YCBA Chief Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Elisabeth Fairman, to Retire
New Haven, CT — Elisabeth Fairman, Chief Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, will retire from the Yale Center for British Art on January 30, 2021, concluding a career that spans nearly four decades. A search for her successor will be forthcoming.
“We congratulate Elisabeth and wish her all the best in retirement,” said Director Courtney J. Martin. “Her dedication to stewarding the Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, particularly her role in expanding both the breadth and accessibility of the collection, leaves a lasting mark on the Center and its holdings. She will be greatly missed.”
Fairman joined the Center as the Catalogue Librarian in 1982, and later, after expanding her curatorial duties, held the positions of Associate Curator for Rare Books (1991), Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts (1998), and Senior Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts (2008). During her tenure, the department’s holdings have grown to encompass approximately 35,000 volumes dating from the fifteenth century to the present, representing a broad range of material relating to the visual arts and cultural life in the United Kingdom and the former British Empire. She was responsible for adding many works to the collection through purchase and gift. Major donations include the archives of artists Leonard Rosomon (1913–2012), Ron King (b. 1932) of Circle Press, and Ken Campbell (b. 1939); illustrated books and wood engravings from the collection of the poet David Burnett (b. 1937); contemporary works from the collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children’s books and games from Ellen and the late Arthur Liman, Yale JD 1957; and contemporary designer book bindings from Margaret and Neale Albert, Yale JD 1961.
“My time at the Center has been the best possible experience, start to finish. I couldn’t have asked for better colleagues—especially during this strange year while we’ve all been working remotely,” said Fairman. “I’ve so appreciated the opportunity to acquire some wonderful objects that I hope will be of interest to a wide audience for years to come. I can also say that one of my greatest joys was working with contemporary artists and introducing their work to students and our visitors.”
The artist Eileen Hogan, Professor at the University of Arts London and a Trustee of the Royal Drawing School, collaborated with Fairman on three occasions, most recently in 2019. “Through her wide-ranging knowledge and ability to embrace unusual and insightful connections, Elisabeth contextualized my work in unexpected ways and organized, with super-human attention to detail, a huge body of work into a coherent and logical framework,” said Hogan. “Her [building of the] collection is very highly thought of by the UK book art community, practitioners and scholars alike, especially her discernment and ability to understand the artifacts on a human scale and within a social context.”
Fairman supervised the implementation of a robust cataloging program that has allowed access to the department’s collections. She regularly writes and teaches from the collections, assisting students, faculty, scholars, and researchers from all over the world.
“I cannot imagine going to the Study Room and not having Elisabeth there, ready to show me some new and wonderful materials about William Morris, textiles, Indian artisans, or eighteenth-century architecture,” said Professor Edward Cooke, Charles F. Montgomery Professor of American Decorative Arts and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of the History of Art at Yale. “It was like having a personal librarian who knew my interests and happily helped me gather material with which to teach. I will miss her encyclopedic and insightful command of the collection.”
In her time at the Center, Fairman curated over thirty exhibitions on a wide and diverse range of subjects, including the First World War, the natural world, children’s games and pastimes, early maps and atlases, and contemporary artists’ books. Most recently, she was curator of Eileen Hogan: Personal Geographies in 2019; “The Poet of the Them All”: William Shakespeare and Miniature Designer Bindings from the Collection of Neale and Margaret Albert in 2016; and “Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower”: Artists’ Books and the Natural World in 2014. These projects were accompanied by significant fully illustrated books with scholarly essays, all published with Yale University Press. In 2014, “Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower” was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Book Prize and the Historians of British Art Book Prize.
Fairman received her MSLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her BA from Earlham College. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Linnean Society, both in London, as well as a Fellow of Davenport College; she is a member of the Print Council of America and the Elizabethan Club of Yale University. She was formerly cochair of the Adrian Van Sinderen Book Collecting Prize, established in 1957 to encourage Yale undergraduates to collect books, and to read for pleasure and education.