Vassar Today

Campus Curio

By Bernice Lippitt Thomas '49

How many of us ever noticed the image of a beaver on a heraldic shield on the south wall of Taylor Hall? The stone emblem is mounted above the doorway leading to the lecture hall where so many of us took Art 105. If we looked at it at all, perhaps we wondered why it was there and what it signified.

The solitary carving is a replica of the seal of New Netherland, an American territory granted by Holland to the Dutch West India Company in 1621 and chartered in 1623. The territory's headquarters were in Fort Orange (present-day Albany, New York). The Latin legend on the seal, Sigillum Novi Belgii, translates as "Seal of New Netherland" — not "New Belgium" as some might think. The crown at the summit represents the colony's royal Dutch source, while the rampant beaver on the empty field indicates the colony's principal activity: fur trading. The surrounding necklace of shells is wampum, symbol of the colony's wealth.

It is quite possible that the Seal of New Netherland makes reference to Henry Van Ingen, a highly respected Vassar art professor (for whom the art library extension was named in 1937). He came to Vassar from Rochester when the college opened and taught until his death in 1898. At the dedication of Taylor Hall in 1915, President Emeritus James Monroe Taylor addressed the college on the history of the art department. He referred to Van Ingen as a "Hollander" and noted that he was largely responsible for Vassar's leading role in bringing art and art history into the mainstream of a liberal arts education.