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Sears and Cutting families papers


Sears Papers

The Sears and Cutting papers came into the possession of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England, Library and Archives in 1987, following the death of Edwin B. Sears of Weston, who bequeathed this property jointly to Historic New England and the Trustees of Reservations. The Trustees of Reservations do not maintain archival collections, and thus, it was felt appropriate that the appraisal and ultimate selection of papers should be carried out by Historic New England.

In the fall of 1987, Ellie Reichlin, Director of Archives, began to survey the materials remaining at the Weston house. Papers, books, photographs, and memorabilia were found everywhere, but the attic, second-floor closets, and a wooden cupboard in the upstairs hall, were the principal repositories. The attic contained most of Marian's papers, some kept in boxes, others in trunks. Much material was bundled by year, rather than retained by type of record (which is the arrangement followed here). Years of special significance (principally those in which her children were born), were kept together by means of colored ribbon. Within the "year-packets" tied by ribbon there was no apparent chronological or typological order. Marian's papers were the only ones to have had a distinctive "arrangement," and this should be kept in mind, inasmuch as this arrangement has been broached in order to make maximum use of the material for research purposes.

The upstairs hall was the repository of Alfred Wayland Cutting material, including his photographic albums and some correspondence. Other Cutting material was found in a bookcase in the back hall. All had evidently been moved to the Sears residence after the death of Mr. Cutting.

Roughly, there are five types of materials in Marian Buckingham Sears collection: correspondence, memorabilia, photographs, clippings and other printed matter, and literary materials. Correspondence is the predominant type of written expression. This category includes some letters sent, as well as those received. In other cases, a decision was made to group the correspondents together so that the "flow" of their conversation could be more easily observed.

Memorabilia includes a sampling of many records which have not been retained in their entirety. These items include: membership and attendance lists from the Shakespeare Club (in which Marian was actively involved as an officer and participant during the early years of her marriage); records of the 1891 Sewing Circle-the predecessor of the Junior League-consisting largely of membership lists; records of her participation in the Board of the South End Day Nursery of Boston, of which she was an officer and clearly a devoted participant; programs that reflect her interest in theater and music, some travel memorabilia, valentines, children's report cards and other material connected with "special events" have been saved, and will be found with Marian's papers.

Photographs which could be attributed to her uncle Al Cutting have been removed to his papers. There are very few photographic materials found among Marian's papers that were not taken by Cutting.

Some clippings and printed matter have been retained, including announcements.

The literary materials series includes manuscripts composed by Marian, as well as poetry composed by her cousin, Georgia Boit Gierarsch. The latter's work has been published.

The Sears collection also includes the papers of Edwin B. Sears, which includes correspondence, literary material, legal materials, memorabilia, books, and a large and varied collection of memoranda.

Finally, the Sears collection includes a collection of papers associated with Rosamund Sears, which is primarily correspondence, as well as a small collection of daguerreotypes and view books.

Source: Sears and Cutting Papers Finding Aid

Cutting papers

The majority of the Alfred Wayland Cutting papers is made up of his photographs, but also includes correspondence (including 27 letters received from friend and neighbor Lydia Maria Child) and letters to his nieces and grand-nephews and nieces. A small collection of printed matter includes Cutting's valedictory address given to his graduating class at the Dwight School (1876), typescripts of other papers, a manuscript of his memoirs (1926), and diaries. The rest of the collection is comprised of approximately 2,852 of his photographs, some mounted in albums, others loose or framed, as well as glass negatives, lantern slides, and copies of photography magazines.

Alfred Cutting extolled beauty and savored the joys of rural life. He loved Wayland, Massachusetts, where his ancestral roots ran generations deep, with a devotion that verged on reverence.

Cutting acquired his first camera in 1881, culminating years in which he "haunted the photo-stock houses of the day and lovingly handled the cameras and lenses, wondering if I could not learn to use them and manipulate the mysterious chemicals." With the advent of the dry-plate negative, adapted to the needs of amateurs, he was able to realize his "dream of making my first photograph thus [beginning] what has been one of the greatest joys of my life." At first he aspired to landscape: "Portraits did not appeal to me at all; it was pictures of the tree-shaded roads, rocks, hills and water, of the lovely country . . . that even as a boy, I loved so passionately . . . that I yearned to make."

Passion, joy, yearning, and dreaming are common to Cutting's vocabulary, as, implicitly, they are to his photographs. Their roots may have been his deep childhood attachment to the remarkable Mrs. Child, who-even 45 years later-he remembered with unalloyed warmth and admiration. This warm relationship may have influenced his photography, and its glow is present in luminous portrayals of young people (their eyes perhaps as beautiful to him as his had been to the woman he called "Mitty Chile"), and in the ravishing freshness of some of his flower and nature studies.

Cutting's first photograph, a view of Worcester Square in Boston, hardly suggests the poetic direction of his future works, which numbered nearly four thousand by 1927. All of these he personally printed, typically on platinum papers, whose soft tones were ideally suited to the contemplative style of his imagery. Not surprisingly, Wayland's natural scenery, and the naturalness of childhood--both bound together in his memory as "joyous"--pervade his work, which at best achieves a pictorial universality that goes well beyond the inherently picturesque charm of his subject matter.

There were also travel views, made during visits to Europe and North Africa at the turn of the century, but these ceased in 1913, when he became a confirmed stay-at-home, not venturing further than Cape Cod and Nantucket. He compiled an example "of every picture of any interest I have ever made" into twenty-five dated albums, "comprising a record of the fairest things I have seen anywhere." The pages are carefully designed, the photos fastidiously mounted. The absence of text or identification suggests the albums were intended for personal reverie, to be read as one might a panorama, in which images of freshness and youth move gracefully through time, their beauty progressively augmented by Cutting's growing mastery over his medium.

For all the local significance of Cutting's work, it would be a mistake to characterize him principally as a Wayland photographer, or as Wayland's photographer, even though he-with Yankee disdain for the high-falutin'-might have protested efforts to intellectualize or magnify his accomplishments. He described himself unpretentiously as an "amateur or semi-professional."

This characterization downplays the fact that Cutting was an intensely serious photographic artist and craftsman, steeped in the precepts of art photography and pictorialism, which emerged in the late 1880s and early 1890s as a liberating alternative to the sharply detailed documentary styles that had dominated photography's first four decades. The movement was advanced by "the army of amateurs," who, like Cutting, had joined the ranks of photographers in the early 1880s, when the introduction of the dry plate enormously simplified the use of the camera. Expressiveness, naturalism, experimental artistic effects, subdued lighting, soft focus, tonal subtlety, varied papers, cropping methods, and mounting techniques were among its aesthetic cods-as was a preference for nature studies and unselfconscious portraiture-both of which dominate Cutting's work.

Though he entered-and frequently won-photographic competitions sponsored by "Photo-Era," a publication for amateurs with a pictorialist bent, there is little evidence that Cutting sought recognition as an art photographer outside the local area, either through national competitions and salons or membership in the elite Photo-Secession, a society open to all Americans interested in advancing photography as "pictorial expression."

Sources: Ellie Reichlin, "The Old Life Silently Passed: Photographs by Alfred Wayland Cutting (1860-1935)," exhibition brochure; Glynys Thomas, "The Papers of Alfred Wayland Cutting, 1863-1933)", finding aid.


Collection Name
Sears and Cutting families papers
Collection Code
Acquisition Type
Date of Acquisition
Physical Description
ca. 2,000 items
Finding Aid Info
Paper finding aid available in Library and Archives
Collection Type
Description Level
Reference Code

Historical/Biographical Note

The Sears Family

Marian Buckingham Sears (1879-1943) was the first child of Edwin Buckingham Buckingham and Mary Cutting Buckingham. A second daughter, Leslie, was born in 1883. The premature death of both parents in 1895 and 1896, respectively, resulted in their becoming wards of their mother's unmarried brother, Alfred Wayland Cutting, until they reached their majority. Cutting, and his sister Marcia ("Madge"), also unmarried, appear to have willingly and lovingly assumed the role of surrogate parents, as evidenced by their frequent letters, whose wry humor, sensitive observations about nature and local life, and later, their concern with the activities of their grandnieces and nephews, deserve independent study for their literary quality.

After a year of European travel (1902-1903) Marian and Leslie returned to Wayland, Massachusetts, where for a short time they appear to have enjoyed themselves horseback riding, and entertaining friends. In 1904, Leslie married Edward H. Sears, and in 1906, Marian married his brother, Francis Bacon Sears. The two couples briefly resided in the same house on Pelham Island road, owned by the Sears family, though by the time of the birth of Marian and Francis's first son, Francis B. Sears III in 1908, they had moved their household to Crescent Street in Weston, where the family and its possessions-including these papers-remained until the death of Edwin B. Sears, second child and second son, in 1987.

The early and unexpected death of Leslie in 1912 must have had a shattering effect on Marian, even though-characteristically-little written evidence substantiates this. Marian's habit was to write in excruciating detail about all of her activities, and the environments in which they occurred, while only rarely mentioning how she "felt". The same opaque response to what must have been an even more crushing experience--the suicide of her son Francis in 1928--is noticed in correspondence and journals from this period, which make virtually no mention of feelings. One cannot help but wonder whether more private journals and letters once existed, which Marian or her son Edwin, later "edited out" of the family records.

Little is known of the nature of Marian and Leslie's earliest years. Marian comes into focus as a distinct and distinctive personality, around her tenth year, when she begins to produce voluminously illustrated "books" and "journals" depicting both real and imaginary events and personalities. Horses, dogs, and animals of all types seem to have been her youthful passion, second only to writing. The sheer volume and detail of her youthful written works strikes one as unusual-though comparisons with similar materials in other collections will be needed to determine the norm for the period.

Besides Francis, Marian had two other children: Edwin Buckingham and Rosamond. Neither of them married. Rosamond had a short-lived success as a sculptor, and Edwin enjoyed some reputation as an artist, though his career seems to have been more gentlemanly than assertively professional. Both children maintained studios and exhibited their works. By their later years-following the death of Marian and her husband Francis-both required the services of legal guardians because of their failing competency to handle their personal and financial affairs. Marian's relationship to her husband Francis is the one blank spot in an otherwise rich record of family relationships. By contrast, correspondence to and from her three children provide abundant material with which to examine the dynamics of the mother-child relationship in an affluent, well-educated suburban household during the first three decades of the 20th century.

Source: Sears and Cutting Papers Finding Aid

Alfred Wayland Cutting

Alfred Wayland Cutting was born in Boston on February 16, 1860, the second son and third child of Marcia Roby Drury Cutting (1831-1917) and Charles Alfred Cutting (1822-1914). He had four siblings: Charles Franklin (1851-1896), Mary Elizabeth (1854-1896), who married Edwin Buckingham Buckingham in 1874, Marcia Sophia "Madge" (1861-1931) and William Warren who died in infancy. After the death of Mary Elizabeth and her husband Edwin Buckingham, Cutting and his sister Madge became the guardians of their nieces, Marian and Leslie Buckingham.

Cutting attended the Dwight Grammar School followed by three years at English High School. He then became a teller at the Massachusetts Trust Company in Boston, a position he held until 1903, when he moved to Wayland permanently. Throughout a "joyous childhood" he spent months at the Cutting family farm, adjacent to the cottage owned by abolitionist-author Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) and her husband, David. In 1881, following Mrs. Child's death, her house became the Cutting family's new home-saturated with recollections of ripe fruits, flowers, and childish games. Here Alfred Cutting lived until his death in 1935, maintaining a studio in a vine-covered building. Eighteenth-century paneling on the studio walls formed the backdrop for Cutting's portraits, which became the major focus of his work after 1900.

Cutting was also a life-long member of the First Parish Church of Wayland and a founding member and treasurer of the Wayland Society of Arts and Crafts.

Madge died in 1931 and Alfred four years later in 1935. He left the bulk of his fortune, mainly acquired through inheritance and investment, to his niece, Marian Buckingham Sears.

Sources: Ellie Reichlin, "The Old Life Silently Passed: Photographs by Alfred Wayland Cutting (1860-1935)," exhibition brochure; Glynys Thomas, "The Papers of Alfred Wayland Cutting, 1863-1933)", finding aid.

Record details

Cutting, Alfred Wayland (Photographer)
Sears, Edwin Buckingham, 1911-1986 (Correspondent)
Sears, Leslie Buckingham, 1883-1912
Sears, Marian B., 1879-1943 (Correspondent)
Sears, Rosamond (Correspondent)
Other People
Cutting, Marcia Sophia
Sears, Edmund Hamilton, 1878-1946
Sears, Francis Bacon, II, 1882-1943
Descriptive Terms
art photography
artists (visual artists)
debutante balls
nature photography
Material Type
daguerreotypes (photographs)
journals (accounts)
legal documents
magazines (periodicals)
manuscripts (document genre)
Wayland (Middlesex county, Massachusetts)
Weston (Middlesex county, Massachusetts)

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