Archive Materials



Founding Years




Gracious Living

Broader Diversity

Forward Looking





Student Life

Historical Contexts

Wider World


The Pontigny Colloquia
Artists, Intellectuals, and World War II

This is a copy of the first official stationary of the relocated Pontigny meeting Courtesy of Mount Holyoke Archives (92)
Andre Masson, George Boas, Lionello Venturi and Marc Chagall enjoy a brief respite during the entretiens of 1945. Photo courtesy of Mount Holyoke Archives (93)
Jean Wahl and participants enjoyed discussions in the fresh air in the summer of 1944. Courtesy of Mount Holyoke Archives (94)

Abbey Pontigny
For many years the Abbey Pontigny was the home of an annual gathering of Europe's leading intellectuals and artists. After 1940 these conferences ceased until re-instituted on the Mount Holyoke campus during the summers of 1942-44. French professors Helen Patch and Pierre Guedenet worked with Jean Wahl, Gustave Cohen and Jacques Maritain, the latter four of whom were all former professors at the Sorbonne and former participants at the Abbey Pontigny. Our beautiful and quiet campus became an intellectual hothouse during four weeks in July and August. The first participants were primarily Europeans who had attended the previous meetings in France, but that changed in ensuing years when many prominent American artists and intellectuals joined their European counterparts for the discussions.(95)

In 1943, 200 eminent artists and scholars from more than 20 different nations participated. Discussions were led by Leonello Venturi, Marc Slonin, Jacques Hodamard, Raymond de Saussure and Boris Mirkin Guetzevitch. Another discussion leader was philosopher Jean Wahl. Ernestine Stowell '43 still remembers hearing the story of Mr. Wahl's narrow escape from an internment camp. Due to his petite stature, he was able to escape from the camp by wrapping himself with paper, like a side of beef, and hiding in the back of a meat wagon. Others who made their way to South Hadley, albeit more conventionally, were philosophers Rachel Bespaloff and Suzanne Langer, social scientists Claude Levi-Strauss and Hannah Arendt and composer Roger Sessions. The poets Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore joined artists such as Marc Chagall, Andre Masson, Robert Motherwell and distinguished sculptor Henry Rox, a Mount Holyoke faculty member at that time.(96)

The theme for 1943 was "Permanence des Valeurs et Renouvellement des Methodes." and entretiens on art, literature, philosophy, science and politics were conducted primarily in French. The following year the format was strengthened by concentrating on liberal arts. It was decided that an entire week would be devoted to each of the following: philosophy, plastic arts, literature and music. The theme for 1944 was "L'Idee de Crise et Notre Crise" and the entretiens were directed by Jean Wahl, Andre Masson, Marc Slonin and Marcelle de Manziarl. Unfortunately, many of the participants were victims of the "crise actuelle" in Europe.(97)

Atlas Home Page MHC Goes to War Class of '43    
This page was created by [name student] '[grad year] in History 283, Fall Semester 2003 - [e-mail]