Earlier this week, the Concord Museum in Massachusetts received a daguerreotype of Sophia Thoreau (1819-1876), younger sister of American essayist and naturalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). The timing is fortuitous; July 12 marks the bicentennial of the birth of the author of Walden and Civil Disobedience.

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“It is remarkable that her [Sophia’s] image should come to the Concord Museum, since all the great Thoreau objects in our collection came through her hands,” said museum curator David Wood. Numbering 250 artifacts, including Thoreau’s writing desk, snowshoes, textiles, and books, the Concord Museum boasts the largest collection of objects related to Concord’s native son. Thoreau’s journals and manuscripts are at New York’s Morgan Library. 


Thoreau’s fame came posthumously, largely due to the efforts of Sophia, who served as her brother’s literary executor until her own death. She shepherded Henry’s journals to Harrison Blake, an admirer and disciple of Thoreau who edited the material for publication.

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The Sophia daguerreotype is a gift from the Geneva Frost Estate in Maine, and the acquisition is so new that Concord Museum is still researching the portrait and how it ended up in Maine in the first place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

The Concord Museum recently collaborated with the Morgan Library on a comprehensive exhibition dedicated to Henry Thoreau entitled This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal, currently on display in Manhattan. The show travels to Concord in September, where the portrait will be displayed alongside Henry’s quill pen, which is inscribed with a handwriiten note by Sophia, “The pen that brother Henry last wrote with.” This Ever New Self  will be on display in Conord until January 2018. 

                                                                                                                                                                               

Image credits:

Unknown, Portrait of Sophia Thoreau. Used with permission from the Concord Museum.

Benjamin D. Maxham (1821-1889), Henry David Thoreau, 1856, daguerreotype. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Jane+Austen+portrait copy.jpgOn Friday the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford will ask the question: Which Jane Austen?

In an exhibition marking the bicentennial of the author’s death, Austen’s world is broadened beyond her native Hampshire. The manuscripts, artifacts, and ephemera on exhibit aim to contextualize Austen as a businesswoman and as an avid spectator of global issues, including war and British empire-building. For example, her novels, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, are interpreted in the exhibition as wartime texts set alongside military treatises and political cartoons. Three of Austen’s brothers served in the military; the logbook kept by Frank Austen as Post-Captain of HMS Canopus, open at his entry describing the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Nelson, is one of the show’s highlights.

Oxford University professor Kathryn Sutherland, curator of the exhibition and leading Austen expert, said, “Contrary to popular belief, Jane Austen was no retiring country mouse. And while it is assumed that, as an 18th-century female, her context was local and her outlook parochial, Austen was always very much a writer of the world.”

Jane+Austen+Volume+the+First_cover(1) copy.jpgOther highlights include “Volume the First,” a collection of short stories, plays, and verse written by Austen between the ages of 12 and 18; manuscripts of The Watsons and Sanditon; first editions of her novels; her writing desk; and many family and professional letters. The Bodleian Libraries have one of the world’s three most significant collections of Austen material. For this exhibition, several institutions, including Chawton House Library, Jane Austen’s House Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the John Murray Archive, and others, loaned important items.    

A range of events are taking place across the UK this summer to observe the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death (July 18), including The Mysterious Miss Austen, an exhibition at the Discovery Centre, Winchester (through July 24), and various tours, programs, and exhibits at Chawton House Library and Jane Austen’s House Museum.

Images: (Top) A portrait of Jane Austen from the frontispiece of A Memoir of Jane Austen, a biography of the novelist published in 1869 by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh.The portrait is a steel engraving by an unknown artist and is based on a watercolor by James Andrews (1807-1875). Andrews, in his turn, based his portrait on a sketch made by Jane’s sister Cassandra c. 1810. Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. (Middle) Front cover of the unique manuscript “Volume the First.” Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

Guest Post by Martha Bayne

The second-floor ballroom at Chicago’s Journeymen Plumbers Union Hall is a beautiful space--its broad, curving staircases and hanging lamps arguably as well suited to browsing vintage maps and books as hammering out a new contract for the Local. Or at least it was on Saturday, June 17, when the Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association (MWABA) hosted its 56th annual Chicago Book and Paper Fair.

IMG_2923 copy.jpgOf the fifty-three exhibitors, the vast majority were from the Midwest--Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, though some had traveled farther. In addition to the array of first editions of Lolita, On the Road, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, locked inside protective vitrine cases, some glorious bits of Chicagoiana could be found on display and up for sale: a massive ten-volume set documenting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a signed limited edition of Norman Maclean’s 1976 fly-fishing masterpiece A River Runs Through It, and Vol. 1, #2 of “The Dil Pickler,” a letterpress pamphlet produced by the city’s famed Bohemian club of free thinkers.

IMG_2911 copy.jpgIn a corner of the floor Carlos Martinez, proprietor of Chicago’s Bibliodisia, pointed out a two-volume set of the Koran with marbled paper covers and a colored map insert ($1,075) and a worn copy of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal ($75), an inspiration for J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and the basis for many of the potions and herbal remedies used at Hogwarts.

The fair was going “very well,” said Martinez, adding, “I’m always amazed at what people will buy.”

“I like looking at old stuff,” said Don Krage, who comes to the fair every year with his son, a collector of opera memorabilia. “This place is so full of things that go back hundreds of years; I always find interesting things for myself that spark my imagination.”

--Martha Bayne is a Chicago-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in Buzzfeed Reader, Belt Magazine, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Reader, Latterly Magazine, the Rumpus, and other regional and national outlets.

Images courtesy of Martha Bayne

Streaming Books, Literally

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screenshot: PixGrove                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Ever feel like your home is overwhelmed with books? (No? Really?) Well, Spanish artist Alicia Martin has taken inspiration from book sprawl and created massive outdoor sculptures that suggest the aftermath of a book-eating cyclone.


Since the late 1990s, Martin’s book sculptures have tumbled from windows or cascaded over archways throughout Europe, with three located in the heart of Madrid. Despite the innate grandeur of these projects, very little has been written about Martin’s work, in English or Spanish, other than on than a handful of Pinterest sites and blogs. But, here’s what we know:


Each sculpture requires a minimum of 5,000 volumes, according to the artist, who sources her raw material from an ever-present supply of discards. Each structure is held together by internal metal and mesh framing, around which Martin attaches the books. These sculptures recall the work of another biblio-centric artist, that of Nancy Gifford and her piece “Lament,” which we wrote about back in 2014. (Update: “Lament” found a permanent home at the Davidson Library at UC Santa Barbara in 2016.)


In different ways, both Gifford and Martin offer up commentary on the grand sweep of cultural change underway. “The book chose me,” said Martin for the Spanish-language art website queleer.com in 2014. “It [a book] carries much symbolism, and though the result seems obsessive, I do not recognize myself in this obsession. It is an object that stores and records time and space. The book itself is an object to be read, and offers as many “readings” as there are people who have read it.”


So, the next time your books find themselves everywhere but the bookshelves, just think: glued together and toppling out a window, they could have a new story to tell.

                                                                                                                                                          

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The House at Lobster Cove

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The House at Lobster Cove, by Jane Goodrich; Benna Books, $24.95, 388 pages.


George Nixon Black (1842-1928) was a Boston-based heir to a real estate fortune, philanthropist, and collector, and in Jane Goodrich’s fictionalized biography, violence and unhappiness give way to secret romance.                                                                                                                                                                                               Born in a rough-and-tumble timber town in Maine, Nixon’s privileged childhood is marked with turmoil. His family moves to Boston, and Nixon’s nascent homosexuality requires stealth and secrecy while navigating a world filled with buttoned-up Brahmins.                                  

After the death of his infirm sister, Nixon (as he was called to distinguish from his father) taps architect Robert Peabody to build a summer home in the seaside resort town of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Dubbed Kragsyde, the shingle-style home becomes Nixon’s private pleasure grounds where he retreats from Boston with his lover, Charles Brooks Pittman. Nixon and Pittman carve out nearly forty years at Kragsyde, pursuing an unconventional life of domestic bliss. Since so little is known about Nixon’s private life, here the author has crafted a persuasive rendering of what happened behind closed doors.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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                                                                                                                                                                As one of the wealthiest men in Boston, Nixon also used his fortune to amass a magnificent collection of antiques and paintings, and ultimately became one of the largest benefactors of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, for example, came from Nixon. 

                                                                                                                                                                                     

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                                                                                                                                                     Goodrich first learned about Kragsyde and its owner as an art-history student. When she discovered that the house had been demolished 1929, she vowed to resurrect it on Swan’s Island, Maine, which planted the seed for this project.                                                                                                                                                                 

The book itself reflects Goodrich’s other formidable talent as a letterpress printer. The cream-colored cover and title pages were both hand-printed at the author’s studio, while the illustration is Peabody’s own hand-drawn sketch of Kragsyde.


A beguiling examination of life and love in the Gilded Age, The House at Lobster Cove is an ode to a man, his house, and their respective secrets.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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                                                                                                                                                                                   All images courtesy Jane Goodrich. Library photo: Bret Morgan. 

What better day than June 14--the birthday of author Harriet Beecher Stowe--to share this exciting literary tourism news: The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut, launched a new interactive tour of the writer’s house this past weekend. According to a press release, “Throughout the National Historic Landmark home, velvet ropes and stanchions have been removed.” You can literally immerse yourself in Stowe’s salon. “In Stowe’s parlor, visitors will sit to discuss 19th-century social justice issues just as Stowe did during her residence. In conversation with their guide, visitors will connect the past to the present, identifying issues that resonate today.”

Stowe House exterior showing KSD copy.jpgStowe (1811-1896) is best known for her bestselling anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The Stowe Center is a museum and research library based in the home where she lived from 1873-1896 (incidentally, right next door to fellow author Mark Twain).

The Stowe House recently began an extensive, $3.3-million preservation project as well. So far, new climate controls, state-of-the-art fire suppression, and renovated historic windows have been installed. They are currently working on interiors, with custom-made carpeting, paint, and wallpapers reflecting Stowe’s choices being readied for final placement this summer.  

“An important part of the Stowe Center’s mission is preserving Stowe’s home and historic collections,” said Thomas Farrish, chair of the Stowe Center Board of Trustees. “After being open to the public since 1968, major capital improvements were essential to preserve the National Historic Landmark for generations to come.”

Aside from the new tour and refurbished rooms, visitors can also see the table where Stowe wrote her famous bestseller, as well as the 1853 anti-slavery petition presented to her by the women of Great Britain--the 26-volume collection was signed by a half million women.

The Stowe House is open year-round. Check out its calendar of events and programs online.

Image credit: Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT. Courtesy of the HBSC. 

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The Beatrix Potter Society hosted a three-day symposium this past weekend at Connecticut College dedicated to discussing various Potter archives and biographies in an overall appreciation of the creator of beloved classics like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. Connecticut College’s Betsy Bray and Kathy Cole coordinated the event, which was two years in the making. Most participants hailed from libraries and institutions across the United States and Great Britain, though the group maintains a robust membership in Japan, where Peter Rabbit and a taste for British wit are hugely popular. 


The symposium kicked things off Friday with an opening reception at the Shain Library. Honorary Chair Linda Lear welcomed participants to her alma mater and to the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, which opened in 2008 and now houses her research collection on Beatrix Potter.


Last year marked the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth, and with it came a flurry of academic and commercial publications, inspiring a spirited examination on Saturday (moderated by Lear) devoted to the many biographies of Potter and their virtues. Incidentally, Lear is the author of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature (2007) which was reissued last year in time for Potter’s sesquicentennial.


Fellow Connecticut College alumnus and University of Delaware Senior Research Fellow Mark Samuels Lasner was one of the weekend’s featured speakers and discussed the corpus of Potter bibliographies. Lasner recently donated his own 9,500-volume collection of British literature and art from 1850 through 1900 to the University of Delaware.


Collector Selwyn Goodacre also spoke at the symposium. A retired physician, Goodacre collects American “unauthorized editions” of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and has every printing of the book, which numbers over 150. Goodacre is a regular at these events: he’s attended every biennial conference in England since the society’s inception in 1980 and has spoken at four of them.


Beatrix Potter Society Chairperson Rowena Godfrey talked about Potter’s continued relevance in 2017. “[Potter] was a fascinating, complicated, and contradictory person, and those qualities appeal to casual readers, serious collectors, and professional archivists. Her books remain immensely profitable, so she remains in the public eye, and her archives continue to foster rich study. Her life and her work offers so much to so many people, and oddly enough, the one person who would hate this would be Potter herself.” Perhaps some part of her would appreciate so many people dedicated to the curatorship and protection of her work and bequests.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Image: The Tailor Mouse, 1902, by Beatrix Potter. (Public Domain)

At auction last week in New York was a bound volume containing two early nineteenth-century ship’s logbooks, “Journal of a Voyage, from Bristol to the Mediterranean, Anno Domini 1819” and “Log-Book Kept on board the Astraea On a Voyage from London to the Mediterranean, Anno-Domini 1821.” Unlike many logbooks of their kind, these two displayed exceptional artistic merit, containing 28 leaves of ink calligraphy (page headers) and 35 fine watercolor drawings. Their creator, Captain William Hodgson, drew not only his own ships but other trading vessels traveling through the Mediterranean at the time.   

2450-296_2 copy.jpgInterest in the nautical manuscripts was strong. Multiple bidders took the volume well past its $3,000-5,000 estimate; ultimately, a dealer won it for $20,800. Swann Galleries specialist Caleb Kiffer noted, “The log book is one of those unusual items that rarely comes to market and that gets people really excited.”

_DSC4070.jpgRead more about this lot on Swann’s blog.

Images courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Hamlet: Globe to Globe

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                                                                                                                                                                               In 2012, Globe Theatre’s artistic director Dominic Dromgoole and his team came up with “a daft idea:” celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth by taking Hamlet on a two-year tour of 197 countries. In Hamlet: Globe to Globe, Dromgoole explains how the concept took shape, the logistics that were involved, and how a centuries-old play resonated with audiences around the world.


On the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth--April 23, 2014--twelve actors and four stage managers began their global trek at a breakneck speed. Flying into a new country, setting up, performing, dismantling, and moving on for nearly two years testified to the actors’ stamina and perseverance. Plenty could have easily derailed this undertaking as well: an attack of Montezuma’s revenge in Mexico City, for example, nearly ended them.


Hamlet possess the breathless quality of an early 20th-century travelogue. At times, the pace is frenzied, but that is partly due to the subject matter, in a sense recreating what the Globe actors must have felt during two years performing on the road. Anecdotes of kicking back (time permitting) at various tour stops provide moments of levity and respite.


How did performing Hamlet throughout the world connect disparate audiences to Shakespeare’s most powerful tragedy? Dromgoole answers this in fits and spurts--when the troupe arrives in Saudi Arabia, he remarks on the large number of students attending the performance, recalling that Hamlet was also a student on leave from his studies in Wittenberg. It is unclear whether the rousing reception at curtain call was because the Saudi students made that connection or because they simply enjoyed the performance. Later, Dromgoole encounters students in a piazza, where he learns that Hamlet’s disobedience thrilled them most. This is an unusual but informative interaction, and more such stories would have provided greater insight.


The troupe’s visit to a refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border in October 2015 received much publicity, and Dromgoole’s descriptions of the conditions are powerful. But there’s no sense of whether the performance left any impact on the refugees. The audience “squawked with an awkward excitement” when Hamlet tussles with Ophelia, but there’s no sense of what that squawking meant. Did the Syrians connect with a play performed in a language they may not have understood? If so, what did they feel? That is the tantalizing question.


A few sections discuss the complications surrounding comprehension--a production in Mexico City relies on a less-than-reliable local translator--and it would have been interesting to learn how, if at all, the play was translated to non-English speaking audiences.


What’s the takeaway? The author’s love for Shakespeare is paramount, and his discussions on the minutiae of the tragedy would be valuable to any student of the Bard. While recounting a most admirable endeavor--bringing “Hamlet” to the world--Hamlet: Globe to Globe reaffirms that Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature is universally timeless and needs no translation.

                                                                                                                                                                            

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Hamlet and Laertes face off in the final duel in Odeon Amphitheatre, Amman, Jordan. Credit: Sarah Lee

                                                                                                                                                                              

Hamlet: Globe to Globe, by Dominic Dromgoole; Grove Press, $27.00, 390 pages.

Recently, the Wolfsonian-Florida International University and Instagram forum #JJ Community launched a social media campaign aimed at contemporary photographers, asking them to respond to the work of celebrated WPA photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Over seven thousand entries were submitted via Instagram, and from those, fifteen finalists have been selected to exhibit their work in the museum’s lobby beginning Friday, June 9, in an installation titled The Long Road to Now: Digital Photos Inspired by Berenice Abbott’s Road Trip. It coincides with the museum’s current exhibit, North and South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1 (organized by the Syracuse University Art Collection).

The winning entries (pictured below) fall under three themes: Signage, Classic, and Road Trip, each derived from motifs found in North and South. Abbott is largely known for black-and-white photography that depicted urban America between the wars, New York City specifically. On her 1954 journey along U.S. Route 1, she took more than two thousands photographs of East Coast roads, towns, and inhabitants.   

image-wolf.jpgLeft to right: details of winning submissions by artists Toby Baldinger (IG: @tobyb_nyc | Signage category), Frank Orrico (IG: @franko68 | Classic category), and Susie Nishio (IG: @loggerhead55 | Road Trip category).

Said Wolfsonian director Tim Rodgers: “In this day and age, with so many millions of images shared, consumed, and quickly forgotten online, we’re excited to extend these ephemeral moments for the chance at deeper reflection. The fifteen stunning works, each so carefully considered and skillfully executed, are right at home when seen in conversation with Abbott’s iconic images.”

The winning entires will remain on view through October 8.

Auction Guide