Required Reading: Reimagining a Colonial Library

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 - Saturday, March 14th, 2020

A major exhibition that will showcase and interpret the King’s Chapel Library Collection, one of the surviving treasures of 17th century Boston, exploring the city's colonial history, the fine crafts of bookbinding and furniture-making, and the meaning of “essential knowledge.”

“Required Reading” will tell the story of colonial Bostonians’ quest for “essential knowledge”—and invite visitors to reflect on their own “must-read” lists. In 1698, the set of 221 books crossed the Atlantic on HMS Deptford, a fifty-gun man-of-war, to serve as a compact library of necessary works for King’s Chapel, the first Anglican church in Boston. They had been chosen by Reverend Thomas Bray of London, an appointed commissary, or spiritual guide, to Anglican outposts in the American colonies. Cached safely when the minister, loyal to the British Crown, fled Boston in 1776, the books re-emerged after the American Revolution, and were deposited at the Athenæum in 1823.

“Required Reading” will feature a full-scale replica of the massive, ark-like bookcase designed in 1883 to house the historic collection. The replica, built in 2019 by exhibition designer Brent Budsberg of Current Projects and supported in part by the Chipstone Foundation, is an achievement in contemporary fine woodworking. It will be modified in an innovative way, enabling visitors to immerse themselves in the rich contexts of the cabinet, its books, and their legacy.

Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery, first floor
Boston Athenaeum
10½ Beacon Street

Boston, MA

42.357945, -71.0620299