July 2014 Archives

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PITTSFIELD - Today would be Herman Melville’s 195th birthday. Born on Pearl Street in Manhattan, the Moby Dick author found solace and inspiration at his family home known as Arrowhead, nestled in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

On August 5 1850, four days after turning 31, Melville met Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, at 46 years old, was an established figure on the American literary scene. Local Stockbridge attorney David Dudley, Jr. was a mutual acquaintance and set up the rendez-vous by inviting the writers, along with Oliver Wendell Holmes, for a hike up nearby Monument Mountain. An unexpected thunderstorm forced the group to take shelter in a cave, which gave Melville and Hawthorne an opportunity to converse at length and ultimately develop something of a literary father-son relationship. The party reached the summit and celebrated in style, toasting their arrival with champange and a poetry reading. 

Over the next three years Melville and Hawthorne wrote regularly to each other, sharing ideas, editing and commenting on the other’s work. At the time, Melville was finishing The Whale, while Hawthorne was putting together short stories based on his hometown of Salem. While the friendship would fade by 1852, the men forged a relationship that impacted both their literary and professional lives thereafter. (Melville even dedicated Moby Dick to his friend: “To Nathaniel Hawthorne: In token of my admiration for his genius.”)

The Berkshire Historical Society at Arrowhead has hosted a free hike up the mountain to commemorate the meeting since the late 1990s. I spoke with Berkshire Historical Society curator Will Garrison about this weekend’s walkabout. “Well, we don’t drink champagne at the top anymore,” Garrison says. “We stick to sparkling water these days.” Lack of alcoholic refreshment doesn’t deter enthusiasts in the slightest - between forty and fifty people make the journey each year.

The group meets promptly at 9 a.m. at the base of the mountain, in the parking lot, where a volunteer reads the first half of the same poem Melville’s hiking party had read: William Cullen Bryant’s  “Monument Mountain,” a lyrical ode about a lovesick Mohican maiden who throws herself off a cliff when forbidden to marry her true love. Her body was covered with stones as a “monument” to the event. Once at the summit - Squaw Peak - the group finishes the poem, toasts the milestone, and heads back down.  

Interested parties may learn more at the Berkshires Trustees website. Participants are encouraged to wear closed-toe shoes and to be prepared for a moderate three-mile effort, with a total elevation gain of 720 feet. 

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Monument Mountain, where Melville and Hawthorne first toasted their friendship. © Berkshires Trustees of Reservations.
Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with William Noel, Director of the Kislak Center, for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

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How did you get started in rare books?

When I was about sixteen I was completely staggered to learn that you could actually hold an Anglo-Saxon manuscript in your hands, even today, if you could persuade a friendly librarian that you had a genuine research reason to do so.  I had to work hard to find my first research reason, and harder than I would like to admit to find my first friendly librarian. But after having studied one manuscript in the flesh I found it easy to think of reasons why I had to look at more.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

Cambridge University

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Director of the Kislak Center, for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. I am also the Director of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, which is a Research Institute for the study of manuscripts in the digital age.

Tell us about some of your projects, I understand you directed the Archimedes Palimpsest project for example:

So the Archimedes Palimpsest is a thirteenth century Byzantine prayerbook. It contains seven erased undertexts, including two treatises by Archimedes that don’t exist anywhere else, and it turns out, other unique political and philosophical texts from the ancient world (www.archimedespalimpsest.org).  The book was in such bad condition, the scripts so illegible, and the texts so important, that I was able to gather the help of the best conservators, imagers, project managers, data specialists and scholars in the world to do the work.  My primary goal in the project was to make sure I never made a decision; the decisions were best made by the experts. my role was to create an environment in which the right people could make the best decisions.  That wasn’t always easy, but I had a far easier job than the experts. It was the coolest project that I have worked on, but I am just as proud of my publications on English manuscript illumination, and of the digital catalogue and archive of many of the manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, where I could and sometimes did contribute to the intellectual side of the endeavor. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

Easy. The Utrecht Psalter - the great masterpiece of the book arts from the Carolingian Renaissance. I have only grazed it with the little finger of my right hand. But I have spent several days looking at it with Koert van der Horst, who was the (very friendly) keeper of manuscripts at the University Library of Utrecht for many years.

What do you personally collect?

Recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Two things.  Handling medieval manuscripts on a daily basis, and the potential of digital technologies to make special collections available to an audience of five billion people.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I tell you what. The future of Special collections is clear, and its rosy, and they will be central to the future of any library that is lucky enough to house them. As for rare book librarianship as a vocation, we have to make sure that we retain and value traditional skills as we rightly embrace the most modern technologies.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

We are currently processing the archive off John Mauchly, the co-inventor of Eniac, and he turns out to have been a wonderful character. Check out this and other blog posts by Holly Mengel.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Opening on August 22, and running through December 19 is “As the Ink Flows; Works from the Pen of William Steig”, which will display highlights of a collection of over 3,000 drawings, notebooks and other material, by this wonderful cartoonist and children’s book author. The gift was made by his widow Jeanne, to University of Pennsylvania Libraries.
9781451667059.jpgDo Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records (Scribner, $25) is not, of course, a book about books, but it is a book about collecting, which is why it made our list of “7 Summer Reads.” The author, music critic Amanda Petrusich, delves into the underworld of quirky collectors, an “oddball fraternity of men” who scour flea markets and estate sales looking for backwoods blues artists released in small batches on 78s in the 1920s and 30s. It’s a fun and often funny book, and one that will inspire a feeling of familiarity among bibliophiles--Petrusich herself admits to her childhood predilection for perfectly lined up spines of her paperback collection. The book is about the “lure of objects,” as she puts it, and the preservation and veneration of those objects.

Petrusich may be bitten by the collecting bug, and thus as vulnerable to its neuroses as the rest of us, but she ably unpacks these record collections as cultural documents, particularly in the case of 78s when so much of the music lay undiscovered for so long, with records so rare only one or two copies exist. Unlike later vinyl, 78s leave no masters behind, which means the brittle disks themselves are what’s left of the recording sessions. Bibliophiles generally have to reach much further back to find that combination of original material and incredible rarity, but reading this did bring to mind the zines of the late 80s/90s. Created in small editions, quickly outdated by technology, and largely forgotten until collectors and archivists began to see their documentary value.

Do Not Sell is full of strange, even beautiful, tales of obsession. For example, she interviews a collector plagued by dreams that he has finally found a 78 of Skip James’s “Devil Got My Woman.” The book’s title comes from a neat anecdote of seeing two 78s, now in two different collections, each bearing a sticker that proclaims, “Do Not Sell At Any Price.” Petrusich writes, “I was subsumed by a strange gratitude, just then, for that faceless person and his little white stickers, for his vehemence, for this commitment to music as a thing to work for and revere and treasure and save, till death do you part.” But perhaps the most entertaining story is Petrusich’s own--when she scuba-dives into the muddy Milwaukee River hoping to discover a treasure of shiny shellac long ago flung into the river by Paramount factory workers.

Even someone who knows little or nothing about 78s will find Petrusich’s book an incredibly enjoyable read. An excerpt is available here.
2016 may seem a long way off, but that year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and commemorative events are already in the making.  Leading the charge is a traveling exhibition entitled Shakespeare and His First Folio, which will bring the 1623 first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays to all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U. S. Virgin Islands. Applications to host the exhibition just recently opened.  (Applications accepted from public, academic, or special libraries, small museums, colleges or universities, historical societies, or similar cultural institutions).

Multiple copies of the First Folio will tour the nation accompanied by six interpretive panels.  The exhibition will provide thousands of people across the country a unique opportunity to view in person the first collection of Shakespeare plays, published seven years after his death. Of the 750 copies printed in 1623, it is believed that 228 have survived into the present era, almost all of which are now housed in institutions.

The traveling exhibition is a joint project between ALA, the Folger, and the Cincinnati Museum Center. The exhibition will be funded in part by a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Shakespeare and His First Folio will launch in January 2016 and continue throughout the year.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York opened this weekend a show of more than 100 posters, lithographs, printed ephemera, and illustrated books by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the French artist often credited with bringing the avant-garde to the masses.  Widely published in journals and magazines, his art depicted the cultural life of late nineteenth-century Paris--cabarets, salons, brothels. It is first exhibition at MoMA since 1985 dedicated solely to Lautrec, and most is from the museum’s own collection (donated, in large part, by the Rockefeller family).

JaneAvril small.jpgHenri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901). Jane Avril. 1899. Lithograph, sheet: 22 1/16 x 15 in. (56 x 38.1 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1946.

Performers--and their venues--were of great importance to Lautrec. In particular, he made many lithographs of dancer Jane Avril (seen above) between 1893 and 1899.  Another entertainer/muse, Cha-U-Kao, was a Moulin Rouge clown, depicted in the Japonisme style (seen below).  

Clownesse small.jpgHenri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901). La Clownesse au Moulin Rouge (The Clowness at the Moulin Rouge). 1897. Lithograph, sheet: 15 7/8 x 12 11/16 in. (40.4 x 32.3 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1946.

Very much part of the artistic and cultural milieu, Lautrec applied his talents to advertising posters for debut literary reviews, song sheets, menus, and theatrical events, as seen below in a program he created for Théâtre Libre in 1894.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901). La Loge au mascaron doré (The Box with the Gilded Mask), program for Le Missionnaire (The Missionary) at the Théâtre Libre. 1894. Lithograph, sheet: 12 1/16 x 9 7/16 in. (30.6 x 24 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Johanna and Leslie J. Garfield Fund, Mary Ellen Oldenburg Fund, and Sharon P. Rockefeller Fund, 2008.  

The exhibit will remain open through March 22, 2015. An accompanying hardcover book by associate curator of drawings and prints Sarah Suzuki highlights MoMA’s collection of prints and posters by Lautrec.
To mark the centenary of WWI, the German government has digitized and made freely available 700,000 documents related to the war on the website of the Federal Archive. The material includes audio recordings, films, and photos in addition to an array of personal and governmental documents. Records of politicians, military and civilian authorities, propaganda films, and even personal letters from the front are all part of the newly accessible treasure trove.

Curators at the Federal Archive said the material will be of particular benefit to genealogists as it includes extensive information about locations where German soldiers served.

German commemorations for the WWI centenary will be subdued. No large public commemorations are planned this year.  The German federal government will instead provide financial assistance to international commemorations and subsidize exhibitions like one entitled “1914: 100 Years Afterward” currently on display at the German Historical Institute in Berlin.

 A slideshow of photographs depicting German life on the front lines is viewable here.
Is the National Library of India destroying rare books after they have been digitized?  Is the library roof leaking rainwater on books and newspapers?  The Times of India reported last month that the National Library of India has “turned into a dumping ground.”

Newspaper informants revealed that books were being torn apart page by page in digitization efforts and that the pages were dumped after the digitization process was completed.

Another informant discussed the deplorable condition of the building’s roof:

“Many portions of the ceiling are broken. During monsoon, water seeps in and falls on the books and newspapers kept on the racks. In some areas it’s so bad that we have to cover the books with tarpaulin or else they will all be destroyed.”

The National Library of India in Kolkata, Bengal, is the largest library of India and the nation’s library of public record.

The Times of India also interviewed the library director, P Y Rajendra Kumar, who denied the claim about the roof. “As far as I know there is no such leakage in the library. There was one leak from an AC duct and drops of water were falling on the books. I have told the person concerned to take care of it and it will be repaired immediately. Apart from that there is no leakage.”

Kumar’s comments, however, did not appease the Times of India who referred to the national library as a “graveyard for books and newspapers.” The newspaper also reported that the one of the library’s back doors was unlocked and no security was present.

The Times of India does not seem to have asked Kumar about the destruction of rare books after digitization.

So... what’s really going on in Kolkata?

[Image from Wikipedia]

The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina, not far from the world famous Pinehurst No. 2 golf course, has an expert stocking its shelves. Bill Maher, a retried history professor, gets people coming back to the shop for one reason: He knows his stuff.


Antiquarian book collectors sometimes forget that there is another class of book collector. These collectors do not collect books for their beauty or rarity but rather attempt to assemble a collection that represents mankind’s current state of understanding of a particular topic. Sometimes misidentified as readers, these collectors do not find their treasures in the dusty and dim shops of the antiquarian collector. Their books often come off the “new releases” table at their local lively and hip bookstore.


Although declining in numbers, many bibliophiles say indie bookstores offer the best way to buy new books because indie stores have the best staff. Being able to be recommended books and talk about books with a knowledgeable person makes indie customers feel that their shopping experience is unique and fun.


Maher, 69, is recently retired from a 25-year career teaching history and political science at Montgomery Community College. He now divides his time between his home in Charlotte, North Carolina and The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines. Maher makes recommendations to the owner as to what history books to buy, and he chooses some books to be featured in his “Bill’s Picks” section.


Maher is able to refresh his section often because he reads an average of three to five books a week. “I’ve always liked to read,” says Maher. “I don’t golf. The only sports I like are baseball and boxing. The great thing about those two sports is you can read and listen at the same time.”


Maher chooses books for his section the same way he tried to choose books for the courses he taught. He picks books that “reach out and grab you by the throat.” He believes that there are two ways to write history, from the top down or the bottom up. The majority of the books in his section are of the second variety. They are about the almost forgotten gems of history, the small stories of personal heroism and folly that give color to the grander “top” events.


A collector of modern books on the War on Terror, Maher finds that part of the fun of his job is guiding both collectors and readers in their purchases. He does not “push” books onto his customers if he feels the works are not first-class. “I want to be able to put in my customers hands books that I am totally sure arrive at the truth as close as possible,” he says.


Maher acknowledges that the independent bookselling trade is hurting. He says that the large retiree population of military, diplomats, and businessmen around his store is a big secret to its success. “Southern Pines is the perfect place for an independent bookstore,” says Maher.


When asked about how website and warehouse booksellers compete with his business, Maher says, “Warehouse stores are good for warehousing. The ideas sit on shelves, but the majority of the employees have no idea what the books are.”


Maher talks about his store with tremendous enthusiasm. “There isn’t an employee in here who doesn’t know their sections. They talk about them with customers and among themselves. In here, ideas aren’t just stored on a shelf. They float around in the air, like tennis balls bouncing off the walls.”


The Country Bookshop is the kind of store where one goes in looking for a book and leaves with five. This is, of course, the plight of the bibliomane, but not every book sells itself. It is up to people like Maher to gently guide the collector and casual reader in making a good purchase. “When you walk into our front door,” says Maher, “you’re going to have an experience.”


Three years have passed since Maher began working in the bookshop. “They treat me very nicely to come down three times a week. They pay me well, and I get a cut rate price on books,” Maher says. He seems to have no intention of stopping any time soon.

*All accompanying images are of books recommended by Bill Maher

602px-Downtown_Saratoga_Springs.jpgSaratoga Springs, NY. All spas and horse-racing, right? Not so. Certainly there is racing (the Stakes open Friday), but ballet and literature are giving the horses a run for their money in this historic town. The New York City Ballet holds a mini summer season there, and the Bolshoi will make its debut at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 29. There is also the National Museum of Dance. The New York State Summer Writer’s Institute, held this year from June 30-July 25 at nearby Skidmore College, brings a decidedly literary element to town.

Where else might the bookies--I mean, bookish--go? I put that question to the proprietors of Saratoga-based Smith&Press, an independent publisher that produces translations and facsimile editions of early printed books (for a Q&A with Smith&Press founder, Selim Nahas, go here). They replied: “When we arrived in Saratoga we discovered the town was home to some unique book businesses. The Lyrical Ballad Bookstore is a rare gem of a bookstore that offers a vast array of out-of-print books where anything can be found. Northshire Bookstore offers a wonderful selection of contemporary works without being a chain store and is known for attracting well-known and respected authors for book signings (Anne Rice recently appeared, Hillary Clinton is scheduled in two weeks, for example). The public library has a special collections room for Saratoga history and given the distinct character and history of Saratoga, we felt that bringing our business here would add to the book culture of Saratoga Springs.”  

A recent visit to the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore confirms their opinion. It’s a delightful rabbit warren of first editions and vintage paperbacks, where a tidy Modern Library reprint of Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels can be had for $5 (I hope it’s as good as his Haunted Bookshop). New York state history, dance/music, and poetry are specialties.

Smith&Press is currently working on its online research and reference tool, TLC and preparing new works, which include translations of Galileo, Cardano, Philippo Finella, Fortunio Liceti, and Leonardo DaVinci’s Volo Codice (Flight of Birds), as well as a translation of the complete works of Copernicus (De Revolutionibus). All of these works are being made available in TLC and some select works will be offered in a print-on-demand format. They have also produced adjoining printed facsimiles of the Volo Codice and Leonardo’s Leicester Codice.

In addition to the places named above, a literary tourist might also visit the Lucy Scribner Library at Skidmore College. And, if you have transportation, Old Saratoga Books, a used and rare bookshop strong in early American and Revolutionary War material, is about fifteen minutes out of town.

Image: “Downtown Saratoga Springs” by UpstateNYer - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Lord Snowdon, one of Britain’s most celebrated photographers, donated 130 portraits of writers, artists, musicians, and celebrities to the National Portrait Gallery in London.  The portraits include iconic images of Agatha Christie, Vita Sackville-West, Kingsley Amis, Graham Greene, and Nell Dunn amongst many others.

(Nell Dunn (L) and Vita Sackville-West (R))

The director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne, said “These are wonderful portrait images of some most creative and engaging contributors to Britain in the second half of the 20th century.”

Lord Snowdon’s gift is one the largest ever received by the institution. Some of the portraits will be included in the exhibition Snowdon: A Life in View opening in September. The exhibition was already being planned for this fall to showcase portraits donated last year by Snowdon.

Lord Snowdon is equally as well-known in Britain for his eighteen year marriage to Princess Margaret, younger sister to Queen Elizabeth, between 1960 and 1978. He also photographed for Vogue magazine for six decades.

Caxton small.jpgTwo major auction sales provided a bit of serendipity yesterday, dovetailing with our current issue. Firstly, the summer issue revamps our million-dollar auctions feature, in which we recount the 13 books and manuscripts that made $1 million or more at auction in the past year. Today, another volume joined their esteemed company. The first book printed in the English language, The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, from the press of William Caxton c. 1473-74, sold for £1,082,500 ($1,823,363). Only 18 copies of this book survive, and of those, only six are in private hands. Adding to this particular copy’s intriguing history are the former owners’ annotations, recipes, and drawings of animals doodled in the margins.

Secondly, at the same sale, a collection of 347 letters and postcards, most signed by “Sam” Beckett, reached £146,500 ($246,765). Beckett--our summer issue’s cover guy--found a place on our million-dollar list too, with his “Murphy” manuscript, which sold at Sotheby’s last year for $1.4 million. These mostly unpublished letters, covering nearly 400 pages with 215 autograph envelopes, were written between 1947 and 1985 to Beckett’s friends, Henri and Josette Hayden. Yesterday’s top bid is considerably less than that paid when the packet of letters last changed hands in 2006.

Image: The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Yesterday the novelist David Mitchell, author of “The Cloud Atlas,” began publishing a new 6,000 word short story via Twitter entitled “The Right Sort.” (@david_mitchell)  The story, set in 1978, will grow by about 20 tweets each day with postings in the morning and afternoon.  Each segment is limited by Twitter’s parameters to 140 characters in length, a limitation that Mitchell described as a “diabolical treble-strapped textual straitjacket.”  The story, which will comprise 280 tweets, is about a boy tripping on his mother’s Valium pills.

The experience of writing the story for Twitter inspired some interesting commentary on the medium by Mitchell, who said to The Guardian that the structure of the tweets alters how the text is read. 

“Reading off a page is like looking down at a landscape from a balloon - your eye ‘sees’ the story as well as reads it, its layout, its paragraphs and structure, and ‘remembers’ what it just read because it’s still there, on the page, simultaneously. If you want to, you can reread any line instantly; or linger; or speed up; or optically ‘flinch’. Reading a series of tweets is more like looking through a narrow window from a train speeding through a landscape full of tunnels and bands of light and dark. Each tweet erases its predecessor.”

“The Right Sort” will tie-in to the novelist’s upcoming novel “The Bone Clocks,” which will be published in September.  If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can keep up with the action at The Guardian’s dedicated page for the story, where the tweets are assembling in sequential order.

Mitchell collectors, meanwhile, will have an interesting dilemma in front of them.  What’s the best way to include a Twitter story in your Mitchell collection?

[Image from Wikipedia]

A rare painting by children’s author/illustrator Maurice Sendak goes to auction this week at Hake’s Americana & Collectibles of York, Pennsylvania. Sendak created the 26” x 32” watercolor (seen below) in 1985 for a television adaptation of the Prokofiev opera, “The Love For Three Oranges.” The piece has since been in the collection of Hake’s founder Ted Hake, a friend of Sendak’s who acquired the painting directly from the artist.  

sendak-2.jpgAccording to Hake’s, only three other finished watercolors are known, and only one of those in private hands, which sold at auction in March 2009 for $74,000. After having a heart attack in his late thirties, Sendak ensured his legacy by making arrangements to donate all of his future original art to the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. So very few pieces of Sendak’s art appear on the market.

The bidding is open--starting at $25,000--and will close on July 17.

Image: Maurice Sendak (American, 1928-2012), original watercolor art created for 1982 TV adaptation of Prokofiev’s opera ‘The Love For Three Oranges,’ 26in x 31in (framed). Provenance: Ted Hake collection. Image courtesy of Hake’s.
Ricc.png“Selfies” aren’t so new after all. Self-portraits from early printed books, in the form of an etched frontispiece or a woodcut illustration, have been around for 500 years, and you can see some of them in a new digital catalogue from Bruce McKittrick Rare Books of Narberth, Pennsylvania. The catalogue’s very clever design looks like a smart phone interface, in which a friend--from 1579--has sent you a text and a pic of himself. Click for TMI, and you get a full catalogue listing for each book.

How did the booksellers devise such a unique format for a rare book catalogue? Waylaid for eight hours during a recent trip to London, McKittrick and Andrew Gaub batted around ideas for their next list. Gaub suggested a focus on portraits, and “selfies” quickly came to mind. With the help of their assistant, Kiley Samz, and their printer, Scott Vile of Ascensius Press, who designed the final piece, they produced three catalogues with six “selfies” each and released them over a four-week period.

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Fournier.png“As we were taking our catalogue descriptions and turning them into ‘texts,’ these were primarily intended as promotional pieces...a different way to think about our old books and what’s in them. The response was very positive. And we even sold a few,” Gaub said.

Above: Carlo Luigi Riccardi, in an etched frontispiece from his 1783 Descrizione Del Luogo Di Grugliasco.

Right: Denis Fournier, in a full-page engraved portrait from his [1678] L’ Anatomie Pacifique Nouvelle Et Curieuse.

Images: Courtesy of Bruce McKittrick Rare Books. 

She’s one of the world’s most beloved novelists, but we still don’t really know what she looked like.  

The only confirmed portrait of Jane Austen is a dour - and amateur - drawing by her sister.  Other potential portraits have occasionally surfaced, but remain controversial.

So perhaps it was inevitable that someone would eventually call in the forensic team.  The Jane Austen Centre in Bath unveiled on Wednesday this week a new Jane Austen waxwork, the result of three years of work by forensic artist Melissa Dring.

It’s an impressive piece, and one that captures something of the joie de vivre of the novelist, which was often commented on by those who knew her.  The waxwork also restores Austen’s pretty face - entirely lost in the surviving portrait - but again commented on by her contemporaries.  

“Her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well-formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face,” wrote Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh.  His sister added, “as to my Aunt’s personal appearance, hers was the first face that I can remember thinking pretty...”

Dring, the forensic artist, used accounts like these to build her model of Austen, expanding from the portrait drawn by Austen’s sister.  The end result is the closest we’ve yet come to seeing the author of Pride and Prejudice in person.

[Image from the Jane Austen Centre]

Yesterday I took a little “field trip” to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. Two school-aged children and I wandered the exhibits, perused the library, and worked in the hands-on art studio, and it was delightful. There are three current exhibits this summer. Below are my favorites from each:

The typescript “manuscript” of Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, seen in Harriet the Spy Turns Fifty (on view through Nov. 30). Held in the museum’s central gallery, the Carle organized this exhibit of Fitzhugh’s pen and ink illustrations, and it premiered at NYC’s Forbes Galleries earlier this year. 
The pigeon-caterpillar drawn in watercolor and crayon by Mo Willems, seen in The Art of Eric Carle & Friends: What’s Your Favorite Animal? (on view through Aug. 31). This exhibit is the result of book project, published by Henry Holt & Co., in which Carle partnered with 14 leading illustrators to celebrate his museum’s tenth anniversary in 2012.
The “dummy” books of Simms Taback, seen in Simms Taback: Art by Design (on view through Oct. 26). Celebrating the newly acquired Taback archive, the Carle just opened this exhibit, which surveys Taback’s eight major books. In several instances, he crafted little example books, which really show the artist’s process. (The 6-year-old budding artist really liked those.)
The thing about the Carle Museum is: whether you are 6, 9, or, ahem, much older, something--maybe everything--will appeal to you. 
In a surprising move, the estate of Ernest Hemingway has granted unprecedented permission to adapt A Farewell to Arms for the stage. An English theatre company called “Imitating the Dog” successfully petitioned the estate for the rights. The play will make its debut at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster in October, before embarking on tours of England and Italy.

Andrew Quick, director of the company, said his initial appeal was rejected by the Hemingway estate, but they eventually warmed to his proposal. The adaptation will be the first time the book has ever been staged in United Kingdom and the first time it has been performed anywhere in the world since a short-lived - and poorly received - Broadway run in 1930.

“Imitating the Dog will approach Hemingway’s narrative through the company’s unique visual style using projection techniques to create a magical and highly accessible version of the novel for all audiences,” said Quick in an interview with the BBC.

Hemingway’s classic semi-autobiographical novel of WWI has seen a resurgence in interest this year, the centenary of the war’s start.
London sprouted fifty delightful book-shaped benches last week. The ‘Books about Town’ installation--reminiscent of the Cow Parade art project--was launched on July 2 by the National Literacy Trust and Wild in Art to celebrate literature with a splash of color, and, indeed, a place to sit and read. Local artists created benches based on a range of titles, from Bridget Jones’s Diary to Great Expectations to Peter Pan, all stories with a link to London.

mrs_dalloway.pngIt’s impossible to pick a favorite, but this Mrs. Dalloway bench, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel and designed by Fiona and Neil Osborne of One Red Shoe, is certainly among them. It is, of course, located on the Bloomsbury Trail, one of four literary trails where benches are geographically clustered. While on the Bloomsbury, you can also visit the 1984 bench or the The Importance of Being Earnest bench. Other trails include the City Trail, the Greenwich Trail, and the Riverside Trail.

Here’s the best part -- after the summer installation is over, all fifty sculptures will be sold at a public auction on October 7. Proceeds will be donated to the National Literacy Trust, an organization dedicated to promoting childhood literacy in the UK.

Image via Books about Town. 
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The British Library will exhibit the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights as part of an exhibition about the Magna Carta in 2015. The Declaration of Independence will be on loan from New York Public Library, while the Bill of Rights is being offered by the US National Archives. Neither document has previously been in the UK. The groundbreaking exhibition will be held in honor of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the English legal document that subjected the king to the rules of law, and in turn inspired the American revolutionaries who drafted the Declaration and the Bill of Rights.

“It is extremely exciting,” said British Library spokesperson Claire Breay. “They are the biggest loans that the library has ever had, and fitting for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.”

New York Public Library’s copy of the Declaration of Independence is a full-text version hand-written by Thomas Jefferson, incorporating changes suggested by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.  The Bill of Rights is one of 14 copies distributed to the 13 colonies and Congress in 1789. The copy owned by the US National Archives was originally intended for Delaware.

The exhibition will include the British Library’s two copies of the Magna Carta as well several other significant items on international loan.

“The bedrock of our modern day society is rooted in the historic documents of the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights - the result of brave citizens who understood the importance of change and reform,” said Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library in an interview with The Guardian.

[Image from Wikipedia]

Ludwig Bemelmans, A Consummate New Yorker

Bemelmans_01_flower shop.jpg
Madeline at the Paris Flower Market, 1955
Oil on canvas
The Estate of Ludwig Bemelmans
TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC.


Ludwig Bemelmans is perhaps best known for creating the plucky Parisian schoolgirl Madeline, and while the Caldecott and Newbery winner devoted himself to children’s books, his eclectic résumé also included soldier, novelist, hotelier, restaurateur, set designer and itinerant interior decorator. The New-York Historical Society opens an exhibition today celebrating Bemelmans and his work.


Bemelmans’ life was a uniquely American story. When the First World War broke out, Bemelmans - then a young hotel worker recently emigrated from Austria - enlisted in the Army as a medical attendant.  In 1937, he published his memoirs called My War With the United States. (Viking Press) While he never saw combat - Bemelmans was stationed at Fort Ontario and Fort Porter in New York - the book examines how soldiers suffering psychiatric issues were treated during the war. He also describes how he lived in American barracks while speaking German better than English, reading German books, and even keeping his German Shepard on base. Bemelmans’ unmistakable style graces the cover with a pen and ink drawing of a cannon stationed in front of a fort. Taphophiles can find Bemelmans’ tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery where he was buried 1962 in section 43, grave 2618.


After the war, Bemelmans wrote and illustrated for magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Town and Country and the New Yorker.  He also painted murals on the interiors of restaurants and bars. (The bar at the Carlyle Hotel was renamed Bemelmans Bar after he covered the walls with his whimsical interpretation of Central Park and its habitués.) He also designed sets and costumes for Broadway productions. The artist’s own home reflected his desire to illustrate on any blank surface; - a map of Paris was plastered on the ceiling of his Gramercy Park bedroom, and painted donkeys wearing real straw hats adorned the dining room walls.


Out of all his vocations, Bemelmans most enjoyed creating children’s books and felt that young readers deserved stories that respected their curiosity and sense of wonder.  He once said, “We are writing for children, but not for idiots.”


The Historical Society’s exhibit includes over ninety original artworks from all six Madeline books; drawings of the old Ritz hotel where Bemelmans first worked in New York; murals from a Parisian bistro and panels from the Onassis yacht “The Christina O,” where the artist decorated the playroom walls with scenes from his beloved schoolgirl series.


The exhibit runs through October 13th.  The New-York Historical Society
is located at 170 Central Park West at 77th Street. Admission, hours of operation and more can be found at http://www.nyhistory.org/  

Self portrait
Pen, black ink, and gray wash
The Estate of Ludwig Bemelmans
TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC.

stone-cover.pngJust in time for Independence Day (actually, July 2, 1776 is the day Congress voted to declare independence, but the delegates continued to debate Jefferson’s text for two days), there arrived in my mailbox a beautifully illustrated booklet titled America’s National Treasure: The Declaration of Independence & William J. Stone’s Official Facsimile, produced by historic documents dealer Seth Kaller to accompany a new facsimile of the 1823 Stone engraving of the Declaration. The facsimile edition, funded by David M. Rubenstein in association with the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, allows for one framed copy of the document to be displayed in each of the U.S.’s embassies. Rubenstein, known for his patriotism, his philanthropy, and his collecting, purchased the Bay Psalm Book at auction last year for $14.2 million.

In the booklet’s preface, Rubenstein writes, “Because the Declaration of Independence has--like the Stars and Stripes--become a symbol of the United States, and because the Stone copy of the Declaration is the most recognizable version of that historic document, I thought it would be appropriate to have a new copy of a Stone Declaration placed in each of the American embassies around the world. My hope was that everyone who visited an American embassy would see not just our flags, but also this unique symbol of our country.”

The 24-page booklet also contains an introduction by Glenn M. Grasso and an afterword by Richard Brookhiser. Kaller’s history of the document itself is superb reading--from John Dunlap setting the type on the first broadside to the official signing on August 2, 1776 to the engravings that followed, most notably William J. Stone’s. Stone began his work in 1820, taking three years to expertly copy the original engrossed manuscript and print 201 copies on vellum. Most fascinating is the section on Stone’s technique in making such an exact engraving--some have claimed that he used a wet or chemical process to take an image, which damaged the original. Instead, Kaller suggests here (with detailed images) that Stone traced the engrossed manuscript by hand and even left little clues to distinguish his from the original manuscript. The original Declaration, now nearly illegible, hangs in the National Archives building. Stone’s edition is our only lasting vision of it.

America’s National Treasure is available for browsing online. Kaller also hosts an online census of known copies of the first edition Stone imprints.

The nearly ruined colonial bungalow where George Orwell was born in the small Bihar frontier town of Motihari will be restored and converted into a museum. The property consists of the three-room bungalow in addition to several tiny cottages and a warehouse for storing opium.  Orwell’s father, Richard Blair, was employed by the British colonial government as an opium collector. While the buildings are dilapidated, conservationists have already begun work on their restoration.

Orwell - born Eric Blair on June 23, 1903 in India - left with his mother for Oxfordshire in 1904, never to return to his birthplace. 

No other museum exists to celebrate the life and work of the popular and influential author. 

“I am delighted that my father’s old house is now under restoration and will be turned into a museum, a museum which will be the only one in the world,” said Richard Blair, Orwell’s son, in an interview with The Guardian. “For many decades the house was allowed to decay, so it’s only to be applauded that the Bihar government now sees fit to put money into the project.”

University College London, home of the George Orwell Archive, will raise the issue of supporting the museum through loaning items or the creation of replica material at its next archive committee meeting.

[Image from Wikipedia]

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