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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

5 Questions with Tina Packer

A series of informal, intimate talks given by literary and cultural luminaries, In Conversation with the Rosenbach delves into fascinating histories, intellectual curiosities, and inspiring ideas. Each program offers the audience a chance to join the conversation after the talk and share their own thoughts and questions. Join us February 27 as veteran Shakespeare performer Tina Packer introduces us to some of Shakespeare's most remarkable heroines.

Author, actor, and director Tina Packer

Rosen-blog: You've had an extraordinary career in Shakespearean theater which includes founding Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachussetts and performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford. What is it about Shakespeare that inspires you?

Tina Packer: Whenever I’ve finished working on a Shakespeare play, my mind has expanded. His work explores all things human: it’s beautiful, it’s vicious, it’s exciting and difficult.

RB: Your book, Women of Will: The Remarkable Evolution of Shakespeare's Female Characters, sheds new light on the roles for women in Shakespeare's plays. Could you give an example of a female character you wish theatergoers knew or understood better?

TP: One of the most obvious ones: Cleopatra. For hundreds of years, our perception of Antony and Cleopatra was that Antony was seduced by this sex bomb, and then he stopped being a great general and died in debauchery. But Cleopatra was not just a seductress; she was a powerful, intelligent woman who chose to unite herself with Antony. What Shakespeare is really writing about is the sexual, spiritual union between the two; it’s not Antony’s tragedy, it’s the tragedy of a love that should have been powerful and instead was crushed under the patriarchy.

RB: You are playing Volumnia in Coriolanus with the Lantern Theater Company this spring. What excites you about this role?

TP: Volumnia is a very powerful, very intelligent woman. She should have been a warrior or a chief of staff, but there is nowhere she can put her power and intelligence, so she puts it all into her son. Her power inspires him but also kills him, and nearly kills everyone else in Rome. She’s a monstrous woman, but if there’s no place for a woman to put her energies and intelligence, she may become a destructive force.

Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus soon after his own mother died. I feel that he couldn’t write a truthful play about the overbearing power of women while she was still alive.

RB: Women of Will was not just a book but a performance, which meant that you've had an experience that other authors might either envy or fear— making your argument face-to-face with your readers! Any good stories from these interactions?

TP: In fact, the book came out of the performance. I’d perform the play and then go home and write. When you’re performing, you’re using the whole of your body and voice. That causes you to write from a different place than if you’re just in your head all the time—more guts, sweat, and tears. Shakespeare was an actor too, so he was performing and writing at the same time throughout his whole life; I felt very much that I was doing the same.

Most of the conversations took place after the performance, during talkbacks. In my experience, men do most of the talking in talkbacks, but after these performances, the female audience was much more emboldened to speak up. I felt that I was in dialogue with the women, and it deepened what I was thinking about for the book.

RB: What have you read recently that sparked your imagination or admiration?

I recently went to a lecture at the American Philosophical Society on The Frontier Country by Patrick Spero. It’s about the frontier of Pennsylvania, which knocked me sideways—one associates the frontier with cowboy films, but Pennsylvania and Virginia and Connecticut were all fighting over borders in the colonial era. I’ve also been reading Enough Said by Mark Thompson. He shows how language in politics has broken down, creating a real problem with debate and communication. How people use language today is very different than it was a few decades ago—and from Shakespeare’s time, too.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Marvelous World of Meggendorfer's Moving Books

Did you know that pop-up books have been around for hundreds of years? The earliest examples of movable books -- some as early as the thirteenth century! -- were used for adult education. Books on subjects ranging from human anatomy to artistic perspective used tabs, flaps, and fold-outs to illustration information that was best conveyed in three dimensions.

But these interactive elements also made useful tools for childhood learning and enrichment. By the mid-nineteenth century, when books like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the Grimm brothers' fairy tales set precedents for vivid, imaginative children's literature, pop-up books could make colorful scenes come alive for young readers.

This young soldier, charging into battle astride his rocking horse, was drawn and brought to life by Lothar Meggendorfer (1847-1925). Meggendorfer was a German artist and publisher who illustrated weekly comic and satirical papers as well as numerous books, but he is best known for his illustrated movable children's books. Meggendorfer engineered a way to move several tabs at once by layering the page, the colorful paper cutouts, and an intricate system of levers made of a lightweight but sturdy material such as cardboard or copper wire. The reader pulls a tab attached to the side of the page, and the tab's movement activates several levers which guide various motions. For example, in this colorful pond scene, a single tab activates the dragonfly's arc of escape as well as the fish's hungry lunge and widening mouth.

These chickens, each adorned with unique markings and crest, bob their heads for food at different paces and levels.

Lothar Meggendorfer's moveable books are remarkable not yet for their ingenuity and craft, but for the ersatz cartoonist's bright, colorful, often humorous style. Maurice Sendak, an admirer and collector of Meggendorfer's works, wrote about how these creations appeal to children without condescending to them.

Maurice Sendak bequeathed his collection of Meggendorfer books to the Rosenbach, including a book that folds out into a three-ring circus which is now on view in a recently opened exhibition. The videos posted above were all filmed by the Philadelphia Inquirer for a multi-part story exploring the bequest, the importance of select works to Sendak's literary imagination, and the significance of Meggendorfer's marvelous movable books.

Recent Acquisitions from the Bequest of Maurice Sendak is on view through April 30.

Friday, February 03, 2017

6 Questions with Yolanda Wisher and Dick Lourie

On February 9, poets Yolanda Wisher and Dick Lourie will co-host a program at the Rosenbach entitled Blues for Black Opals. Published between 1927 and 1928, Black Opals was a Philadelphia-based literary magazine founded and edited by young black intellectuals and writers. Blues for Black Opals will celebrate the poetry from that era of social change, merging past and present with readings from poets Quincy Scott Jones, Iréne Mathieu, and Trapeta Mayson, and performances with musicians Jim Dragoni, Sirlance Gamble, and Mark Palacio.

Dick Lourie
Yolanda Wisher

Rosen-blog: How did you first learn about the literary magazine Black Opals?

Yolanda Wisher: A few years ago, I was doing research on Black poets in 19th and 20th century Philadelphia and came across a sentence or two about the Black Opals Collective online. I learned that there were original copies of the magazine in the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University. So I went to pay my respects and makes copies of my favorite poems.

RB: How did the two of you get started collaborating on creative projects?

YW: Dick edited my first book of poems at Hanging Loose Press in 2014. I thought it was just perfect that a blues musician was going to be my editor. We had a lot of great conversations about language and music on the phone as edited the book together. I learned a lot from him about how to put a book together. Afterwards Dick suggested that we do a gig together. I was, of course, ecstatic about that! Our first time performing together was at the Philalalia Festival this past September 2016 at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Dick Lourie: Hanging Loose, the magazine and small press I started with three other poets fifty years ago (no wonder I feel tired) is always on the lookout for interesting and exciting poets. Along comes Yolanda; we starting having her poems in our magazine, and then about four years ago we were eager to publish her book, Monk Eats an Afro. As her editor, I worked with Yolanda closely by phone and email—editing a book always involves some degree of author/editor collaboration—and we soon discovered a shared creative interest in poetry / music performance. At some point in there we actually laid eyes on each other, and kept talking about performing together, which we did last fall—spoken word, song, chant, trumpet, saxophone, and Yolanda’s wonderful band the Afro Eaters. We had more fun than we deserved, and we decided we should keep it up. So I’m grateful to the Rosenbach for giving us another chance.

RB: You are both known for musical performance as well as for your poetry. How does music inform your poetry, or vice versa?

DL: I write in syllabics—no regular meter, no rhyme, but the same number of syllables in every line (in my case, ten). Thus each line is of roughly the same length, although the spoken rhythm of each is unique. And the music I play, mostly, is the blues, a musical form structured usually in twelve-measure choruses, 4/4 time (four equal beats to each measure). At a certain point I started to realize that each line of a poem could be spoken to fit into one measure of a blues chorus. I began speaking the poems with blues band accompaniment and adding sax or trumpet solos that seemed to fit the mood of the poem. That all seemed to work, so I have kept at it. And those performances kept my mind on music, and on the tradition of the blues, so a number of my poems now are written about blues music, its history, its culture.

YW: Writing poetry is like composing a kind of music with words. And musical performance is a way to share the force of the creative process and to feel it evolve in the presence of an audience.

RB: I know it's hard to choose a favorite, but what is one literary or musical piece from next Thursday's performance that you are particularly excited to share?

DL: I hope we will be again performing one of Yolanda’s pieces, “Cornrow Song,” that we did together in the fall. It’s contemporary in form and idiom, and at the same time takes us all the way back in history (to Babylon...) and on from there, and in Yolanda’s performance, with music, it moves along like a soulful time machine. On the page as well, it is special—that’s why she and I decided it should be the final poem in the book, traditionally a place of honor that sums up the whole achievement. (And besides, in the performance I get to play a trumpet solo).

YW: I'm excited to hear Irène, Trapeta, and Quincy read the work of Black Opals poets like Walter Waring, Edward S. Silvera II, Nellie R. Bright, Bessie Calhoun Bird, and Lewis Alexander. It will be exciting to witness a younger generation of Black poets getting acquainted with these literary ancestors.

RB: What have you read recently that sparked your imagination or admiration?

DL: What I’ve been reading recently are Langston Hughes’s “Simple” stories, about Jesse B. Semple, nicknamed Simple, a 1940s–50s Harlem man on the street. These are lively, funny yet gritty, tales of a particular time period and a particular community. The original stories were part of Hughes’s column in the Chicago Defender, an important African American newspaper of the time. They were later collected, and new ones written. They remain a fascinating look from the inside at the Harlem of that period.

RB: What's your favorite book or object at the Rosenbach?

YW: I held Phillis Wheatley's first collection of poems in my hands the first time I visited the Rosenbach a year ago. It gave me goosebumps! Wheatley was one of my first influences and someone whose life holds enough triumph and mysteries to keep me forever intrigued and rapt. That book is like an amulet or holy grail of African American literature. It was a sacred moment to hold it in my hands.
Phillis Wheatley. Poems on various subjects, religious and moral. London: printed by A. Bell, 1773. Collection of the Rosenbach [A 773p].

Monday, January 30, 2017

5 Questions with Amy Herman

A series of informal, intimate talks given by literary and cultural luminaries, In Conversation with the Rosenbach delves into fascinating histories, intellectual curiosities, and inspiring ideas. Each program offers the audience a chance to join the conversation after the talk and share their own thoughts and questions. Join us February 2 as art historian Amy Herman teaches us to look more closely at the world and recognize the most pertinent and useful information in any scene.
Amy Herman
Rosen-blog: You have degrees in international affairs and law as well as art history. What led you toward an education and ultimately an occupation in the arts?

AH: I cannot overstate the value of a liberal arts education. The ability to communicate with clarity and precision has been the cornerstone of my professional life. My work in the arts is grounded in a love of art history. I have always had a special appreciation for visual art and found a way to combine visual analysis and legal analysis to create The Art of Perception.

RB: Your organization, The Art of Perception, Inc., conducts visual intelligence courses for professionals in a wide range of fields including law enforcement, medicine, education, and the military. You must have a lot of fascinating stories from your sessions; are there any great teaching moments you can share?

AH: Yes. About three years ago, a homicide detective told me that they had a puzzling case on their hands. A victim was found with no identification and they were looking for clues that might give insight into her whereabouts before the crime was committed. He said that my course instilled the importance of small details that are hiding in plain sight. He looked at the victim more closely and noticed a new and fresh matching manicure and pedicure. It led the investigators to look farther away from the scene where she was found and to the closest salon where she was identified. From there, they traced her path to the salon and eventually apprehended the killer. All from noticing a manicure and a pedicure. As one intelligence analyst once said to me, “You really opened my eyes. The problem is, I didn’t know they were closed.

RB: In interviews, you mention taking said professionals to art museums to get them out of their everyday environments in order to practice the art of perception. What other lessons might museums of fine and decorative arts hold for the average visitor?

AH: Museums offer the perfect opportunity not only to change the physical environment but to distance ourselves from our digital screens. Technology is invaluable but it is incredible what you can see with your own eyes when you turn the screens off, even for an hour.

RB: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

AH: Fox Studios have purchased my book, Visual Intelligence, and hopes to make a crime series for television this year. It is very exciting but I never imagined that my work in The Art of Perception would have ever been adapted for television.

 RB: What is your favorite book or object in the Rosenbach collection?

AH: I love the Marianne Moore collection. In particular, I have seen a photograph of the poet throwing a baseball at a Yankees game. I find images that bring together unlikely alliances to be thought provoking and eye opening. Her suit, hat, and almost other worldly expression juxtaposed with the familiar images of baseball is just exquisite. It is the collision of two worlds in a visually compelling photograph.

Bob Olen. Photograph of Marianne Moore throwing out the first ball at Yankee Stadium season opener. 1968. [Moore XII:D:12. 2006.7590.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dr. Rosenbach and the songs of Robert Burns

This guest post is an excerpt of  “Dr. Rosenbach, Robert Burns, and The Interleaved Scots Musical Museum:  Song Collection and Bibliophilia” by Steve Newman, Associate Professor of literature at Temple University. It's always exciting for us to read about the discoveries made by researchers! To make an appointment in our reading room, visit our Research page.

Robert Burns devoted much of the last decade of his tragically brief career—he died in 1796 at the age of 37—to collecting Scottish songs for two multi-volume songbooks, The Scots Musical Museum, (1787-1803) and A Select Collection of Scottish Airs (1793-1818).  The Scots Musical Museum (herefater, SMM) is generally held to be the more valuable of the two, an indispensable collection of traditional Scottish music and the place where many of Burns’ most celebrated poems can be found:  “Ae Fond Kiss”; “A Red, Red Rose”; “Bruce’s Address to his Army” (“Scots Wha Hae”); “Comin’ Through the Rye”—and that’s just from A, B, and C!  

Alexander Nasmyth. Portrait of Robert Burns. 1787. Collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The Rosenbach is home to manuscript versions of many of these songs, itself part of one of the best Burns collections in the world.  But I’d like to focus on a text that is no longer at the Rosenbach but which passed through A. S. W. Rosenbach’s hands more than once.  Called the interleaved Scots Musical Museum (hereafter, iSMM), this text contained many pages of notes from Burns himself, discussing how he came across the verses and/or the tune, his opinion of them, how he has altered them, etc. 

How did A.S.W. Rosenbach get a hold of this invaluable insight into Burns’ song collecting? Here is what I have been able to reconstruct by consulting the various records of the Rosenbach Co., with the expert help of Elizabeth Fuller, librarian at the Rosenbach:

      May 18, 1910:  The Philadelphia industrialist John  Gribbel purchases iSMM from Rosenbach, along with a first edition of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard for $9000
      October 30, 1940:  Rosenbach buys iSMM at auction of John Gribbel’s library for $15,500
      December 8, 1947 [image below]: Rosenbach buys iSMM at auction of John Bancker Gribbel’s library for $3500
      December 13, 1947: Rabinowitz purchases iSMM from Rosenbach for $3500
      August 19, 1952: Rabinowitz transfers the volumes to Rosenbach
      1964:  The Burns Birthplace Trust buys iSmm from Rabinowitz in £5500

From the Rosenbach Company papers. Object reference number to come.

You may notice the rather remarkable drop in price from 1940 to 1947, and on this hangs a tale.  Rosenbach had identified the iSMM, which Gribbel had bought from him 37 years prior, as one of the choice objects he would bid for on behalf of Arthur Houghton (who endowed the Houghton Library). But when it came up for bid in 1940, Rosenbach and Houghton were shadowed by a rival bidder they did not know and who would not reveal his name.  He drove Rosenbach to a winning bid of $15,500, well past his expected limit of $8000, as you can see from the image from the catalogue.  When the same thing happened with Alice in Wonderland, the other target Rosenbach had identified, Houghton, suspecting chicanery, refused to pay for the Burns and “cancell[ed] his bids for the rest of the sale” (Wolf 486-87).  It turns out the rival bidder was Gribbel’s own son, John Bancker Gribbel; but he was not trying to plump his own inheritance by bidding up his father’s estate.  After the auction he bought the interleaved Scots Musical Museum from Rosenbach, much to Rosenbach’s relief, we assume, given Houghton’s abandonment of him.  When Gribbel fils died in 1947, Rosenbach bought the volumes yet again, though this time at the much-reduced price for $3500, apparently on behalf of Louis M. Rabinowitz, who purchased it a few days later.  Rabinowitz then transferred the volumes back to Rosenbach in 1952, perhaps trying to sell them; but they seemed to not have found a buyer because in 1964, the Burns Birthplace Trust repatriates the volumes. 

The mysterious rival, the patriarchal sub-plot, the wildly fluctuating prices—these various narrative wrinkles are sparked by the promise of furnishing the purchaser with 3000 words of Burns’ own handwriting, as advertised in the 1940 and 1947 catalogues, “Burns’ own criticisms, and not attributions to him by contemporary or later critics” as well as the mss. of many poems, with “Auld Lang Syne” as the jewel.  We can see a similar juxtaposition in “The Napoleon of Books,” a New Yorker column on Rosenbach from 1928: 

Suddenly you realize this book business is rife with intrigue. It has its princes, its angels, its hangers-on, even its stool-pigeons and double-crossers.  Somebody has discovered a Tamerlane.  Who? Where?  Worth fifteen thousand dollars if a cent.  Dr. R. sits unmoved.  His florid, smooth poker-face gives no sign of shock.  Yet at the moment he may be searching the world over—through foreign agents—for such a volume.  Now the conversation turns perhaps to Bobbie Burns.  By the way, would you care to see some original Burns manuscripts?  You descend to the basement, into a small vault, lined with the rarest of rare books, six million dollars’ worth of them.  Doctor Rosenbach holds up some foolscap. There before you is the warm handwriting of Burns, as alive as the day it was penned. (26)

Dr. Rosenbach’s enthusiasm for Burns humanizes his inscrutable and unflappable visage, and his six million dollars is re-valued and Burns’ labor magically unalienated by the bodily presence of his handiwork. 

Rosenbach’s biographer notes that Rosenbach begins “pric[ing]” his Burns texts “at a figure beyond any realized peak and way beyond the later dip” (Wolf 210).  He goes a step further in the catalogue he puts together in 1948; none of the items has a price because the purchaser will have to buy it “as a whole” (Foreword 5).  By possibly putting his Burns manuscripts out of the reach of the market, Rosenbach can continue to enjoy unmolested his experience of “read[ing] and reread[ing]” poems in “the poet’s own hand” (Books and Bidders 163).

As we come around yet again to Burns’ birthday on January 25th and the Burns Night Suppers that will toast his “immortal memory” all around the world, we are very fortunate to have such a trove of Burnseana in Philadelphia, thanks to the keen eye of Dr. Rosenbach.

Interleaved 'Scots Musical Museum' 4 volumes annotated by Robert Burns. Edited by James Johnson. Edinburgh: Johnson & Co, 1787. Collection of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum [3.3009.a-d].

Works Cited

Burns, Robert.  The Letters of Robert Burns, ed. G. Ross Roy and DeLancey Ferguson. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985. 
Carruthers, Gerard. “Burns and Publishing.” The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns. Ed. Carruthers Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. 6-19. 
---. “Robert Burns’s Interleaved Scots Musical Museum: A Case-Study in the Vagaries of Editors and Owners.”  Essays and Studies 66 (2013).  78-96. 
Rosenbach, Books and BiddersThe Adventures of a Bibliophile.  Boston:  Little Brown and Company, 1928. 
---. Foreword. Robert Burns  1759-1796:   A Collection of Original Manuscripts, Autography Letters, First Editions and Association Copies. Philadelphia and New York:  The Rosenbach Company, 1948. 3-5.  
Strakosch, Avery.  “The Napoleon of Books.” The New Yorker.  April 14, 1928.  25-28. 

Wolf II, Edwin with John Fleming.  Rosenbach:  A Biography.  Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1960.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5 Questions with Allison C. Meier

A series of informal, intimate talks given by literary and cultural luminaries, In Conversation with the Rosenbach delves into fascinating histories, intellectual curiosities, and inspiring ideas. Each program offers the audience a chance to join the conversation after the talk and share their own thoughts and questions. Join us January 26 to hear Hyperallergic writer Allison C. Meier recount the surprising story of a neighborhood movement to save the Camperdown elm in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park--headed by poet Marianne Moore.

Allison C. Meier
Rosen-blog: How did you first come across the story of Marianne Moore and the Camperdown Elm?

Allison C. Meier: When I first moved to New York in 2009, I was short on money, so I spent a lot of time just walking the city to explore. Prospect Park is vast, over 500 acres, but there was one tree that caught my eye: this strangely contorted Camperdown Elm. And on its protective fence is a plaque from the NYC Parks about Marianne Moore and how her efforts helped save it in the 1960s. Later, I had the chance to research the story while writing about local history for Brooklyn Based.

Photo courtesy of

RB: Marianne Moore concludes her poem about the Camperdown Elm with the words "We must save it. It is/ our crowning curio." From what you've read about the movement to preserve the tree and park, could you elaborate on what she might have meant by that?

ACM: Moore always loved the most curious examples of nature for visuals in her poems, whether the pangolin, jerboa, or octopus. She rarely used, say, a squirrel or something more familiar. The Camperdown Elm, being a rare grafted specimen from the 19th century, is certainly one of Brooklyn's "crowning" natural oddities. I think its age, and striking appearance in a park that was then in rather bad shape preservation wise, was something that she thought deserved attention.

RB: You occasionally give cemetery tours in New York. Any good stories about writers or artists buried there?

ACM: There are so many, it's hard to narrow it down. I think what's most interesting is that often the artist's grave is very humble in comparison to their legacy. For instance, Piet Mondrian is buried below a small granite monument in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, that is much less trafficked than his "Broadway Boogie Woogie" painting in MoMA. Robert Mapplethorpe's photography is wildly popular now, yet his grave in Saint John Cemetery in Queens is barely known. Likewise, Thomas Crawford, who sculpted the 19.5-foot-tall "Freedom" statue on the dome of the United States Capitol, doesn't have a marker at all in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. However, there is growing attention to these artists' graves, and Green-Wood is planning to honor Crawford with one of his own marble sculptures. Something that is important to me in giving these tours is just remembering these people as people, and considering this final resting place in their legacy.

RB: You've carved such a fascinating niche for yourself as a history writer and cemetery tour guide. Did you ever consider other careers?

ACM: I've actually had quite a few careers! My first job out of college was as a development coordinator in an Oklahoma City art gallery, then I taught English as a language assistant in France. I temped all over when I first arrived in New York, until I landed a job in higher education communications. That I'm able to support myself with my passions is actually a rather recent thing, and I'm proud that I was able to stick with it over the years and find this niche. Who knows, maybe this isn't my last career, there is so much to explore.

RB: What is your favorite book or object in the Rosenbach collection?

ACM: Definitely Marianne Moore's tricorne hat!

George Platt Lynes, Portrait of Marianne Moore. 1953. 2006.6022.

Friday, January 20, 2017

#ColorOurCollections 2017

We are delighted to participate in #ColorOurCollections week, February 6-10, 2017! We love any occasion for art and literature lovers to look as closely at our collection as we do. Download and enjoy--and if you post any snapshots of your colorations online, don't forget to include #ColorOurCollections and tag us--@RosenbachMuseum on Facebook and Twitter, @TheRosenbach on Instagram.

As it happens, we already have some pages out in our lobby for visitors to color in. These are enlargements of some of the beautiful bookplates in our Art of Ownership exhibition. Click the image to view the full-sized file; right-click the full-sized file and select "Save Picture As" to download.

Did you know that coloring books have been around in some form since at least the 1880s? It's only fitting, then, to share a few illustrations from some of the beloved late-nineteenth-century books in our library:

We can't wait to see these objects from our own collection, not to mention the collections of other participating libraries, filled in with the colors of your imagination.