Education and Early Career: The Boston Years
In the fall of 1888, Charles and Henry Greene arrived in Boston to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT was located in Boston then, at Boylston and Clarendon Streets in the Back Bay. The brothers took rooms on St. James Street, close to school and just a block away from the architectural masterpieces on Copley Square, including Henry Hobson Richardson’s Trinity Church, the original building of the Museum of Fine Arts, and the work site of the Boston Public Library, then under construction. The Greenes walked by these buildings each day.
Henry excelled, but Charles resisted architectural training. Recalling his father’s desire for him to be an architect, he later confessed: “I had a feeling of keen disappointment. I wanted to be an artist.” Happy reminiscences of his Boston days were reserved almost exclusively for his watercolor painting instructor: “I smile yet when I think of Ross Turner… dipping his ebony brush in his big white bowl of water… to whisk a circle of divine colors.” Turner’s manual, On the Use of Water Colors for Beginners (1886) was probably a book that Charles consulted. Both brothers graduated from MIT in 1891. The Greenes then apprenticed for various architectural firms who, like many in Boston, were strongly influenced by the architecture and ideas of the late H. H. Richardson.
MIT’s curriculum followed traditional French classical models, but the Greenes’ time in Boston exposed them to a wide variety of styles and artistic philosophies, including Japanese art and architecture and the fledgling American Arts and Crafts movement. The influence of their teachers and mentors, as well as artworks available for study at local institutions like the MFA, is clear in the Greenes’ later work.
The Greene brothers lost their jobs during the 1893 financial crisis. Discouraged by their prospects in the east and eager to start practicing on their own, Charles and Henry decided to join their parents in Pasadena, California. In 1894, they opened their own architectural firm — Greene and Greene.
Text courtesy of Nonie Gadsden, Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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