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Maxwell Sommerville was born on May 1st, 1829, in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) to Dr. Maxwell Sommerville and Mary Fulton McAlpin Sommerville. The Sommerville family resided in Clarksburg until the death of Dr. Sommerville in 1836, after which Sommerville and his mother relocated to Philadelphia to reside with his grandfather, James McAlpin. His grandfather's collection of Greek vases instilled in him an early desire to study and acquire antiquities and works of art.

After graduating from Central High School in 1847, Sommerville moved to Bethlehem, PA, where he was employed as the editor of the local newspaper. Sommerville eventually moved back to Philadelphia, where he married his first wife Anna Julia Sherman in 1863 (died 1890, married to Annie Marie Patten in 1891), and served as the Chaplain of the Commonwealth Artillery of Pennsylvania during the Civil War. During this time, Sommerville amassed a considerable amount of wealth as a result of working at the Sherman & Company printing house (founded by his father-in-law), which enabled him to take many trips abroad. Over the course of more than thirty years, Sommerville traveled to Turkey, Syria, Egypt, China, Japan, India and other countries, and collected many gems of great antiquity and beauty.

In 1889 Dr. William Pepper, Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, become interested in Sommerville's collection of engraved gems, and inquired as to whether the collection might be available for use in the school's new museum. Though the gems were loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the time, this marked the beginning of Sommerville's relationship with the University of Pennsylvania. In 1894, Sommerville was made a Professor of Glyptology (the study of gem engravings) at the University, and assisted in the installation of his collection in the especially constructed Baugh Pavillion of the Free Museum of Science and Art of the University of Pennsylvania.

tot2Sommerville was presumably introduced to the ideals and practices of Freemasonry at a young age, for his grandfather, James McAlpin, had been a member of University Lodge No. 51. Following in his grandfather's footsteps, Sommerville entered Union Lodge No. 121 on February 9, 1865, and obtained memberships in the following bodies: Excelsior Mark Lodge No. 216, May 10, 1865; Oriental Chapter No. 183 R.A.M., June 15, 1865; Philadelphia Council No. 11, January 10, 1866; St. John's Commandery, May 22, 1866; Kadosh Commandery No. 29 K.T.; Philadelphia Consistory, 32°, Lu Lu Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S.; and the Masonic Veterans Association. Sommerville was also one of the Board Managers of the Art Association of the Masonic Temple, a position in which he took great pride and pleasure.

Maxwell Sommerville died on May 5th, 1904, in Paris, France, while on one of his frequent trips to Europe. His body was returned to Philadelphia and was interred at Mount Vernon Cemetery on May 20th, with full Masonic and Grand Army honors. In his will, Sommerville made several Masonic bequests, one of which impacts us to this day. In addition to a fine collection of oil paintings, Sommerville left the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania ten thousand dollars to be invested and used to purchase objects and works of art to be placed in the Masonic Temple. Thanks to the generosity and foresight of Maxwell Sommerville, the Masonic Temple has been able to fill its halls and corridors with beautiful works of art. To exemplify his munificence, the museum commissioned artist David Larned to paint a portrait of Sommerville. Working from period photographs, Mr. Larned successfully captured Sommerville's personality and spirit. Sommerville's kindness has come full circle, for he is now a work of art.

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