Although Penn alumnus and cartoonist Charles Addams is most commonly linked to Penn by the similarities between College Hall and the Addams Family mansion, one building embodies some of the creepy and kooky aspects of his famed cartoons.
Addams attended Penn in the early 1930s after transferring from Colgate University — but that would not be the last Penn would see of him.
The creator of the popular 1960s series The Addams Family was rumored to have been inspired by College Hall for the Addams Family mansion depicted in the cartoons. Although this was never proven, Addams lent his talents to Penn’s alumni magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette in March of 1973, designing a cover depicting the Addams Family in front of the historic, gothic green hall.
The “master of the macabre,” as a 1953 LOOK Magazine feature called him, returned to Penn in 1980 to receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the Commencement ceremony.
Although Addams died in 1988, his influence is still evident on campus and within the Fine Arts community.
The Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall replaced Skinner Hall in 2001, creating a permanent home for the School of Design. The building was dedicated by Lady Barbara Colyton, Addams’ wife, with donations from 1970 School of Design graduate Fern Karesh Hurst, Barbara and Harvey Kroizand other donors, according to the Penn Almanac.
“I wanted to see the Fine Arts Department have a bigger and better place in the University setting. I thought it needed a physical place to be," Hurst said. "I'm very happy we have the building, I love the gates ... I think the hands are so Charles Addams.”
The Addams building features a bronze gate, interspersed with life-size hand sculptures. 1993 School of Design graduate Mark Lueders, formerly a lecturer at Penn and current owner of theceramicshop.com, designed the gate after winning a competition, which all Fine Arts alumni were eligible to enter.
“I grew up watching The Addams Family, so I knew of Charles Addams and his cartoons and illustrations,” Lueders said.
Although Addams is known for dark, humorist cartoons, Lueders knew he had to keep his design simple so it would fit in on Penn’s campus. “You have to take Penn’s campus in consideration. They wouldn’t have gone for something so wild. It had to fit into their landscape," he said.
Part of Lueders’ inspiration came from Addams’ famed cartoon, particularly the Thing character, a disembodied hand capable of crawling ookily across surfaces.
However, Lueders wanted to acknowledge everyone involved in the creation of the hall. He took molds of Fine Arts affiliates' hands and positioned them along the bronze gate. “There were a lot of steps involved, a lot of people involved. The hands are made up of a lot of the artists who were working there at the time — the artists, the faculty, I think I got some of the deans in there," he said.
Addams' legacy at Penn does not exist merely in bronze and stone — an academic distinction in his name is awarded each year.
After Addams' death, his wife endowed The Charles Addams Memorial Prize to the School of Design. The prize is awarded annually to a graduating Master of Fine Arts student who demonstrates "promise of outstanding talent and achievement as an artist."
According to the Fine Arts Department website, "This award memorializes the work, spirit, and interests of Charles Addams, a man who made a giant contribution to the world of art. His superb craftsmanship and his genius were unique and wonderful. He left a graphic style and comic genre that will always bear his name.”
2009 School of Design graduate Ted Carey, who was trained in sculpture and combined new media, received the Charles Addams Memorial Prize upon graduating in 2009. Receiving the award connected him to Addams.
“I only knew him mainly through The Addams Family," Carey said. "But I suppose getting the prize and looking deeper into his work ... gave me more of an appreciation for his art.”
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.