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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The "Fairy Shrimp" and Kafka

This unusual drawing, hangs on the wall in Marianne Moore’s living room just to the left of the fireplace. No, it is not a Sendak drawing. It is by another illustrator, Robert Andrew Parker.
Parker illustrated eight of Moore’s poems for a limited edition book (only 195 copies were printed) published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1962. Each edition was signed by Moore and Parker and included ten hand colored illustrations.

Like Moore, Parker’s favorite artistic subject matter was animals. Moore calls the subject of this drawing a ”fairy shrimp” in a letter to Robert Andrew Parker, June 9, 1958.

Above the “fairy shrimp” appears a handwritten inscription in German. It’s relevance to the drawing below is not clear to me and maybe purely absurdist. It is an excerpt from Franz Kafka's book Amerika.
Translation: When the 16-year-old Karl Robmann was sent to America by his poor parents because a maid seduced him and had a child by him, he arrived in a slow-moving ship in the port of New York. When he landed, he saw the Statue of Liberty, which he had seen from a distance, in a stronger sunlight.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

See you in the New Year

My dear Rosenreaders, after shoveling out 20" of snow this weekend I am looking forward to my holiday trip to sunny California (ok, it's the Bay Area, so maybe foggy California). I'll be back with you in 2010, unless one of my colleagues decides to chime in by posting in the meantime.

A quick reminder if you want to visit the Rosenbach over the holidays, or bring your relatives, we will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

If you're looking for something to do on Christmas itself, those of you who followed our 21st-Century Abe project may recall hearing about a Bill T. Jones dance production based on the life of Lincoln. It looks like it will be airing on PBS on Christmas Day, so check it out. You can find a preview clip on Youtube.

In my absence I'll leave you with a couple of pretty Christmas pictures from our collection, an annunciation scene from a manuscript Book of Hours and a drawing of the Nativity that appears in our Friend or Faux exhibition, where you can learn about its interesting history of attribution.

Horae, Paris use: manuscript on vellum. France, 15th century. MS 1057/29

Unknown artist, Nativity. Flanders or Northern Germany, 1540-1550. 1954.603

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pass the Tea Please

Today marks the 236th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. The idea of a "tea party" to oppose taxes saw a rebirth this year as conservative activists staged tea parties on April 15 and beyond to protest current fiscal policies. But the original tea party happened on a cold December 16th in 1773.

The Rosenbach owns several broadsides and other documents from the tea party period. This Pennsylvania piece from Dec. 4, 1773 is one of my favorites and is a useful reminder that it was not simply our northern brethren who were unhappy about the new tea taxes .

A 773tot

The Pennsylvania "Mechanic" warns, in no uncertain terms that "The East India Company, if once they get Footing in this (once) happy country, will leave no Stone unturned to become your Masters. They are an opulent Body, and Money or Credit is not wanting amongst them They have a designing, depraved, and despotic Ministry to assist and support them. They themselves are well versed In Tyranny, Plunder, Oppression and Bloodshed. Whole Provinces labouring under the Distresses of Oppression, Slavery, Famine, and the Sword, are familiar to them."

On a happier note, Sue Johnson's artist installation at the Rosenbach, Moore Adventures in Wonderland includes a piece entitled "Tea Party" based not on the events of 1773, but on the madcap adventures of Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare, and that's what I'll leave you with as I go off to pour myself an afternoon cuppa.

Sue Johnson, Tea Party, from the installation Moore Adventures in Wonderland, 2009.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Monster Tree

Several of the collections staff are starting to work on an exhibition for next summer on "the west" in fiction and reality. Right now we're combing through the collections to find the objects we want to use and this handbill made my day when my colleague Karen Schoenewaldt showed it to me last week.


Laid into Moxon travel diary (1855) AMs 760/24

This handbill was part of a collection of materials assembled by a western traveller in the 1850s. He collected everything from stagecoach timetables to cocktail recipes on his journey, making for a fascinating assemblage. The idea of a "Vegetable Monster" was what grabbed me about this piece and as I read through it the breathless 19th-century prose only got better. Potential tree-viewers are reassured that a Senator, the owner of the Adams Express Company and "numerous other gentlemen of undoubted veracity" could testify to having seen the tree in the ground and they are informed that the tree is worthy of "universal admiration, not only from its unrivalled magnitude but from the straightness and symmetry of its bole." All that and a brass band to boot--don't forget that "Haywood's Splendid Quadrille Band" will be in attendance!

For some reason I was having trouble getting the picture above to come out large enough to read it all, so I'll reproduce an excerpt below:

Mammoth-tree excerpt

Laid into Moxon travel diary (1855) 760/24

On a more serious note, reading this handbill reminded me of the Ken Burns National Parks series, which I recently watched on PBS. In this handbill the fascination with the gigantic trees of California is manifested in cutting down a tree for display and profit, despite the fact that"it is supposed that there are not more than one hundred of these great trees in the state," but in the following few decades this fascination would lead to the creation of parks such as Yosemite.

It is also interesting how consistent the language is that is used to describe these trees; the idea that these trees were "saplings[s] before the first stone of the Pyramids were laid, and was contemporary with Moses and the Prophets" comes up over and over again--similar sentiments appeared repeatedly in the Burns documentary and even in the American Museum of Natural History, which displays a slice of a giant sequoia cut down in 1891. Something about the immense antiquity of these trees is irresistible to us.

Whether this handbill ends up in the exhibit or not remains to be seen, but it was way too much fun not to share.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Rosenweb

After last week's blog post in which I trailed off into a discussion of the Old 100th psalm tune, I got to wondering if there were any recordings of what the Bay Psalm Book's music would really have sounded like. Lo and behold, the folks at Smithsonian Folkway records put out such a record, way back in 1965, entitled "Early American Psalmody: The Bay Psalm Book-Cambridge, 1640." You can go to their site to listen to decent length excerpts of each track, or to buy the CD. You can go here to listen to the whole thing online, but you have to get a (free) membership first.

Aside from scoping out 17th-century music, much of my time recently has been taken up with preparing for the launch of a redesigned Rosenbach website, which will take place in the new year. The site's not public yet, so I can't really show you what I'm working on, but trust me that there will be lots more information about all of activities and collections at the Rosenbach and it should be a lot easier to navigate and to find both the information you are looking for and related material for which you might not have thought to look.

Although the new website is still a little ways off, I thought I'd keep to the spirit of webbyness and point out a few neat, and sometimes underutilized, features of our current website which will also be present in the new site. For example, many of our visitors don't realize that our entire collection of fine & decorative arts and photographs is available through a web-based catalog called Phil, in honor of Philip Rosenbach, who handled the art side of the Rosenbach Company. So if you're interested in chairs, or paintings by Thomas Sully, or photographs of Marianne Moore, you can search away to your heart's content. Or if you just want to browse and see what we have, you can do that too, or just select random images to get a sampling of our holdings (this is a feature our curator Judy Guston especially likes).

Or if manuscripts are more your thing, you can check out Manuscripts Online, a very powerful tool which allows you to get up-close with some of our Americana documents by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Robert Morris. You can do word searches and find out what Washington and Lincoln had to say about "liberty", or any other word you choose. You can zoom in so close that you can practically see the fibers in the paper. It's lots of fun.

Finally, in case you missed it last summer, I want to put in one (last?) plug for our 21st-Century Abe website, which features our Lincoln documents with scholarly commentary, fabulous artist's projects inspired by our Lincoln holdings, and really neat material contributed by site visitors. The site has been "evergreened," which means we are no longer accepting new submissions to the interactive portions of the site, but you can still access all the material. Head on over to watch videos of Lincoln as a TV personality, design and save your own 21st-Century Abe poster, listen to audio commentary by renowned Lincoln scholar Douglas Wilson, and so much more.

I guess that's all the news that's fit to print for now. Go forth and surf the Rosenweb.