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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two Terrific Tours

First of all, I think Smithsonian magazine must be stalking the Rosenbach. I noted in a previous blog post that the April issue features a look at Lewis Carroll and then what should I find in the May issue--a story on William Henry Ireland , whose Shakespeare forgeries are currently on display in Friend or Faux! Both articles are great, so please take a look. I can't wait to see what they come up with next month--Ulysses, perhaps (I can still use all the help that I can get on that one)?

Anyway, apart from reading magazines, much of my week has involved the development of a couple of new tours. On Monday I test drove my new hands-on-tour, "Book Illustration: Worth A Thousand Words," for my colleagues. We do these dry runs for all of our tours to help work out the kinks and I find it really helpful because it helps me see how other people look at the objects and what kinds of questions they have, so I can be better prepared. Plus it is a good reminder that if I talked as long about each object as I would like, my tours would be three hours long, so I'd better not!

My new tour focuses on the art and technology of book illustration with manuscript illumination to the development of photomechanical reproduction and it includes examples of the tools used to print the illustrations (woodblocks, copper plates, etc) as well as examples of different artists' work. The run-through went well; in one case almost too well-- as an example of copper-plate engraving I used the volume of Buffon's Natural History that included dogs and I had a hard time tearing my dog-obsessed colleagues away from the illustrations of cute pooches. Maybe next time I should pick snakes or rats or something...Anyway, the tour debuts for the public on June 23 and will crop up periodically after that in the Hands-On-Tour rotation, so I hope you'll join me.

In addition to working on my own hands-on-tour I also had the privilege of attending a walk-through yesterday of the new docent-led theme tour "Are You For Real," which is a companion to our Friend or Faux exhibit and will be offered on Wednesday evenings at 6:00 pm and Saturday afternoons at 3:00 throughout the months of June and July. (with the exception on June 2nd and 16th). This tour has been put together by a crack team of docents, who have been working with staff over the past several months to put together a house tour that explores some of the issues of authenticity that are the crux of Friend or Faux. If posthumous portraits, colorful copies, or the strange concept of a skeuomorph intrigue you, you should definitely swing by for the tour. As always, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and research of our docents; this topic required special dedication because by the very nature of the tour the objects they were studying have complicated, and sometimes fragmentary, histories and the concepts of the tour--attribution, copying, forgery, etc--can be slippery too.

That's about it from my desk at the Rosenbach. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bloomsday on the Horizon, Part II: Guest Post by Trustee Steven Rolfe

Great minds think alike! No sooner had I posted my Bloomsday heads-up, when I received a guest blog post about Ulysses from Rosenbach trustee Steven Rolfe, MD. He has some very helpful and practical suggestions on how to survive and enjoy reading Ulysses, so read on for his post:

"I came to Ulysses relatively late in life-and have been trying to make up for lost time ever since. In the hopes of having others avoid this terrible flaw in judgment, I would like to offer some recommendations to do my part to help cure joyceophobia ( as a psychoanalyst I feel qualified to at least make this attempt).

Here are the suggestions of an amateur reader of the novel:

1)Take the Ulysses course beginning in the fall at the Rosenbach. It is terrific and it is always helpful to read this novel with others. The teaching is superb, the pace manageable.

2)Equip yourself with the following helpful aids-that are useful to read along with the novel

"The Bloomsday Book" by Henry Blamires- This book paraphrases Joyce's Ulysses . It helps one realize why Joyce writes the way he does, and how accessible the novel really is. I consider this a must for first time readers. Not exactly "No Fear Ulysses" but does its job admirably.

"Reading Joyce's Ulysses "by Daniel Schwartz, a professor from Cornell who writes a very helpful chapter by chapter analysis of the reader's Odyssey that is reading Ulysses.

3) Strongly consider having a look at 2 books of criticism that are excellent and that will fundamentally enrich your understanding and appreciation of the novel:

"The Cast of Characters" by Paul Schwaber-Paul is a psychoanalyst who will teach you as much about psychoanalysis as about Ulysses. This book is a brilliant study, focusing on a deep understanding of the character's inner lives. The author plays very close attention, as a psychoanalyst would, to the thought -associations of the characters, permitting an intimate meaningful reading of the text that exemplifies the best of psychoanalytic criticism.

"Ulysses and Us" by Declan Kiberd, a book published this year by Mr. Kiberd, a Professor at UCD,Dublin-this book as well is a must read. Prof. Kiberd decries the "academics" who appropriated this novel for the arcane halls of academia. "Oh rocks, tell us in plain words" Molly Bloom says and Kiberd does his best to emphasize the approachability of the novel and how it is a novel about everyday life. On the front book jacket (the version published in Dublin-not the U.S. version for some reason) is an Eve Arnold photo of Marilyn Monroe reading the final chapter (so I'm told). On the back cover the following quote by Joseph O'Connor pretty much sums up this book of criticism: " The most exciting book I know on the most exciting novel ever written". Need I say more?

A brief word of caution about reading the novel itself - Before you begin promise yourself that you will not let yourself stop reading where many have faltered-chapter 3-Stephen on the beach-The relative inaccessibility of this chapter is of course-as everything in Ulysses- purposeful and revealing and is meant to tell us much essential about Stephen's character and inner life-plough through it with the above aids and you will, before you know it ,be well on your way toward completing your Odyssey. When you later meet Stephen discussing his theory of Shakespeare you will be thankful for the two above mentioned books-both of which will greatly enrich your understanding of the Shakespeare theme in the novel.

If by chance you are unable to read the novel in the next month-you do have an option that's not so bad- promise yourself you will come to Bloomsday at the Rosenbach...June 16...come for the day to hear the novel read by local Philadelphians of some renown, but at the very least come at the end of the day to hear the Poets Simpson reading Ithaca....... and Penelope "read' by Drucie McDaniel. If this rendering doesn't convince you to read and experience the novel, perhaps you should consider psychoanalysis....."

Dr. Rolfe is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and member of the Rosenbach Board of Trustees. He is a Principal of BoswellGroupLLC ,a NY based consulting firm that advises CEO's and SR business leaders on management , leadership and interpersonal challenges of running their organizations.

Bloomsday on the Horizon

Amazingly enough, it is almost the end of May, which means that Bloomsday is just around the corner. If you haven't already marked your calendar for Wednesday, June 16, get out your red pencil now and circle it! On that glorious day the readings will run from noon to 7 PM, so you can stop by any time, for five minutes or five hours. Once you've circled the date you can start digging through your bookshelves for your copy of Ulysses--if you start now there's still time to get through it by Bloomsday (if you don't have a copy, you can find the full text through Project Gutenberg, or you can cheat and go with the plot summary we provide on our website)

Around here we've been starting to gear up for the festivities in more practical ways--making sure the readers have their scripts, making sure we will have folding chairs,and in my case making sure our annual Bloomsday exhibit gets installed. The theme of this year's Bloomsday is one that is near and dear to my heart--food. Our Bloomsday czar and consulting curator Laura Heffernan has pulled together a some great objects on this theme for the Bloomsday exhibit, so my job is just to pull the necessary cases out of storage, make sure they are painted and prepped, and that the labels are all ready to go for installation. We'll be putting in the exhibit on June 2, so you can start to warm up for Bloomsday even before the 16th rolls around.

To whet your appetite, I'll close with a few pictures from last year's Bloomsday. Thanks to all who attended last year and we can't wait to see you again; if you haven't come before, we can't wait to see you enjoying your first Bloomsday.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Paige M. Gutenborg

It's been a quiet week at the Rosenbach. Most of the collections staff has been away, either on vacation or out in Wyoming, installing a traveling Sendak exhibition at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. I have spent the week hunched over my computer, learning the intricacies of Chenhall Nomenclature and editing object information in huge Excel spreadsheets. Rather than bore you with the details of that, I figured I'd post this week about a really neat book machine, nicknamed Paige M. Gutenborg, that I saw on a trip to Cambridge, Mass a few weeks ago.

Paige is a print-on-demand (or POD) book machine installed at the Harvard Bookstore, on Mass Ave in Harvard Square. Basically, Paige takes a digital file and then prints a book and binds it in front of your very eyes. The part of the machine where the book is assembled has plexiglass sides so you can actually watch the book come together--the pages come out of the printer and get collated, then a roller comes up applies glue to one edge, then the pages are inserted into the cover (which is printed in color on separate cover stock), then a guillotine trims all the edges, and then the book comes out of a slot in the bottom, like a gumball machine. The resulting book is just like any trade paperback, and it only took a few minutes to make.

It seems that there are two main types of books that people use Paige to create. One is self-publishing, and in fact that was what was being run while I was watching--a poet wanted some bound copies of his poems for a reading that evening. The other, which appeals to me as a historian, is making hard copies of out-of-print, public domain books which have been digitized through online projects such as Google Books. The idea that I could send in a link and order my own copy of some long-forgotten 19th-century book, rather than having to read 300 pages online makes me very excited.

Anyway, the gizmo is a lot of fun to watch and I'm certainly not the only one who thinks so--the woman who runs the machine is clearly quite used to onlookers and the owner of the shop even stopped by to talk about the machine with me and some other gawpers. I did my duty by the Rosenbach while I was there--two of the pre-printed volumes that the store had for sale as examples of Paige's work were the Bay Psalm Book (fittingly, the first book they ran through the machine) and the Alice manuscript (from a digitized version of 1886 facsimile) and I ended up chatting at length with the owner and other onlookers about the backstories of both of these volumes. They were very polite to put up with me!

I don't think the Rosenbach will be installing one of these machines any time soon (the $100,000 price tag alone would be a deterrent), but if you are in Harvard Square you might enjoy taking a peek. You can find out other locations with this machine (it's technically an Espresso Book Machine from OnDemandBooks) at the manufacturer's website, but sadly there are none in Philly.

Talking about books on demand is also a good chance for me to throw in a plug for research appointments at the Rosenbach. If there's a book (or manuscript or whatever) in our collection that interests you, we can't print you a facsimile, but we can give you a research appointment to enjoy the real thing, up close and personal. All the details about making an appointment are in the Research section of our website and our research hours extend until 6 PM on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so you can even come by after work.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Field Trips

It's been a busy week at the Rosenbach. We started out the week with the annual docent trip, which focused this year on two of our hometown treasures: the rare book department at the Free Library and Bartram's Garden. Monday morning did not look auspicious, as the rain poured down during the morning rush hour, but the weather was no match for our hardy docents, who made it to the Free Library in fine form just as the sun began to emerge. The docents were kind enough to allow some of the Rosenbach staff to tag along, including myself; I hate to admit it, but my only previous contact with the rare book folks at the Free Library had been through picking up or returning loans, so I had never really had a chance to see their collection.

At the Free Library my group started out with the stuffed and mounted body of Grip, Charles Dickens's pet raven, who was ultimately the inspiration for Poe's The Raven. We then moved on to the Elkins room, a " 62-foot-long paneled room bequeathed to the Library, along with its furnishings, by William McIntire Elkins." Among the many treasures in the room are Paul Revere engravings, Dickens's desk and lamp, and a really awesome library ladder. We managed to figure out that William Elkins was the first cousin of Harry Elkins Widener, one of Dr. Rosenbach's important early clients, and the man for whom Widener Library at Harvard is named.

After our tour of the Elkins Room, we were treated to a show and tell of specific books from the library's collection. The presentation focused partly on the history of the book, with examples of different book forms such as scrolls, accordion books, and codices, and partly on children's books, especially the 800+ volume children's book collection that Dr. Rosenbach donated to the Free Library in 1947.

If any of this whets your interest, you can go on a public tour of the Rare Book Department
Monday through Friday at 11:00 a.m., although I doubt the public tours include the children's books.

I did not accompany the docents to Bartram's Garden, since I had visited last year with my interns, but from all accounts it was a great visit. Luckily the weather had cleared up very nicely for them. Here's a picture of the intrepid crew at Hamilton House in Woodlands Cemetery, where they stopped en route to Bartram's.

Image courtesy of Barbara Zimmerman

So that was Monday's festivities. It's a good time to stop and say a big thank you to all our hard-working docents, who are the face of the Rosenbach to our visitors.

Thursday's field trip was down to the Navy Yard for the annual Rosenbachannal, which was held at the Urban Outfitters headquarters. I did not attend the party, but I was there for set-up. If you came to the event last night and saw the blue balloons guiding you from the entrance of the Navy Yard, that was my small contribution to the evening's festivities. Anyway, Urban Outfitters is a really neat venue and very different from the Rosenbach-- spacious and open and industrial chic as opposed to intimate and red-brick. Everything looked fabulous when I left and I can't wait to see the pictures of everyone having an awesome time at the event! Here the big thank you is to our amazing development staff who put in an incredible amount of work to make it a great event and to all of our supporters who attended!

That's it for this week--more Rosen-thoughts next week.