@Dumbarton Oaks

File 020 - Correspondence between John Thacher, Thomas Whittemore, Seth Gano, Persis Mason, and Vladimir Rayevsky

Identity area

Reference code

DcWaDIC MS.BZ.004-01-01-02-020


Correspondence between John Thacher, Thomas Whittemore, Seth Gano, Persis Mason, and Vladimir Rayevsky


  • April 1943 – August 1951 (Creation)

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1 folder

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Name of creator

Thacher, John (1904-1982)

Biographical history

John Thacher was the first director of Dumbarton Oaks, from 1940 until 1969. He attended Yale University in 1927, and graduate work at Harvard and the Courtauld Institute in London. He was the Assistant to the Directors of the Fogg Art Museum prior to coming to Dumbarton Oaks, where he served as Executive Officer from 1940 to 1945, Acting Director from 1945-1946 and Director from 1946-1969.

Name of creator

Whittemore, Thomas (1871-1950)

Biographical history

Thomas Whittemore was born in Cambridgeport, MA on January 2, 1871. He received his Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Tufts College in 1894 and was appointed Instructor of English at his alma mater immediately afterwards. While at Tufts College, Whittemore taught English Composition and directed several plays, such as the masque Comus and The Pleasant Comedy of Old Fortunatus. His teaching career continued intermittently until early 1930. In 1908, Whittemore taught a course on Ancient Art at Columbia University and starting in 1927, he taught classes on the fine arts and the history of Greek, Egyptian, and Byzantine art at New York University.

In the 1910s and 1920s, Whittemore became involved in expeditions and excavation projects in Egypt and Bulgaria. In January 1911, Whittemore joined a British archaeological expedition in Egypt under the auspices of the Egypt Exploration Society [or Egypt Exploration Fund]. Based on the letters between Whittemore and Isabella Stewart Gardner, Whittemore was in Egypt in the 1910s, where he helped other archaeologists discover pre-dynastic treasures such as, kilns and “the long sought IV-V dynasty cemetery at Abydos.” In between excavation seasons, Whittemore devoted his time to humanitarian work in Bulgaria, Russia, and Paris, particularly during and after the Russian Revolution in 1917. He was an active member of the Committee for the Relief of War Refugees in Russia and the Society for Relief Work among the Orphan Children of Russia. “The goal of the organization[s were] to educate the most promising young Russians in the arts and sciences such that they could help rebuild their country.” Whittemore also travelled to Mount Athos, Greece, in 1923 with George D. Pratt, where he and Pratt delivered food and supplies to the Russian and Bulgarian monks that became impoverished after the Russian Revolution.

In the 1930s, Whittemore changed his direction and focused on the conservation and restoration of Byzantine monuments, art, and architecture in Turkey and other areas of the former Byzantine Empire. In 1930, he founded the Byzantine Institute, a non-profit organization, with the full support of several committee members, such as John Nicholas Brown, Charles R. Crane, Charles R. Morey, Matthew Prichard, George D. Pratt, John Shapley, and others. In 1931, Whittemore and the Byzantine Institute were given permission to conserve and restore the original mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, ?smet ?nönü, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Economy. As the Director of the Byzantine Institute, Whittemore carried out the negotiations with government officials in Turkey, obtained work permits, recruited skilled fieldworkers, organized fundraising events, managed the Byzantine Institute staff, and delivered fieldwork supplies from/to the various sites.

On June 8, 1950, Whittemore suffered a heart attack while on his way to a meeting in the office of John Foster Dulles, then special advisor to the Secretary of State, in Washington, D.C. He died at the age of 79 and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA.

Name of creator

Gano, Seth Thomas (1879–1955)

Biographical history

Seth Gano was the secretary of the Byzantine Institute. He also served as the treasurer of Committee for the Education of Russian Youth in Exile. He was born in Milford, New York, and married Adelaide Eva Beunke in 1907, the same year he graduated from Harvard. He lived in Belmont, Massachusetts and was a member of the Unitarian Service Committee.

Name of creator

Mason, Persis W. (April 25, 1916 - May 25, 2004)

Biographical history

Born in Boston on April 25, 1916, daughter of Herbert and Persis Furbish Mason, Persis worked in the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library 1941-1946, following brief employment at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum after graduation.

According to her obituary, in 1946 she married Stephen V.C. Morris, a U.S. cultural affairs officer, and moved abroad to Paris and Brussels until she returned to the United States in 1965. From 1959 until the late 1980s, she lived half the year in the family home, Brookhurst, on West Street in Lenox, MA. She moved to Falls Church, VA in 1994 where she ultimately passed.

Name of creator

Rayevsky, Vladimir N. (active mid 20th century)

Biographical history

Possibly the Secretary of the Byzantine Institute Library in Paris

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Scope and content

Refers to acquisitions by Dumbarton Oaks from the Byzantine Institute (“Coptic textile” and “Coptic tympanum and angel”; microfilm copies of the Byzantinische Zeitschrift vol. 1941-1942; the Byzantine collection (e.g., archaeological books, photographs, and manuscripts) of Hayford Peirce; and work on Byzantine churches in Istanbul.

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Box 2 contains letters regarding the restoration and conservation of Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii. They document: research activities, artifact purchases, film and photographic documentation, scaffolding plans, administrative and personnel matters following Whittemore’s death, grant and permit proposals, and official permits.

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Related right

The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. late 1920s-2000s





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Rights note(s)

Preferred citation: The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. late 1920s-2000s, MS.BZ.004, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.



Related right

The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. late 1920s-2000s





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Copyright for Byzantine Institute materials belong to Dumbarton Oaks. However, permission to publish materials created by other correspondents must be obtained from the copyright holder.



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Under copyright

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Physical storage

  • Box: MS.BZ.004, Subgroup 01, Box 002