Art History major Kat Bleiweiss ’21 has worked to uncover the history behind the original purchase of Arcadia University’s Grey Towers Castle and the surrounding property.
Her fascination with the Castle’s history began as a first-year student and grew with her first visit to the archives in Landman Library during her sophomore year. Bleiweiss has collaborated with Matt Borgen, exhibitions coordinator at Arcadia University, for two years to uncover the history of the campus.
“[Borgen] always jokes that other than him, I probably know the most about the Castle,” said Bleiweiss. “We found these meeting minutes from 1929 from Beaver College’s Board, who were talking about purchasing the Castle and where that money would come from. We were really interested to see how the finances were affected because they bought the Castle the year of the Depression and stock market crash.”
Bleiweiss created a digital mock-up of the Castle and learned about its architectural history, including how it was built and about the Harrison family, the original owners.
“It’s like a treasure hunt: You’re going through all these materials in the archives, so when you find something that’s really helpful to the research, it’s exciting,” said Bleiweiss. “I’ve done a lot of research about their family tree—I found out where they were buried and visited the gravesite, but this is just one of the branches of the things that we’ve worked on over the past few years.”
The research is a passion project for Bleiweiss, who hopes to keep the history of the Harrison family, Beaver College, and the Castle alive so the information can be accessible to others. The research will be picked up by the historian of the Society for Castle Restoration once she graduates on May 21, but Bleiweiss said she will always be interested in opportunities to help.
For her capstone project, Bleiweiss is continuing this passion for history by focusing on painter Richard Dadd.
“He was a Victorian-era painter in the 1840s to 1880s in England, and what’s notable about him is that he was making these really successful paintings of fairies and romanticism ideas, but he was doing it from a mental asylum,” said Bleiweiss. “He was treated as basically dead from the second he entered a mental institution. So, I’m exploring how it was possible that people had no respect for him as a person and didn’t even view him as a human, but loved his work.”
In addition to presenting her research over Zoom on Thesis Day, Bleiweiss and the other Art History majors will have QR codes in the gallery space where attendees can scan and view a website with their thesis presentations.
“I’ve learned that having an arts major isn’t as scary as your parents think it is when you first announce it,” said Bleiweiss. “Now I know exactly where I want to be, I know what I’m really good at, I’ve tried a little bit of everything within the arts world and I know a lot more about myself because of my time here.”
Bleiweiss plans to continue working at Arcadia Exhibitions over the summer, and hopes to work at a museum one day.