Thursday, April 21, 2016

3rd Annual Library Company Lecture in Honor of John Van Horne

The 3rd Annual Library Company Lecture in Honor of John Van Horne will be held on May 5 at the American Philosophical Society. The annual series honors the man who served for over 29 years at the helm of the Library Company. This year’s speaker will be Dr. Charlotte Jacobs whose recent biography Jonas Salk: A Life chronicles the career of the scientist who created the first polio vaccine. The event is co-sponsored by the Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine and the American Philosophical Society. A special members-only reception honoring the Library Company's past presidentsB. Robert DeMento, Beatrice W.B. Garvan, William H. Helfand, Elizabeth McLean, Spence Tollwill precede the lecture.

Jacobs’ biography of Salk has been hailed as a model of science writing. Though Salk won widespread acclaim for the development of his polio vaccine, he was also the target of much resentment by fellow scientists and medical researchers. Jacobs’ book illuminates the toll these criticisms took on Salk’s life and career. Still, as Jacobs makes clear, Salk remains a heroic figure to people across the globe.

Though Salk is a 20th century figure, Jacobs’ lecture allows the Library Company to highlight the importance of medical history in its collections and programming. Over the past several decades, the Library Company has amassed one of the best and most important archives on popular medicine, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. “I am really looking forward to speaking there,” Jacobs commented about her upcoming talk, which will include a special tour of documents donated by trustees William Helfand and Charles Rosenberg. As Jacobs indicated, she is always looking for new material on the history and evolution of medicine in American culture.

Please register online or call 215-546-3181 to attend the program. We hope to see you there!

Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind

On April 5, the Library Company held a celebratory opening for its current exhibition Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind. Organized by the library's Visual Culture Program (VCP at LCP) and curated by artist-in-residence Teresa Jaynes, the exhibition is inspired by the Library Company's Michael Zinman Collection of Printing for the Blind

Vision Council member Suzanne Erb (right) experiencing Common Touch 

Common Touch immerses visitors into a world of discovery in which history intersects with new forms of tactile expression. Complemented by 19th-century personal narratives, raised-print textbooks, and teaching tools of the visually impaired, Jaynes's original works challenge our cultural assumptions about the interrelationship between art, sight, and the history of disability. Exhibition visitors are invited to touch displays that range from a topographic map with porcelain geometric forms that represent the travels of a prominent 18th-century English blind surveyor to movable, sculptural letters after the handwriting of a blind woman corresponding with a benefactor in the late 19th century. Other installations submerge visitors into a cocoon of sound and scent conveying a micro-narrative of the life of Victorian blind musician Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins. A series of silkscreen printed patterns represents a visual transmutation of Wiggins's noted composition March Timpani (1880), an artist book of raised prints after embossed diagrams of snowflakes in the Perkins School for the Blind adaptation of the science text The Rudiments of Natural Philosophy (1845), and an 1838 edition from the first American raised-print periodical The Students' Magazine (1838-1845) are on display in the innovative exhibition.

VCP co-directors Rachel D'Agostino and Erika Piola (left and right) and artist Teresa Jaynes (center).

Common Touch is accompanied by several public programs, including a performance of Terry Galloway's comic, moving, and sometimes profane one-woman show You Are My Sunshine - A Kind of Love Story; a discussion with award-winning author Stephen Kuusisto on blind history and its place in art; and a jazz concert by New Orleans pianist and vocalist Henry Butler and Philadelphia's master percussionist Pablo Batista.

For more information about the exhibition and its accompanying programming, visit Common Touch has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Partners include Art-Reach, Demeter Fragrance Library, the Gershman Y, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philly Touch Tours, and Philly Jazz Project initiative. Media sponsorship has been generously provided by WHYY. The exhibition is on view  through October 21, 2016.

Collector Puts Papier-Mâché Bindings on Deposit

This past month, we received eleven friendship albums on-deposit from San Diego-area collector Graham Stubbs. They all have papier-mâché bindings (with mother-of-pearl decoration). Our plan is to catalog these extraordinary volumes, photograph them, and make them available to researchers. Jennifer Rosner, who has written extensively about this particular style of binding, will be adding them to the Library Company’s Flickr group:

One of the loveliest in the Stubbs deposit is an album that was owned by Charlotte Altemus, whose name is engraved on the clasps:

Charlotte’s album contains various inscriptions, many by Altemus family members, including one by her mother-in-law, Pamelia Taylor Altemus (1783-1863). Remarkably, Mrs. Altemus was the matron of the Philadelphia City Hospital. Every aspect of this special album suggests that it was a bespoke volume. Charlotte’s husband Samuel may have requested that the best workers put extra effort into producing it as a present for her, and she then used it to strengthen her ties with her extended family by getting people to inscribe pages in it.

In general, however, volumes with papier-mâché bindings, came out in editions. On seeing one of more modestly decorated albums in the Stubbs Collection – that is decorated with simple leaves in mother-of-pearl – Jennifer Rosner noted how remarkable it is that it still has the glaze that generally has worn off in the intervening 150+ years.

Mr. Stubbs himself has plans to publish the results of his own research on the owners and inscribers in the albums. He has uncovered complex networks of associations that these albums document. For example, he traced the story of one woman named Milla Corey (full name: Mary Permillia Corey), of Almond, New York. She signed Maria Barnard’s album. Unfortunately, Milla ended up in Willard State Hospital for the Insane, in Willard, New York. Now, we look forward to hearing the whole story, especially since Milla Corey was also an artist, and at least one of her paintings has been passed down in the family.

It seems there is no such thing as an “ordinary” volume with a papier-mâché binding. Every single one has something special and research-worthy about it. And this is only the start of our study of the
Stubbs Collection, which has so much potential for further discoveries related to a wide range of fields, including women’s history, binding history, and business history.


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