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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Sendak Tapes

For those of you who have seen Peter Dobrin’s recent articles in the Philadelphia Inquirier (both Sunday's and Tuesday's), you already know that the Sendak Collection held here on deposit since 1968 will be leaving us shortly and returning to the Sendak Foundation in Connecticut.  Our exhibition Sendak in the ‘60s will remain on view through its scheduled end-date, November 2, so be sure to check it out!  There are some amazing pieces from Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen on display, but the ‘60s was perhaps Sendak’s most varied and inventive period so there’s something for everyone in there. 

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes memories and reflections of our work with Maurice Sendak over the decades.  Tens of thousands of people have enjoyed Sendak’s work through exhibitions and programs here over almost 50 years, but (at least for those who haven’t met him) not everyone knows how generous Maurice was with his time and insights on a personal level.  He visited here often, bringing artwork with him, speaking to docents about his work, and doing lectures and signings of his latest books for visitors. 

Maurice Sendak in 2007.  Photo courtesy of Michael O'Reilly.
When we interviewed him in 2007, Sendak remembered his first visits to the Rosenbach in the late ‘60s fondly: “I remember I would lay in Dr. Rosenbach’s room, and they would bring me in some drawings for a French novel by Fragonard and there was a big animal fur blanket and I used to lay under it with my Fragonards all around.  Hey—that was living!  Of course, they took it all back in the morning.” The Rosenbach’s first big Sendak exhibition went up in 1970, displaying much of Sendak’s work up to that point while also including works by artists who influenced Sendak that were either borrowed from his personal collection or from other area museums.  Admission then was $1.50.  In a review in Artforum, critic Selma Lanes (who ten years later would publish a compendious biography of Sendak) noted how this early retrospective lifted Sendak out of the easy-to-dismiss “kiddie-book” category to which he had often been consigned, and placed him within a continuum of inventive illustrators: “During an era when bold use of color, abstract design, outsize format and showy technical virtuosity abounded, his work has always remained low-key, curiously retrograde, and 19th-century in spirit.  From the exhibited selections, made by both the artist and Clive Driver, the Rosenbach’s young curator, Sendak clearly emerges as a conscientious and respectful student of the past, an innovator within a long tradition rather than a smasher of stylistic idols.  As Sendak himself has put it, ‘I borrowed techniques and tried to forge them into a personal language.’” 

That was the first of many Sendak shows over the next four decades.  Later exhibitions would delve into specific Sendak books (Chicken Soup with Rice or In the Night Kitchen, for example), or investigate themes and techniques in his artwork (such as Maurice Sendak, Comic Strip Technique, and Wilhelm Busch in 1993, or the 1986 exhibition Man’s Best Friend about Sendak’s dog Jennie).  Periodically—when a new exhibition went up or a new Sendak book was published—Sendak would stop by and speak with our docents.  It’s rare for educators to have access to a living artist whose work they interpret for visitors, and we’re fortunate that past staff had the foresight to record some of those sessions on cassette tapes.  Listening to them now, I’m struck by how earnest, warm, and excited Sendak sounded in those conversations.  You can hear him turning the pages of his picture books as he shows the docents particular illustrations.  He clearly wanted our docents to be well-supplied with information and insights on which to chew.  In one conversation he expounded on the distinction he saw between illustrating a “picture book” (giving Where the Wild Things Are as an example) and a “story book” (citing Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!).  He likened a picture book to an opera, where images and texts move back and forth in a kind of syncopation.  But a story book, he explained, must remain focused on the narrative, noting that the trick is to add something to the pictures; he said he tried to inject a certain “emotional coloring” to his pictures for Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Zlateh the Goat to counterbalance Singer’s dry wit in the text.  In other conversations he comments on his fellow-illustrators, like N.C. Wyeth (“Complicated feelings.  A great master... but he has somewhat the problem of Arthur Rackham, where he has one style, that N.C.-Wyeth-look.”), and Dr. Seuss (“a master and a maniac…condemned to being a best-seller”), as well as various authors like Melville (“You don’t want [your illustrations] to get in the way of him…he’s a trumpet, a noisy writer”), Randall Jarrell (“He was one of the few writers I’ve ever worked with who could…visualize what a book could look like.  Very few writers understand the business of illustrating their books.  They just want nice pictures”), and Isaac Singer (“The best part of the collaboration was him.  The worst part was him”).  And, of course, Sendak took many questions from our docents about everything from his work in theater and opera to his childhood memories and familial relationships.   

The bulk of Sendak’s artwork might be leaving the Rosenbach, but so much remains.  The authors and illustrators in our permanent collection that so inspired him (Dickinson, Melville, Carroll, Tenniel, Blake…) will still be here to inspire others.  The Rosenbach still owns a few hundred pieces of Sendak artwork, including the one-of-a-kind Chertoff mural, which is an inspiration of itself.  But perhaps most importantly, the perspectives on art and literature that Sendak shared with staff, docents, and visitors here have unquestionably left their mark on this institution.  

 Patrick Rodgers is Curator of the Maurice Sendak Collection at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 

Friday, September 12, 2014


Okay, so we all know we're not supposed to do this to our books (although I suspect we're probably all guilty of it, spine-breaking be hanged). But what do you use to mark your place?  I must confess to grabbing whatever piece of paper is readily at hand--grocery receipts and library checkout slips being frequent culprits. I know I'm not alone; a poll on the InkyGirl blog found that only 42% of her readers used a regular bookmark, 9% copped to dog-earing pages and 6% claimed never to use a bookmark at all, which leaves a whopping 43% using makeshift 'marks.  A discussion on LibraryThing lists some of the most unusual items found in libraries' returned books, presumably used as bookmarks by the patrons. Among the items listed are beer bottle labels, a pancake, $700 in cash, toilet paper, a thong and plenty of unusual clippings and photos.

I don't know if they used them or if they just reached for the nearest piece of scrap paper, but Philip  and Dr. Rosenbach had a very nice matching set of sterling silver bookmarks made by silversmith Leonore Doskow.

Leonore Doskow, bookmarks. 1935-1952. 2004.0058.001&2 . The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
Leonore Doskow, bookmark. 1935-1952. 2004.0058.001. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
Leonore Doskow, bookmark. 1935-1952. 2004.0058.002 . The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Philip also had this very elegant Adler silver bookmark, with cutwork initials.

Adler, bookmark. 2004.0059 . The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

I'd love to know the background of this cross-stitched paper bookmark for Dr. R. Was it made for him by a sister, or someone else?

Bookmark. 1954.1874. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Marianne Moore stuck all kinds of things in her books as a form of filing system, placing clippings and other items that related to the book within its pages as a way to hang onto them and find them again. For preservation purposes we've removed these items from the books and placed them into folders, while preserving the record of where they were originally found. These items run to 22 manuscript boxes and compose an entire subseries of the ephemera series of the Moore Papers. Mixed in among them are some more conventional paper bookmarky things and Marianne also had this very nice monogrammed Tiffany silver bookmark (her middle name was Craig)

Tiffany & Co., bookmark. 2006.2873.008. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia   

So what kind of bookmarker are you? Do you use "real" bookmarks or whatever comes to hand? What's the weirdest thing you've ever used as a bookmark?

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Back to School

Now is the time for children to head back to school, so I pulled a few school-related items from the files.

This photo, although unidentified, seems to be some sort of school/class photograph including the young Abie Rosenbach (the future Dr. R). He is seated at the far left of the front row with arms crossed.

Unidentified photograph. Philadelphia, 1880-1885?. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 2006.1110

This is Dr. R's graduating class from Central Manual Training School. Again he appears at the left, this time in the second row.
Central Manual Training School, class of 1894.  Philadelphia, 1894. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 2006.2442

Switching gears from our founder to our favorite book, here is St. Joseph's School, which Leopold Bloom walks by on the morning of June 16, 1904, en route to the butcher shop: He passed Saint Joseph's National School. Brats' clamour. Windows open. Fresh air helps memory. Or a lilt. Ahbeesee defeegee kelomen opeecue rustyouvee doubleyou. Boys are they? Yes. Inishturk. Inishark. Inishboffin. At their joggerfry. Mine. Slieve Bloom.

Phil Phillips, St. Joseph's School. Dublin, 1950. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Gift of Sayre P. Sheldon and Lady Richard Davies. 2006.0004.053  

The photo itself was taken in 1950 by Phil Phillips, a Harvard archaeology professor  who went to Dublin to photograph sites from Ulysses.

Our current exhibition Bescribbled, Nibbled, and Dog-Eared includes examples of primers and other instructional books used in schools. The exhibition showcases Dr. Rosenbach collection of early American children's books, which focused on pre-1830 works. A later item from our collection, which is not in the exhibition, is the fascinating Geographical Reader for the Dixie Children, published in North Carolina in 1863

Miss M. B. Moore, Geographical reader for the Dixie children. Raleigh, N.C.: Branson, Farrar, & Co, 1863. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia A 863g

Every nation wants to teach its children about its history and the Confederates were no exception. Here is a portion of the description of the "Southern Confederacy" from the Geographical Reader:

3. This is a great country! The Yankees thought to starve us out when they sent their ships to guard our seaport towns. But we have learned to make many things; to do without many others; and above all to trust in the smiles of the God of battles. We had few guns, little ammunition, and not much of anything but food, cotton and tobacco; but the people helped themselves and God helped the people. We were considered an indolent, weak people, but our enemies have found us strong, because we had justice on our side.

        4. The Southern people are noted for being high minded and courteous. A stranger seldom lacks friends in this country. Much of the field work is done by slaves. These are generally well used and often have as much pocket money as their mistresses. They are contented and happy, and many of them are christians. The sin of the South lies not in holding slaves, but they are sometimes mistreated. Let all the little boys and girls remember that slaves are human, and that God will hold them to account for treating them with injustice.

        5. The Southern Confederacy is at present a sad county; but President Davis is a good and wise man, and many of the generals and other officers in the army, are pious. Then there are many good praying people in the land; so we may hope that our cause will prosper. "When the righteous are in authority, the nation rejoiceth;but when the wicked bear rule the nation mourneth." Then remember, little boys, when you are men, never to vote for a bad man to govern the country.

You can see more and read the full text thanks to the Documenting the American South project at UNC. 

Finally, what is a blog post without a good Cruikshank illustration or two. Our first illustration depicts male and female students in a ragged school ( a charity school for poor children).

George Cruikshank,The Ragged School. London, 1846. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 1954.1880.2554

This cartoon depicts two ragged pupils who do not look especially studious. The boy on the left is holding what may be a battledore, a type of simple cardboard book for teaching letters and other very basic lessons. You can see a real example of a battledore in the Bescribbled exhibition.
George Cruikshank. London, 1846. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 1954.1880.2572

And last, but not least, here is a pair of illustrations depicting an ebullient group of students returning home from school (at left) and a dejected group returning to school (on the right).

George Cruikshank, Schoolboys Going Home and Boys Returning to School. Illustrations for Peter Parley's Tales about Christmas. London: Tegg, 1839. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 1954.1880.3193 and 3190

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, August 29, 2014

200 Years Ago: Washington in Flames

Last weekend marked the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington during the War of 1812. British troops entered Washington in the afternoon of August 24, 1814 and set fire to the government buildings, including the White House and the Capitol building. The goal in sacking the city was symbolic rather than strategic; as Robert Ross, the British general in charge wrote, “They feel strongly the disgrace of having had their capital taken by a handful of men and blame very generally a government which went to war without the means or abilities to carry it on." The following day brought more havoc as violent storms wracked the city, further damaging the public buildings as well as many private ones. The British occupation lasted only twenty six hours and and President Madison returned on August 27.

In addition to the serious commemorations, this past week has seen some humorous takes on the events, including the British embassy's (in)famous sparkler cake and a great "breaking news" segment from NPR, live from 1814.

Here is British satirist George Cruikshank's take from 1814, entitled "John Bull making a capital bonfire& Mr. Madison running away by the light of it."

George Cruikshank, John Bull making a capital bonfire& Mr. Madison running away by the light of it. 1954.0546. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The print depicts Madison (in black) worrying "Oh dear, Oh dear..what the devil shall I say to the people" as he flees the city along with a Quaker (in brown)  and several others. Napoleon looks on from Elba, commenting "Its no use contending with John Bull, see what he has brought me to." The exile of Napoleon in April 1814 had freed up the British to focus more attention on the American conflict and Cruikshank clearly envisions an equally satisfactory conclusion here.  As it turned out, the successful defense of Baltimore three weeks after the Washington attack changed the momentum and restored American pride (and gave us our national anthem). Ultimately the War of 1812 ended up as a draw.

If you're looking to get in on the 1812 action, it's not too late. There's going to be a huge party in Baltimore in September to celebrate, so mark your calendar. I also recommend the 1812 episode of the BBC program In Our Time as a quick and painless way to bone up on the war.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Beach Reads

As the summer draws to a close, it's time for one last trip to the beach. From the decreased traffic on my morning train ride I can tell that lots of folks are enjoying a well-deserved vacation this month.

One of the great pleasures of a beach vacation is a chance to laze in the sun with a book. The term"beach read" is generally applied to fluffy, plot-driven works like chick lit, murder mysteries, and thrillers. But Jack Murnighan, the author of Beowulf on the Beach, argues for the joys of classic literature as beach reading and in this USA Today interview from 2009 he makes a few suggestions of texts that we have kicking around here at the Rosenbach:

The Story of Beowulf. Kelmscott Press, 1895. FP K895b
 He nominates Beowulf as best beach read, claiming, "If you're a guy, read Beowulf... It's really short. It's only 70 pages and has a ton of action. So in some ways, it's a perfect beach read."

Herman Melville , Moby Dick, or, The whale  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851

AL1 .M531mo 851b
When asked about the funniest beach read, Murnighan voted for Moby Dick, which is not only a sea-faring tale, but in his words, "one of the funniest books of all time...  Ishmael, the narrator, is just a complete cut-up having a great time, and you'll have a blast reading it."

Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales. England, 15th century. MS 1084/1
He also suggests The Canterbury Tales as a great book to just dip into, since "you can read a couple of them or you can read the sexiest, playful, funny ones."

 Picking up on the theme of classics as beach reading, I thought I'd toss out a few more Rosen-books, all of which features beaches.

James Joyce (1882-1941), Ulysses. Paris: Shakespeare & Company, 1922. EL4 J89U1 922a
Ulysses: Okay, not the simplest (or lightest) book to take to the beach, but what better place to let Joyce's prose wash over you. Plus, some of the most memorable scenes take place on the beach, from Stephen Dedalus's musings in Proteus, to Leopold Bloom's encounter with Gerty MacDowell.

Bram Stoker. Dracula. London: Archibald Constable and Company, 1897. EL3 .S874d 897

Dracula: Much of this novel takes place in the sea-side town of Whitby, where Stoker himself vacationed. The book is a real page-turner and you don't have to take my word for it. When The Bookman reviewed it in 1897 it concluded that "though here and there in the course of the tale we hurried over some things with repulsion, we read nearly the whole with rapt attention...Keep "Dracula" out of the way of nervous children, certainly, but a grown reader...will both shudder and enjoy... "

Daniel Defoe, The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. 1719. Holford

Robinson Crusoe: Before Lost, before Survivor, before Hatchet or Lord of the Flies or The Swiss Family Robinson, was this 1719 classic, generally bandied about as one of the contenders for the honor of being first English novel. And there's plenty of beach on this deserted island.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha. Madrid: por Juan de la Cuesta, 1605. C2 .C419d 605
Don Quixote: A favorite of Dr. Rosenbach's and a contender for the title of "first novel," it features a jousting match between Don Quixote and the Knight of the White Moon on a Barcelona beach. Samuel Johnson paid tribute to the book, claiming ,"Was there ever yet any thing written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers, excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the Pilgrim's Progress?"

No, you can't take the Rosenbach copies to the beach--sand and sun aren't good for rare books. But aside from their literary merits, another benefit of classic books as beach reads is that cheap used copies are easy to come by and the texts can generally can be found for free as e-books. So classic literature is good for your brain and your wallet.  

What are your suggestions for beach reading?

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's the Worst Thing You Have Done to a Book?

We asked this question of the visitors in Bescribbled, Nibbled, and Dog-Eared: Early American Children's Books and we got quite a lot of answers!

Visitors confess to having dropped books in the bathtub (I've done that), painted them, written in crayon, and having failed to read them (yup, done that one too).
Readers have hidden books from their children and nestled them next to rotting bananas.

Dr. Rosenbach might have applauded the book-preserving move of keeping books away from children--he noted that kids' destructive tendencies led to the scarcity of historic children's books, since "a young child’s attitude toward a book is not unlike that of a cannibal toward a missionary." Bananas, however, are another matter. Here's what happens when you combine a rotting banana, a book, and a backpack.

"Banana Book." Image by Enokson. Flickr.
One visitor reported having created fake author inscriptions as a sorority prank.

Some have even gotten violent with their books, ripping out pages in anger or using them as target practice for throwing stars.

This visitor isn't alone in using books as targets--The Forgotten Bookmarks blog has a great post of a 1928 biography of Herbert Hoover with embedded BBs.

As for me, I remember borrowing Tomi Ungerer's The Three Robbers from the library when I was very young (pre-school). Something about the book terrified me and I kept insisting that we had to throw it in the garbage. My mother said we couldn't, since it was a library book and I think she eventually had to take it away and hide it so I wouldn't destroy it before we could return it.

So what's the worst thing you have done to a book?

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Artistic Travelers

This week's post comes from our collections intern, Jordan Rothschild.
 - - - - 
As the summer is here and it is time for travel I would like to share a few works related to travel from our collections. They come from two artists—one, a Renaissance Italian who spent time in Italy’s greatest cities and the other an Enlightenment-era Frenchman who sought to illustrate customs of the rural Russian people. These works on paper are depictions of life and art in two areas: one, the well visited eternal city of Rome, and the other the less visited but no less fascinating region of Siberia, Russia.

Jean-Baptiste Le Prince was born in Metz, France in 1734. The son of a sculptor, Le Prince entered the Paris art studio of Francois Boucher in 1750. It is here he developed his richly textured style after the master Boucher.  After a brief and unsuccessful marriage Le Prince set off to Russia in 1758 to join other flourishing French artists. Le Prince entered a Russia that was soon to be ruled over by Catherine the Great. Russia had been undergoing immense military and cultural change—Russia was emerging as a world power.  It was here in the 1760s that Le Prince met another Frenchman—the astronomer Jean Chappe d’Auteroche. Chappe traveled to remote Siberia in an effort to collect observations of the path of the planet Venus across the earth’s orbital plane. More than this, Chappe sought to explore the character of the Russian people. Based on his observations of the Russian people Chappe authored Voyage en Siberie  published in 1768. This four volume work, illustrated in part by Le Prince, is one of the most beautiful and informative travel accounts of the 18th century.

All Le Prince drawings in the Rosenbach collection are highly finished in pen and ink with grey wash. They were purchased by A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1922 as part of the Roederer Collection—a world renowned collection of 18th century French drawings, prints, and illustrated books assembled by Louis Roederer (d. 1880).

Jean Baptiste-Le Prince, Iourte ou Habitation Souterraine des Kamtchadals Pendant L'Hiver. 1766. 1954.397. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 

Jean Baptiste-Le Prince, Kamtchadal dans son Habit D'Hiver. 1766. 1954.400. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Girolamo Da Carpi is mentioned in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists as being the son of a house-painter destined for greater artistic achievement.  He was born in Ferrara in 1501 and as a youth traveled to Bologna to find independence as an artist. Thus began a career of a well traveled and busy artist. He spent time in major Renaissance cities at work on a variety of commissions.

He spent the years 1549 to 1553 in Rome where many of his sketches were created. Da Carpi drew many sketches after ancient and contemporary works in the eternal city. The sketches are not only beautiful drawings, but preservations of the antique heritage of Rome in the Renaissance period. They are a testament to how two brilliant artistic ages existed side by side. 

Girolomo da Carpi, Victory. 1954.0807.063. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The column of Trajan was completed in 113 A.D. It stands at 140 feet and is adorned with relief sculpture. In particular Da Carpi was interested in the victory reliefs. These commemorate Trajan’s campaign against the Dacians.

Girolomo da Carpi, Jacob's struggle with the angel.1954.0807.063. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Vatican loggias remain closed to visitors to this day. They were the work of Raphael, completed in 1519. This is a drawing of one of the now-lost 13 scenes of the monochrome frescoes in the socle zone of the loggias. This particular scene of Jacob wrestling with an angel comes from the socle of the sixth arcade. It is a religious scene with great power and a remarkable piece of documentary evidence of the how the loggias looked not many years after their completion.
The sketches of Da Carpi were purchased by A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1930 from the daughter and grandson of the great English collector Sir Thomas Phillips (d. 1872).