Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Small Wonders

Currently on display in our “Small Wonders” exhibition are 29 marvelous miniature books by the members of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers. Created in response to a challenge to make books meeting the US definition of a miniature----a book with height, width, and thickness all under three inches----the books were initially exhibited at the Clarence Ward Art Library at Oberlin College. 

African Americana Graphics Available On-line

Through the generous support of a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education under the Library Services and Technology Act, more than 900 prints, photographs, and pieces of ephemera documenting the early African American experience have been digitized and added to the Library Company’s digital collections catalog ImPAC. The collectionenthusiastically hailed in a review on philly.comwill also be available through the Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository, a collection of digitized documents and photographs from libraries across the state.
A collection of national importance, the graphics depict African American life, community, work, art, and political and social activism from the early American period to the early 20th century. Views of prominent Philadelphia African American churches like Mother Bethel, political cartoons addressing the effects of slavery on the young nation, and commemorative prints recognizing early civil rights victories following the Civil War are just a few of the visual materials reproduced and documented.

African Americana graphics continue to be among the visual materials requested most by our readers, and we are delighted to provide broader access to this tremendous historical resource.
The recently added material augments and complements almost fifty other collections of digitized images available in our digital collections catalog, including 18th- and 19th-century ephemera, Philadelphia commercial lithographs, and views by early Philadelphia photographers.

Learn to Read Moon

The Visual Culture Program (VCP at LCP) will host an installation by book artist Teresa Jaynes’s in the Logan Room from September 4 to October 10, 2014. The first new work by Jaynes since her directorship of the acclaimed print festival Philagrafika 2010, The Moon Reader is amultimedia installation that invites participants to learn to read Moon, a raised-letter writing system for the blind invented by blind educator William Moon in 1845.

The Moon Reader is a multimedia installation. Handmade, the first book is set in Moon Type with embossed illustrations. The second book, which is a translation of the Moon book, is set both in Braille and large print. An audio recording accompanies both books. Modeled after Victorian primers, the books are based on Jaynes’s research in the Library Company’s Michael Zinman Collection of Printing for the Blind. The texts and audio file are designed to be recombined to best suit the abilities of the reader to decipher Moon.

Beginning with an exercise to learn Moon, readers deepen their involvement with the writing system through a series of lessons inspired by history, music, and science textbooks in the Zinman Collection. The experience—touching, deciphering, translating and finally comprehending—is a serene act of discovery. The Moon Reader seeks to challenge participants’ ideas about visual culture, in ways that elicit curiosity, humor, and empathy and expand their understandings of historical and contemporary connotations of sight.  A touch screen with access to the Reader Facebook page and blog enable visitors to further interact with the project.

The Visual Culture Program’s collaboration with Jaynes will continue through the fall on development of a main-gallery exhibition also based on her work with our historic material printed for the blind.  Provisionally entitled “Talking to the Fingers in the Language of the Eyes,” the exhibition will combine historic collections with new work and multisensory experiences designed to challenge the privileged status of sight. Talking, which is being funded by a major grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, is scheduled to open in February 2016.

A three-set, limited edition, the Reader will also be on display simultaneously at the Magill Library at Haverford College and the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. On September 23, 2014, to celebrate this collaboration, the Library Company will host a conversation with project advisors from the blind community reflecting on the similarities and differences between experiences with the sighted between them and their early American counterparts.

Frankliniana on Display

Jean Baptiste Weyler (1747-1791). Benjamin Franklin. Paris, ca. 1785. Purchase of the Library Company, 2013.

Having acquired French artist Jean Baptiste Weyler’s gorgeous portrait miniature of Benjamin Franklin in 2013, the Library Company needed to find a fitting way to display it. That challenge inspired us to consider putting more of our precious Franklin art and artifacts on permanent display.  It turned out to be an easy step from envisioning the exhibition of the jeweled miniature to devoting the whole North wall of the Logan room to our founder.

To start, a glass case was installed to house our new acquisition and several related artifacts, including Franklin’s glass electrostatic tube (which generates static electricity when rubbed by a cloth or piece of leather), a magnifying mirror he gave to the Library in 1743, and two medals (Libertas Americana, commemorating the American victory during the revolution, and a Peace Medal handed out to Native Americans).  The case includes space for one book and one print on a rotating basis.  A snuff box Franklin commissioned in 1779 from Fran├žois Dumont, with a portrait of himself, is also displayed in the case (housed in a new box designed to protect the delicate watercolor on ivory from light).  William Bucher created new mounts that are painted to match the objects seamlessly, making each appear as if it were floating.

James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889). Benjamin Franklin, ca. 1880. Oil on canvas. Purchased by the Library Company, 1880.

Above the case hangs James Reid Lambdin’s copy of David Martin’s portrait of Franklin. But before it could be displayed, the painting first needed restoration. Painting conservator Carole Abercauph cleaned the canvas and mended two tears. Furniture conservator Bret Headley conserved the frame. It’s wonderful to have Dr. Franklin in the Logan room watching over his legacy!

Jean-Jacques Caffieri (1725-1792). Benjamin Franklin, ca. 1779-1784. Plaster. Gift of Walter Franklin, 1805.

We are also fortunate to have a bust of Franklin by Jean-Jacques Caffieri, but it needed a new pedestal to be shown off to the best advantage. The bust hasn’t been cleaned since we acquired it and has darkened greatly with years of dirt and grime. In addition to the required cleaning, several loses in the plaster needed to be restored. Sculpture conservator Linda Lennon is undertaking these tasks and, though they are not yet complete, photographs of the progress are astonishing. John C. Van Horne generously funded this conservation work in honor of the Library Company’s Board of Trustees. We are looking forward to the bust’s return and hope you have the opportunity to visit the new Franklin installation soon!

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