Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Friday, October 25, 2013

When is a Poet like a Bat?

...when they are Holding On Upside Down!

Which is the title of scholar Linda Leavell's new biography on the poet Marianne Moore. This past April, I corresponded with Dr. Leavell concerning a curious object which is displayed in Marianne Moore's living room on the 3rd floor of the Rosenbach Museum. In the far corner of the room hanging above the door frame is a bar secured by two chains. There was a debate amongst our volunteers as to the purpose of this unusual object; was it proper to refer to it as Ms. Moore's trapeze, or was it her chin-up bar? Dr. Leavell directed me to several letters in the Moore archive which refer to her use of a trapeze bar. Moore first writes to her brother about hanging from her trapeze in 1911 as a means of straightening her spine. Moore suffered from scoliosis (a curvature of the spine) from early adolescence until the end of her life. After a graduating from Bryn Mawr College, Moore spent a summer working at Melvil Dewy's Lake Placid Club and health resort. It is here when she possibly encountered Dr. Willard who advised her to try various exercises and hanging upside down to straighten her spine.
Dr. Leavell wrote:
I titled my book, "Holding On Upside Down" because of the phrase in her poem "Poetry," but it's also true that she did hang upside down!
Copies of Hanging On Upside Down are on sale in the Rosenbach's shop. You can have your copy signed on November 13th at 6:00 pm when author Dr.Linda Leavell will speak at the Rosenbach. For more information and to RSVP click here.

...when they cannot sing!

In 1964, Randall Jarrell's book The Bat-Poet with pictures by Maurice Sendak was voted the best illustrated children's book by the New York Times. The Rosenbach has Marianne Moore's copy of the book. On the final page Moore carefully notes page numbers and selected quotes from the text. Moore coresponded with both Jarrell and the illustrator Maurice Sendak.

The Bat-Poet is the story of a little brown bat who can't sleep during the day-he keeps waking up and looking at the world. Before long he begins to see things differently from the other bats, who from dawn to sunset never opened their eyes. He ponders the coarse song of the mockingbird and wonders if he could sing too. He finds that he cannot do very well with the song, but feels drawn toward the creation of the words for songs. In this way he becomes a poet. As a poet he strives to make the other bats see the world his way.

For other bat related Rosen-blog posts check out:

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Ghosts of My Friends

Although its title sounds perfect for Halloween, this small book actually has little to do with actual ghosts.

The Ghosts of My Friends turns out to be an unusual form of autograph book. As its instructions indicate, one is supposed to have one's friends sign a page and then fold the page in half to create a unique ink blot that looked like a ghost, or skeleton. The ink blot on the book cover is supposedly formed from the signature of a famous general. There apparently was a London edition, but our copy was printed in New York by Fredrick A. Stokes Company.

We don't know who owned our copy--it was inscribed to "a noble lady from a shadow"--but it was almost certainly a Rosenbach relative, since the book is full of Solis-Cohen, Binswanger, and Rosenbach signatures. Interestingly, the book is inscribed  and the first autographs are dated June 16, 1910, a fittingly Rosenbach date.

Here is Philip Rosenbach's signature.

 This signature is Rebecca Rosenbach's.

This is Miriam Rosenbach.

This is Dr. R's signature--Abraham S. Wolf Rosenbach.

Finally, M. Rosenbach, possibly Moses Rosenbach.

A quick look around the internet turns up a number of other copies of this book, including one whose signatures include Winston Churchill, Dame Nellie Melba, and Paul Robeson, among other famous names.

Apparently the book did not invent the ghost autograph form; instead, there was was an early 20th-century fad for the signatures and the book was a response. Mark Twain wrote a 1905 note to his daughter Clara about  "ghost autographs"  which "generally [make] something resembling a skeleton." (hat tip to Inherited Values) The Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley website has some additional examples of Twain's blots--one supposed depicting him in his "Oxford gown" and the other "Shouting the battle cry of freedom."  An early 20th-century write-up on ghost autographs posted online as part of a very informative article on the Inherited Values website shows George Bernard Shaw's and President Taft's ghosts and suggests that the novelty of the form was a good way to get genuine autographs from celebrities otherwise tired of requests.

The ghost-autograph also seems to be connected with a wider interest in ink blots. In the mid-19th-century the German poet Justin Kerner used inkblots made on folded papers as inspiration for a series of poems. In Potential Images, Dario Gamboni explains that Kerner "notes that his blots...liberate the imagination and tells us that they did not arise voluntarily or through his own talent, but of their own accord. He sees them as "images of hades" or "of hell" representing spirits that were condemned to remain in the darkness of his ink-well until they could use it as means to make themselves visible..." His Kleksographien images and poetry (from the German for blots) were published posthumously in 1890 and can be read online. If you're intrigued, the the Tate blog also has an interesting post on the history of accidental forms (stains, inkblots, etc) as artistic inspiration.

Creating and interpreting inkblots became a popular parlor game. An 1896 American book called Gobolinks gave instructions and examples--each participant needed to create an inkblot and accompanying rhyme within a specified period of time and then they would be judged and prizes awarded. The book even suggests "For a specially invited Gobolink party the company may dress in any grotesque fashion, remembering only that both sides of their costume shall be the same, this being a feature peculiar to Gobolink attire." And yes,  pyschology texts note that Hermann Rorschach was nicknamed Klex (inkblot) in high school, which may suggest an interest in the European version of the game (another option is that the term, which can also mean "painter," reflected a belief that he would follow his father into an artistic profession).

So, what do you see in these "ghosts"? It is a fascinating concept and one that would be easy to replicate today--if you feel inspired, please share your results!

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Friday, October 11, 2013

More Rosenbach on the Road

Last week we talked about a Washington letter that is currently on loan to Mount Vernon; this week we bring you another example of the Rosenbach's collections making an impact beyond our home on Delancey Place.

If you've been on a Rosenbach house tour, you know that our walls are hung thick with paintings by Thomas Sully, the talented and prolific 19th-century Philadelphia artist. A major new exhibition, Thomas Sully: Painted Performance, opens today at the Milwaukee Art Museum and four Rosenbach paintings have traveled west to be part of it: two portraits of Rebecca Gratz, the portrait of Fanny Kemble, and the large painting of a child on the sea side. As the MAM site explains, the exhibit explores Sully's "lifelong connection to and love of the theatre and literature," so our paintings will feel right at home and will be in excellent company. The exhibit was co-curated by William Rudolph of the Milwaukee Art Museum and Carol Soltis of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Our director, Derick Dreher, travelled out to Milwaukee for the opening, and as you can see, he found it very exciting.

 Here is Derick again, flanked by our two lovely Rebeccas.

 Hmm, the painting on that mug looks familiar--gotta love the Rosen-merchandise.

For those of you who haven't been to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which sadly includes me, the building is architecturally fascinating. The War Memorial building was designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1950s and a postmodern addition by Santiago Calatrava was added in 2001. The addition features a movable sunshade whose wings open and close on a daily schedule. Here is an exterior picture taken by our curator, Judy Guston, when she went to supervise the installation of our paintings; you can find more images and information on the MAM website.

And here is an interior shot from Derick.

The Sully exhibit will run in Milwaukee through January 5th and will then travel to the San Antonio Museum of Art from February 7 to May 14. It's great to be able to bring a bit of the Rosenbach to these audiences in other cities. If any Rosen-blog readers have a chance to see the exhibit, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Washington Letter Visits Mount Vernon

One of our George Washington letters written from Mount Vernon has gone home for a visit, so to speak. The December 4, 1788 letter to Arthur Young is currently on loan to Mount Vernon for their exhibit Take Note! George Washington as a Reader.

George Washington, autograph letter signed to Arthur Young, 4 December 1788. AMs 436/7

Arthur Young was a English expert on farming and the publisher of the Annals of Agriculture, which he sent to Washington as a gift. He corresponded with Washington on agricultural matters and the Rosenbach has an album of the letters from Washington to Young. To learn more about Young and his relationship with Washington, see this excellent page on Mount Vernon's site. Washington's letters were also published posthumously as Letters from His Excellency General Washington, to Arthur Young, Esq., F.R.S. which you can now read online.

If you find yourself down in the D.C. area between now and January 12 you can swing by and check out the exhibit (and say hello to our letter). Mount Vernon is privately run, so it is open during the shutdown. Here's what the entrance to the exhibit looks like--I thought the giant books were a really fun idea.

Here is a nice shot of the gallery; our letter is in the case along the left-hand wall.

There's more about Take Note!  and the opening of a new library at Mount Vernon in this New York Times piece. Tune in to the blog next week for more on the many, varied places Rosenbach objects can be found.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.