Friday, November 15, 2013

A Jewel of a Franklin Miniature

In October, Library Company Trustee Davida Deutsch saw a Franklin miniature by French artist Jean Baptiste Weyler (1747-1791) for sale at the Phillip Mould Gallery in London.  One look and she knew we had to acquire it for the Library Company. 

Painted by Weyler in a series of miniatures on enamel he described as a “panthéon iconographique” of famous men whose likenesses he wanted to preserve for posterity, Franklin was the most popular of the series’ subjects. The ¾” high portrait—one of five extant versions—is in a jeweled setting most likely contemporary and commissioned so that the image could be worn as a pendant.  Although the original for the portrait has not been identified, it is thought to have been a pastel from life.  Charles Coleman Sellers thought enough of this painting to feature it as the frontispiece of, and only color illustration in, his 1962 Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture.

This piece went onto the market in 1957 as part of the noteworthy David David-Weill collection of miniatures and enamels and was acquired by Sir Charles Clore. It is in a gold frame with a lacy border of foliage set with enameled urns and a basket dotted with seed pearls, and encircled by a delicate enameled ribbon.  The gorgeous frame—worked front and back—sparkles with its enameled notes in cobalt blue, emerald green, pale blue, and white.

Our prized snuff box set with a Franklin miniature on ivory, the gift of Stuart Karu, is too fragile to exhibit year-round.  The enamel of the Weyler miniature will stand up to exhibition lighting, allowing us to make it a permanent fixture of our art and artifact display.  Having found last year’s standout acquisition—Peter Collinson’s History of London—at the New York Book Fair, Ms. Deutsch has again helped make a spectacular addition to the Library Company’s collection and one that’s sure to be a draw for avid Franklin fans.  Generous contributions from the Trustees have helped us raise most of the $16,000 purchase price and exhibition furniture cost.  With your help we can bring this jewel home to Philadelphia.   

Join the conversation about “That’s So Gay”!

“That’s So Gay: Outing Early America”—an exhibition featuring textual and visual material in the Library Company’s collections that relates to gay history—will open in February 2014. An accompanying blog being launched this month previews the themes of the exhibition and invites participants to join in the fun. The blog is moderated by Don James McLaughlin, a doctoral student in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research focuses on homosexuality across the 19th century.

Featured in the exhibition will be the first edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855), as well as the important third edition with the Calamus poems and the discussion of “adhesive” love.  Also on display will be portraits of the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, with her short hair and cravat, alongside contemporaries’ commentaries on her as “too independent of conventionalities; too masculine in her habits.” Beyond our important and collectible books and prints, “That’s So Gay” shows off the great depth of the Library Company’s collections, which make it possible to embed iconic texts and images in historical context. 

Consider the blog your opportunity to tell us more about items in the exhibition, to ask questions about the further resources in the collection, or to help queer early America by contributing your own material and interpretations related to this too-often-invisible aspect of the  American experience.

Outsulating the Collections

When the Ridgway Building was built in 1965, the cost of fuel was low enough that the architects didn’t think about the need to create a barrier against temperature and moisture.  In 2013, however, the lack of insulation around the building’s five stack floors raises the cost of maintaining ideal temperature and humidity levels substantially.  One of the items on John Van Horne’s to-do list for his last year as Director is to address this inefficiency of the “brutalist” poured-concrete structure. 

However, a study of the feasibility of insulating storage floors three through seven showed that the expense of moving books and shelves would be prohibitive.  Happily, BWA Architects’ Morris Zimmerman devised an innovative and cost-effective way to create thermal and moisture barriers around our rare printed materials; we will begin work this month on the “outsulation” of the storage floors. 

The East and West elevations of the building (the sides of the building above the wall adjoining the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to the East and the Cassatt House to the West), faced in brick and essentially invisible from the street level, will be wrapped with insulation foam and a layer of a glass facing material.  Facing material for the North and South elevation exteriors (the Locust Street front façade and the rear façade) will be designed to mimic the current molded concrete with their signature “mid-century modern” design elements.

The project will also correct a design flaw in the form of windows on the North and South façades of the stack floors.  These window enclosures will be covered over on the inside to improve insulation, reduce harmful light exposure, and moderately increase the number of linear feet of shelving available.  The window exteriors will be replaced with either a solid insulated panel or with high-quality glazing that will replicate the original façade elements. We will additionally install a vapor-retarding membrane on the ceiling of the seventh floor below the penthouse mechanical room. The architects estimate that the work will reduce heating and cooling bills by 15% overall, for an annual cost savings of approximately $30,000.

The work will be undertaken between November 2013 and March 2014 and will be supervised by Library Company Chief of Maintenance Al Dallasta.  The project is made possible by a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a matching grant from the McLean Contributionship.

A Shout-Out to Special Collections

Inspired by the Library Company’s Visual Culture Program, researcher Abby Glogower arrived in the summer of 2012 with only a vague direction for her dissertation topic. Associate Curator of Prints & Photographs Erika Piola’s thoughtful introduction to the collections inspired her to curate “Nurturing Inquiry: Exploring Special Collections Research.” The exhibition examines the objects  in the University of Rochester Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and the related pieces of scholarly writing they helped produce.  Read more in the University of Rochester’s online journal Invisible Culture.

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