Percy Ash represents the first group of University of Pennsylvania graduates who attended European schools following graduation in order to augment their studies in architecture. Returning to the States after this experience, they often communicated their Beaux-Arts training to other architects via positions on the faculties of the growing number of architectural schools in the country.
Ash was born in Philadelphia, the son of John Dorsey and Caroline Virginia (McGrath) Ash. In 1886 he received his B.S. in Architecture and Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Following graduation, he entered the office of G. W. and W. D. Hewitt, where he remained until 1889, moving in that year to the office of Theophilus Parsons Chandler as a draftsman. In 1890 he worked briefly for Frank Miles Day, also as a draftsman before moving away from Philadelphia and undertaking work for the Buchanan Land Company of Virginia (1890 to 1892). Back in Philadelphia in 1892, Ash entered the Cope & Stewardson office as a draftsman.
His drawing and rendering skills had already been recognized in architectural competitions while at the University, where he received a first mention in the University's traveling scholarship competition and a first mention in the Rome Prize competition of 1894. Finally in 1895 he was awarded the University of Pennsylvania's Traveling Scholarship for his design for "A Bank for Savings." This scholarship enabled him to study at the American Academy of Rome for the year 1895/1896, followed by a year in Paris in the ateliers of Godefroy and Freynet.
Ash returned to the United States in 1898, worked briefly again with Cope & Stewardson and then, still in 1898, began work at the League Island Navy Yard as a draftsman for the U. S. government. This government employment gained him access to the Supervising Architect's Office in Washington, DC, where he worked from 1900 until 1905. During his tenure there, he designed and supervised the working drawings for the U. S. Government Building and the Fish Commission Building at the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 and post offices in Seattle, WN, and Charlottesville, VA. Also during his time in Washington, he became a member of the Washington Architectural Club and served as its secretary in 1902 and its president in 1904.
Ash's participation in the education of future architects began during his years in Washington, DC. In 1902 he was appointed a part-time Professor of Architecture at George Washington University (then known as the Columbian University). This position led to his appointment to Professor in charge of the Department of Architecture there in 1904, a position which he accepted after leaving the Office of the Supervising Architect. In 1910 he became Dean of the Department of Architecture. By 1910, however, the peripatetic Ash already had his eyes fixed on another position in another state. He resigned from George Washington University to become Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan, where he would remain until June, 1912. In that month he returned to Washington, DC, in order to supervise the development of the nearby estate of Gordon Strong. From 1912 to 1913 he divided his time between private practice and the design faculty at George Washington University.
In 1913 Ash accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Design at the University of Illinois. This time he stayed in the Midwest for five years, but he returned to Philadelphia in 1918 to enter a partnership with William D. Hewitt under the name Hewitt & Ash. Following Hewitt's death in 1924, Ash was employed by the City of Philadelphia as assistant architect, but 1926 found him back in architectural education, this time at Pennsylvania State University, where he would remain until his death in 1933.
Ash had become a member of the national AIA in 1903. His local memberships followed his several addresses; and, therefore, he became a junior member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA in 1889, transferred to the Illinois Chapter in 1913, and to the Southern Pennsylvania Chapter in 1919. He also held memberships in the Scarab Society, in Pi Gamma Alpha, an honorary fraternity, and the T-Square Club of Philadelphia.
Ash was also a member of the faculty of the International Correspondence Schools, an organization based in Scranton, PA, for whom David Knickerbacker Boyd, William Groben, John Harbeson, and others from the Philadelphia area worked. Under the auspices of the ICS he published the text Theory of Architectural Design in 1930.
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- T-Square Club
- Scarab Society
- University of Pennsylvania
- Ecole des Beaux-Arts
- American Academy in Rome
- Pennsylvania State University
- George Washington University
- University of Michigan
- University of Illinois
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