A stunning, Depression-era bathing beauty graced the cover of our summer issue. The photograph was taken in 1939 by Farm Security Administration (FSA) photojournalist Marion Post Wolcott (1910-1990). In that issue, writer Jonathan Shipley profiled her life and career, and we heard about (and saw) some of her better known images. Which is why, when paging through Swann Galleries’ catalog for its October 15 sale of Icons & Images: Fine and Vernacular Photographs, I was pleased to recognize Wolcott’s work among the offerings, alongside Walker Evans and W. Eugene Smith.

709952.jpgThe upcoming lot includes three selenium-toned silver prints, all shot in 1938-39 but printed in the 1970s and signed by the photographer. They are quintessential Wolcott images: a “jook joint” in Mississippi; a general store in North Carolina; and a coal miner’s child in West Virginia carrying home a can of kerosene (pictured here). The last-mentioned is one of her best known photographs. The estimate for the lot is $2,500-$3,500.

Singular lots of her photos have sold in the $1,500-$4,000 range in recent years, although the auction record for her work is a gelatin silver print of “Migrant Vegetable Pickers...near Homestead, Florida,” which sold in 2011 for $12,500. 

Image via Swann Galleries. “Coal Miner’s Child Carrying Home Can of Kerosene, Company houses, Scotts Run, W. Va.,” 1938; printed 1977. Marion Post Wolcott.

Ten Days in Wonderland

Earlier this year I mentioned that New York City had fallen under the spell of Alice in Wonderland, and this week the birthday celebrations for the 150-year-old classic reach maximum intensity. Starting today, members of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America (LCSNA) arrive in New York for their annual meeting and to host their two-day conference, “Alice in Popular Culture.” Though this and other events are completely booked, there’s plenty of Carrollian programming for visitors to behold. Below, a sampling of activities for the next few days that are open to the public:

Jessie Willcox Smith's illustration of Alice s...

Jessie Willcox Smith’s illustration of Alice surrounded by the characters of Wonderland. (1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*Friday, October 2: The New York Public Library for Performing Arts opens Alice Live!, an exhibit that traces the history of Alice in Wonderland in live performance, starting with the first professional stage production of the story in London in 1866. (Through January 16.)
*Friday, October 2: Have your ticket ready for the Museum of Mathematics’ Alice birthday party with an adults-only night at the museum. Registration for Unbounded: An Evening at MoMath - The Art and Magic of Alice is required, but includes one free drink. (Subsequent potions available for purchase.) Doors open at 7:30. Costumes welcome.
*Saturday, October 3: Head over to the Sony Wonder Technology Lab for a screening of Behind the Scenes of “Alice in Wonderland,” and take a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Disney’s live-action version of the story. This 14-minute film is shown every half hour.
*Sunday, October 4: Examine Carroll’s original manuscript (on loan from the British Library) at the Morgan’s Alice: 150 Years in Wonderland. Runs through October 12.                      
*Monday, October 5: The Grolier Club is particularly busy this week, hosting an exhibition exploring the translation of Alice into over 170 languages and a two-day colloquium on the 7th and 8th. The exhibition, Alice in a World of Wonderlands runs in conjunction with the recent publication of a three-volume analysis dedicated to the challenges posed in translating the story.

Still not enough? Can’t get to New York? How about a little musical celebration: Boston-based nonprofit Foundwaves collected new songs and art inspired by each chapter of Alice in Wonderland, and everything is accessible here. Listen to Max and the Groovies sing “Drink Me,” or an ode to Chapter 9 called “The Mock Turtle’s Story” by Hi Lo Ha. The overall sound and look of these tributes are perfectly trippy.
John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration fo...

John Tenniel’s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s “Alice in Wonderland.” Alice sitting between Gryphon and Mock turtle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sylvia_plath for 100115.jpg
An upcoming biography of Ted Hughes reveals that the poet was in bed with another lover on the evening that Sylvia Plath, his wife, committed suicide.

Sir Jonathan Bate, a provost of Worcester College, Oxford, and author of the new biography of Ted Hughes also discovered that the Hughes poem “Last Letter” is about the three days leading up to Plath’s suicide at age 30 in 1963.

The poem was inspired by “an enigmatic parting love letter” that Plath wrote to Hughes a few days before she died. Plath wrote a letter stating that she planned to soon leave the country, never to see Hughes again.  

Plath mailed the letter on Friday, expecting it not to arrive until the following day, however an efficient postal service delivered the letter to Hughes on Friday afternoon. Hughes rushed “through the snow-blue, London twilight” to see Plath at her home in Primrose Hill. An argument ensued and Plath burnt the letter.

Hughes wrote of the meeting, ” What happened that night? Your final night.” The poem continues, “Late afternoon, Friday, my last sight of you alive. Burning your letter to me, in the ashtray, with that strange smile.”

A distraught Plath attempted to telephone Hughes on Saturday, however the phone at Hughes’s flat was answered by Hughes’s lover Susan Alliston.  

Plath took her own life on the Sunday evening.  According to Bate, Hughes was in bed with Alliston that night.  Hughes found out about his wife’s suicide the following morning.

Bate’s biography will be published next week.

[Image from Wikipedia]
If ever there were a headline--or a book title--to entice bibliophiles, surely this is it. And Sasha Abramsky’s new book, The House of Twenty Thousand Books (NYRB, $27.95), a combination of memoir, history, and biography, more than delivers on that lure.

House20k_2048x2048 copy.jpgAbramsky, a journalist and senior fellow at Demos think tank, writes lovingly of his grandparents’ house at 5 Hillway, in Highgate, London. Chimen, the Russian-born atheist son of a famous rabbi, and his wife, Mimi, gathered not only thousands of rare books there but hundreds of scholars, friends, and family members, turning their home into “one of left-wing London’s great salons.” Each chapter invites readers into one room of the house to survey its bookish contents and to hear fascinating accounts of prominent visitors, bitter arguments, and delicious meals.

Chimen, introduced at a 1969 Jewish Book Week lecture as “possibly the greatest Jewish bibliophile in the world,” collected both Socialist material and Judaica. Abramsky writes, “...every single room in the house, except the bathroom and kitchen, was lined from floor to ceiling with shelves double-stacked with books.” There were rarities like The Communist Manifesto with both Marx’s and Engels’ personal annotations, and William Morris’ complete collection of the Socialist League’s journal, The Commonweal, stored in a box built by Morris. There were sets of egalitarian Everyman’s classics too. The incredibly well-read Chimen, perhaps best suited for academic life, ran a bookshop called Shapiro, Valentine & Co. in London’s East End in the sixties. His encyclopedia memory for bibliography served him well as he became the leading consultant on manuscripts at Sotheby’s; he catalogued the collection of David Sassoon in the seventies, a sale that “essentially jump-started the modern global market in rare Hebrew materials.” In his later years, Chimen joined the faculty of University College London and lectured widely on Jewish books and history.

In 2010, Chimen died at the age of 93, and his library--an estimated 15,000-20,000 volumes--was sold. The author kept a shelf-full of his grandfather’s books as a legacy. More significantly, though, he documented his grandfather’s life. It is an important story, and Abramsky confronts harsh truths with warmth and wisdom. He also understands (and celebrates) the bibliomania behind the floor-to-ceiling, double-stacked shelves. In discussing Chimen’s friendship with Italian expatriate economist Piero Sraffa, he writes, “Over the decades, they swapped rare books and shared with each other the joy of the hunt, the unspeakable pleasure--that only a fellow connoisseur could understand--of finding a particular edition of a particular book or pamphlet, and of procuring it for a lower-than-anticipated price.” It’s a feeling that all of us can relate to.  

Image via NYRB.
Guest Post by Catherine Batac-Walder

aerial photo from blenheimpalace.com.jpgThe annual Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film & Music in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, was held this past weekend on September 24-27, and I had the opportunity to attend the Endeavour event on Sunday. (Endeavour is a British TV drama series, a prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse series, based on the crime novels of Colin Dexter. The show follows the early career of the younger Morse in Oxford in the 1960s.) The panel consisted of actor Shaun Evans (who plays Endeavour Morse), writer Russell Lewis, and producer Dan McCulloch. Dexter, now 85, was present in the audience. The group showed us a clip from series three which airs in January.

As a fan of the original series and of Oxford as a location, it is always refreshing to find new Morse stories. As much as Russell Lewis remarked that Endeavour isn’t meant to be a tribute to what we know about Morse, I couldn’t help but notice the formula being used for these spin-offs. I do love literary mysteries, but it would be nice to have more variety and less crimes that relate to a poem, a crossword puzzle, or a piece of music. Other than this, in my opinion, the actors and creators of Endeavour are doing a great job, and to recreate a 1960s Oxford is no menial task.

Other guests at this year’s festival included Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who talked about his new novel, A Strangeness in my Mind, and radio presenter Paul Gambaccini, whose new book is called Love, Paul Gambaccini.

On its own, Blenheim Palace is a fantastic place to visit with its park, gardens, miniature train, and 300 years of history. It is also the birthplace of Winston Churchill, whose grave is in nearby Bladon.

--Catherine Batac-Walder is a writer living in the UK.

Image via Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film & Music.

249L15414_8FFP8.jpgA typescript of Bob Dylan’s lyrics for “It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” will be auctioned at Sotheby’s London tomorrow. The heavily revised text, showing more than 110 words in Dylan’s handwriting, is, Sotheby’s noted, “a highly important early working draft of the song that first revealed Dylan’s poetic ambitions as a songwriter.” The estimate for these two precious leaves is ¬£150,000-200,000 ($234,000-312,000).

It is widely believed that Dylan typed this document in a “hide-out room” above the Gaslight, a folk music club/cafe in New York City’s Greenwich Village. According to folksinger Tom Paxton, Dylan first thought of “Hard Rain” as a poem. The “hide-out room” was likely the office of Hugh Romney, aka Wavy Gravy, who was the club’s poetry director at the time. This typescript actually comes to auction from the family of Romney’s first wife, Elisabeth (Lily) Djehizian, a waitress at the Gaslight in the early sixties.

According to Sotheby’s, “The current typescript is one of three known manuscripts of the poem, the others being an autograph lyric fragment among the Mackenzie-Krown papers now at the Morgan Library, and the final working manuscript (sold Sotheby’s, New York, 24 June 2014, lot 141, $400,000).”

Pop music lyrics are increasingly a hot commodity at auction. Dylan’s working manuscript of “Like a Rolling Stone,” made more than $2 million in 2014, and Don McLean’s original working manuscript of “American Pie” achieved $1.2 million earlier this year. Tomorrow’s sale also includes manuscript lyrics by Jack Bruce and Bruce Springsteen. 

Image via Sotheby’s.

brodsky doll.jpg

Precise glass towers soar along an alluring coastline, a cozy treehouse named in honor of Winnie-the-Pooh, and a dollhouse that bears a greater resemblance to a totem pole than a child’s plaything - these are a few of the eccentric illustrations created by Moscow natives Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin during a fifteen-year span from 1978 to 1993. (After viewing a set of images, I thought the work was an unexpected marriage of illustrations in Diderot’s Encyclop√©die with the unsettling whimsy of Edward Gorey. Take a look for yourself, and tell me what you think.) Though graceful handwritten text often accompanies each etching, it rarely deciphers the image at hand and serves more as a written counterpoint to the Soviet demand that everything be purely functional and devoid of beauty.
brodsky winnie.jpg

Brodsky and Utkin collaborated on dreamlike illustrations of homes, gardens, and entire cities with the ultimate goal of creating drawings whose futuristic components are solidly rooted in historical precedence, evoking an imaginary utopia at the turn of the 20th century, where utilitarian Soviet structures do not exist and citizens coexist happily among each other in well-planned (if totally fanciful) spaces. Though the men did not travel outside the USSR, their local library provided inspiration on topics like Egyptian tombs, French urban planning, and the Japanese obsession with refinement and precision. In a bid to undermine their work, Soviet detractors called Brodsky and Utkin ‘paper architects’, but the men embraced the moniker, and their art became illustrated architectural criticism of the Soviet Union and its ideology. These monochrome etchings have remained valuable educational tools for city planners, politicians and even set designers. 

A compilation of their work, entitled Brodsky & Utkin, was first published by Princeton Architectural Press in 1991. The book was reprinted earlier this month (again, by Princeton) in the same navy blue, clothbound cover as the original. This latest printing coincides with a display of Brodsky and Utkin’s etchings at London’s Tate Modern art museum. Part of a larger exhibition called Poetry and Dream, these illustrations highlight that, no matter how experimental or abstract contemporary art may be, there is often a strong desire to connect with the past, whether it ever existed or not. 

Brodsky & Utkin, with a new preface by Aleksandr Mergold, and original introduction by Lois Nesbitt; Princeton Architectural Press, $50.

Poetry & Dream is an ongoing display at the Tate Modern art museum in London.

Top Image: Doll’s House, 1990. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Inc. Bottom image: Dwelling House of Winnie-the-Pooh, 1990. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Inc.

Related articles
The rare book department at the Boston Public Library has closed for five to ten weeks after the staff discovered mold spores on a medieval manuscript as well as several other prized holdings in scattered locations throughout the department.

Boston Public Library’s rare book department is located in the McKim Building in Copley Square. The building was completed in 1895, long before modern advances in archival climate control. The staff depends upon the central air conditioning system in the building as well as strategically deployed dehumidifiers. 

The McKim Building is in the middle of a major renovation. When the renovation was coupled with late season humidity it created a “perfect storm” of conditions according to Laura Irmscher, chief of collections strategy. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Irmscher continued, “I think the time of the year and the extended humidity really played a significant part in it.”

Librarians will proceed to stabilize the humidity levels in the rare book department, then decontaminate the impacted materials. All 500,000 volumes in the collection -- widely considered one of the world’s best -- will need to be hand-examined.

Image of the McKim Building from Wikipedia.
Penguin is a book publisher that always seems to be innovating with its packaging and design (e.g. Penguin Drop Caps, Little Black Classics, re-designed Penguin Classics by Coralie Bickford-Smith). Now Penguin is trying its hand at “craft-inspired jackets.” They’ve taken six novels and allowed six artists to re-imagine the cover art in different media. The artwork was then reproduced as paperback cover art. The results are amazing.

getimage-3.jpgFor The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, artist Jenny Hart embroidered the entire design by hand. Read more about it here

getimage-1.jpgFor The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, designer Genevieve Dionne chose the art of wood burning to create her cover. Read more about it here.  

getimage-2.jpgFor The Help by Kathryn Stockett, designer Brenda Riddle created her book jacket first in a quilt. Read more about it here.

The Penguin By Hand series also includes Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club, showing a cut paper and collage-inspired cover; Kim Edwards’ The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter featuring a design created by “tactile typography”; and Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love, displaying a needlepoint design. 

Poe RR.jpgA rare Edgar Allan Poe letter is up for grabs from Boston’s RR Auction. The short but “boldly penned” letter dated September 21, 1843 is addressed to Elwood Evans, a Philadelphia lawyer and potential literary journal subscriber. The author writes, “I have been absent from the city for the last few weeks and your note of the 15th is only this moment received. I have the pleasure of informing you that Mr. Dana’s address is Chestnut Street, Boston.”

Poe letters are uncommon and pricey at auction; even this brief and somewhat ordinary (contextually speaking) piece of correspondence is estimated to make $60,000-80,000. Online bidding has already commenced; the live auction begins on Monday, Sept. 28, at 1:00.

“Poe’s autograph is excessively rare in any form and among the most sought-after of all literary figures,” said Bobby Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction.

Other highlights of next week’s auction include a typed J. D. Salinger letter and a signed first edition of The Archaeology of the Industrial Revolution signed by Stephen Hawking.

Image Courtesy of RR Auction.

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