Streaming Books, Literally


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 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.



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.



                                                                                                                                                                                   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. 



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.

The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, opened last week an exhibition of book cover design called The Cover Sells the Book: Transformations in Commercial Book Publishing, 1860-1920. Whatever your favored term--pictorial bindings, publishers’ bindings, or decorative cloth bindings--or movement--Aesthetic, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, or Pre-Raphaelitism, the idea here is to chart “the sweeping changes in book design, inspired by technological developments, marketing strategies, and shifting ideas about art.”

The Scarlet Letter copy.jpgIn the Victorian and post-Victorian age, technological change made books easier to print and market widely. It also created an unusual backlash: artists like William Morris turned away from the mass production of books and returned to the ‘old-fashioned’ methods of letterpress and hand-illumination. He believed in creating beautiful books through the use of quality materials and integrated design. It wasn’t long before that aesthetic was adapted and commercialized by major publishers for their mass-produced, but still eye-catching publishers’ bindings.

“People wanted beautiful books in their homes, both for viewing pleasure and as a clear status symbol. The new interest in books as works of art attracted an expanded group of consumers, a burgeoning middle class with more disposable income,” said Rachael DiEleuterio, librarian and archivist at the Delaware Art Museum.

Camp-Fires and Guide-Posts copy.jpgMorris and his fellow British artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti feature prominently in the exhibition, as do American designers Sarah Wyman Whitman and Margaret Armstrong. The selections on view are largely pulled from Mary G. Sawyer’s 2009 gift of more than 3,000 books to the Delaware Art Museum’s Helen Farr Sloan Library and Archives. Several items from noted Delaware bibliophile Mark Samuels Lasner are also included among the fifty-plus books and posters on display.

If you can’t make it to Delaware before the exhibit closes on August 27, check out the online version.

                                                                                                                                         Images: (Top) The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892), Binding designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum. (Middle) Camp-Fires and Guide-Posts, by Henry Van Dyke (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1921), Binding designed by Margaret Armstrong (1867-1904), Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum.

If you were online over the weekend, perhaps you noticed the Google Doodle dedicated to Josephine Baker, whose 111th birthday would have been on June 3rd. (Baker died in 1975 in Paris of a cerebral hemmorhage.) 



                                                                                                                                                                       The American dancer who went to Paris at age nineteen and quickly epitomized the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties is now the subject of a recently released graphic novel biography.


Written by French author-illustrator duo José-Luis Bocquet and Catel Muller, Josephine Baker (SelfMadeHero; $22.95) explores Baker’s rise to fame as one of the first black entertainers to grace the world stage.


Illustrations by Catel Muller. Reproduced with permission from SelfMadeHero                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Despite her fame and becoming one of the highest-paid stage performers of the era, Baker experienced racism daily, and offstage joined the French Resistance (Baker was the first American woman to be buried in France with military honors) as well as the Civil Rights movement, championing unity and tolerance for all.


Illustrations by Catel Muller. Reproduced with permission from SelfMadeHero                                                         

At a hefty 568 pages, no stone goes unturned in this biographic treatment, which also includes the stories of the twelve adopted children Baker called her “rainbow tribe” and fifty-five mini biographies of the men and women in Baker’s life. Catel Muller’s sinewy illustrations evoke a swinging, graceful exuberance, the whole a revealing portrait of a woman who refused to live life in the shadows.                          


Josephine Baker, by José-Luis Bocquet, illustrated by Catel Muller, SelfMadeHero; $22.95, 568 pages. 

We spy some beautiful birds headed to auction in New York on June 15. The ornithological library of Dr. Gerald Dorros comprises a “superb selection of important works from the heyday of beautifully illustrated natural history books,” according to Christie’s.

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 10.53.10 AM.pngThe biggest names in birding are accounted for--Audubon, Gould, Elliot--in first editions, several in presentation copies. And in some cases, such as the first edition of Saverio Manetti’s Storia naturale degli Uccelli (1767-1776) pictured here, the auction estimate reaches six figures ($150,000-250,000). Same goes for Gould’s The Birds of Australia (1851-1869), estimated at $250,000-350,000. Those birds can fly!

More modestly, and more interestingly to some, will be the material related to the publication and sale of Audubon’s books, such as the “very rare” prospectus for the original edition of The Birds of America (1831) that bears an unsigned ink presentation in what may be Audubon’s hand, according to the auction catalogue. The estimate is $6,000-8,000. Another lot features the scarce salesman’s sample for the 1871 Lockwood octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America and Quadrupeds of America, containing extensive examples of the text and forty hand-colored plates. It is estimated at $7,000-10,000. Still another lot boasts a title-page to volume three of Birds (1834-35) boldly inscribed by Audubon in 1840 while visiting Baltimore to solicit subscriptions for his masterpiece. It is estimated at $10,000-15,000.  

Image via Christie’s

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