Nearly 70 years after Philip Marquand Masi handcrafted study tables for the main reading room of St. Bonaventure University’s Friedsam Memorial Library, his daughters have ensured that his craftsmanship will continue to enhance the student study experience.
The most compelling visuals of the Friedsam Library can arguably be found in the main reading room. One hundred feet in length, the area boasts Roman arched windows, a ceiling coffered with American black walnut, large bookshelves lining the walls, a massive fireplace — and 14 beautiful handcrafted study tables. Students are often gathered around these magnificent tables, doing schoolwork and socializing.
Philip Marquand Masi handcrafted 18 tables in 1947 as part of his work for the Weston Lumber Company in Olean. Fourteen of the tables reside in the main reading room of the library, while four enhance the Curriculum Center on the lower level. Masi had relocated from Arlington, Va., to Olean with his wife, Rose Abbott Masi, who was born there.
Although he had no direct ties to St. Bonaventure, he was a large part of the community surrounding the University. As well as creating the tables for Friedsam, his handiwork could be found in the bar of the former Castle Restaurant and the stairway at Armond’s clothing store, among other projects. He passed away in December 2012 at the age of 95.
Masi had a special connection to reading and learning, as well as the arts. He was a communications specialist in World War II and he served as a volunteer at the Olean Public Library.
“He was a renaissance man who was a lifelong learner,” said Francine Masi Gabler, one of Masi’s four daughters. “He was curious about everything, and even in his advanced age he continued reading newspapers and magazines.”
So when it became clear that the tables in the reading room, the product of a man with such a strong affinity for learning and such artistic talent, began to weather, Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F., president of the University, decided to get the craftsman’s family involved and approached his eldest grandson, Matthew Utecht.
“She suggested that there be a fundraiser to refinish them, and instead we decided to keep this family legacy alive with family donations to fund whatever work needed to be done,” said Gabler.
The gift was part of a decision by all four daughters: Susan Masi Widmer, ’70 (MS); Karen Masi Utecht; Kathleen Masi Kosciol, ’68 (BA); and Francine Masi Gabler, who taught accounting in the School of Business from 1981-1983. Their combined gift funded the refinishing work completed this past summer by Harden Furniture of McConnellsville, N.Y.
The tables now stand as a testament to Philip Marquand Masi’s character as both a master craftsman and a dedicated learner. On each of the tables are two ornate lamps that provide lighting for students. The surfaces are finished with a gleaming varnish that supports a good work environment. Both of Masi’s passions are present here on the refinished tables.
Masi’s family is happy that their father’s craftsmanship can still be a part of the Friedsam Library, and they are also proud of what the tables mean to the Bonaventure community. An untold number of students have used the tables through the years, and it is gratifying to the family to know the tables will continue to be used and appreciated in the future.
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