancient world would inspire his students on to victory in their own field of endeavor. With renovations currently underway at the Normal College, who knows, perhaps these beautiful renditions might one day be displayed in their former glory once again.


Organizations: Normal College, Nova Scotia Teachers College Alumni Association, Colchester Historical Society Normal School

Geographic location: Athens, Italy, Boston

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