By Jeffrey Makala
Art in the Library:
Original Artwork in the Collections of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
Open now through early January, 2014.
A special collections library is primarily a repository for printed and manuscript materials. But collections (and collectors) grow and develop in diverse and occasionally fascinating ways. As a result, items in our library’s collections include a wide array of physical objects – or realia, as curators call them – along with a surprising amount of original artwork. Together with significant collections of art prints and medals, the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections also houses numerous paintings, drawings, art photography, and sculpture.
Much of the artwork on display in this exhibition came to the library through the collectors and collections of authors who we aim to acquire comprehensively, such as John Milton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other pieces were acquired individually, either to supplement a collection or area of interest, or have come to us as often unexpectedly generous gifts, such as the Koblenzer portraits of John and Sara Milton and the O’Bryan Churchill landscape.
The main goal of this exhibition is to showcase the many works of original art in our collections that are not frequently seen by the casual visitor. Indeed, an exhibition with this focus has never before been mounted in the libraries. Because of the diversity of subject matter, as you move through the gallery you may find some interesting juxtapositions of materials spanning several centuries. We hope it will both surprise and delight. It might be best to think of this exhibition as a “cabinet of artistic curiosities.” But just as a rare printed book can be thought of as an object of material culture, something created out of a very specific combination of historical, economic, and aesthetic forces, so too can we consider these artworks as contributing to the larger literary and historical archive that is our collection. The original artwork in this library will never rival that found in McKissick Museum (nor should it), but it serves instead to add depth and context to the rare and unique materials available here for study and research in the Irvin Department.
So in this exhibition, you will find: watercolors by an English Poet Laureate; nineteenth century book illustrations; doodles by famous authors; an early seventeenth-century English portrait with an interesting provenance; and a landscape by Winston Churchill, among many other surprises.
– Jeffrey Makala, Curator