Yesterday the library received a new exquisite publication, The Feel of Steel. Published in a small print run of 150 copies, this limited edition book focuses on the history of steel-engraved banknotes in the United States. Engraving is a form of intaglio printing whereby a design is carved into a metal plate. The carved lines are forced full of ink, then the plate is pressed onto a sheet of paper under high pressure, and the inked designed is transferred to the sheet. The "feel of steel" in the title refers to the tactile quality of the ink as it rests on the printed sheet. Our current paper currency still exhibits this quality.
The book notes the difference between letterpress, or relief, printing and intaglio:
The creation of high-quality intaglio work is a far more demanding discipline than letterpress printing ... The training of picture engravers was a long process. Intaglio was a much slower and more costly process, but it produced magnificent images that could be achieved in no other way.
Banknote engraving employed some of the most accomplished artists in the country, and the author considers the art the "pinnacle of printing and the graphic arts" in America. While providing a detailed history of banknote printing, including technical discussion, it also includes some fine examples of engraved prints. Many of these original prints were printed from original banknote plates. The attached prospectus provides an overview of the book.
The museum has many examples of engravings in its collections, both in the fine prints and library book collections. Make plans to view this book and other books with engraved illustrations by visiting the library during public hours.
This morning I was taking a gander at a printed inventory in our files that details Amon G. Carter's personal library. My understanding is that by the time of his death in 1955, he had amassed about 4,000 titles. His collection was buoyed by the purchase of two private libraries: the Louis P. Merrill collection that focused on western cattle trade, range grasses, and Texas history; and the Frank B. Smith collection that focused on books illustrated by Frederic Remington and other artists of that genre. Carter's library came to the museum shortly after its opening in 1961. By this time, Carter's library had expanded to take in a wide range of subjects consistent with his varied interests. The original library of 4,000 titles got weeded to about 2,500 titles with subject matter most appropriate to the museum's mission. Today I tip my hat to Mr. Carter and his fine library that forms the nucleus of the museum's library collection. Today the collection includes over 100,000 items.
My office window opens to the the library reading room here at the museum, a space that many would agree is one of the stellar places to be in the museum. My understanding is that Philip Johnson, when designing the museum's expansion which opened in 2001, took special interest in getting this room just right. I think he succeeded. The room is paneled in book-matched Burmese teak, meaning that each veneer panel is a mirror of itself, essentially resulting in walls that are covered with the opened pages of books. The space offers soft, enveloping lighting from its arched ceiling with a complement of accent lighting at its edges. It is expansive without being overwhelming. It offers a quite and reflective environment for sustained contemplation. It is a room that is, in short, inspirational, as any effective reading room should be.
Today I pay tribute to this wonderful space by sharing these pictures taken this afternoon. I hope you'll come by and enjoy the space in person.
Recently I ran across a fascinating project, Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books, produced by Urban Center Books and the Municipal Art Society of New York. The project is a series of exhibitions and book that investigates the personal libraries of some prominent architects in the city. Quoting from the Web site's blurb about the forthcoming book:
What does a library say about the mind of its owner? How do books map the intellectual interests, curiosities, tastes, and personalities of their readers? What does the collecting of books have in common with the practice of architecture? Unpacking My Library provides an intimate look at the personal libraries of fourteen of the world’s leading architects, alongside conversations about the significance of books to their careers and lives.
Photographs of bookshelves – displaying well-loved and rare volumes, eclectic organizational schemes, and the individual touches that make a bookshelf one’s own – provide an evocative glimpse of their owner’s personal life. Each architect also presents a reading list of top ten influential titles, from architectural history to theory to fiction and nonfiction, that serves as a kind of personal philosophy of literature and history, and as advice on what every young architect, scholar, and lover of architecture should read.
I find that I think a lot about the personalities of libraries. Unlike a library amassed by a single person, institutional libraries like the Carter's bear the the influences of many individuals over the course of their development: librarians, staff, and many others. They also reflect the various projects the institution has tackled over the years. Collections such as ours also grow through gifts and on several occasions has taken in whole personal libraries (one big example is Eliot Porter's library). It's clear that many people can claim to have made a mark on the collection. It's an amalgam of all these influences. The point is, the Carter library has a personality, complete with idiosyncrasies. It is a unique and dynamic organism, and that's a part of what makes it such a treasure.
If you are one of the patrons of the Amon Carter Museum Library, all that you might see is the reading room, and one of the fine library staff members helping you find what you need in the library. The reading room is a great space - quiet and welcoming – designed by architect Philip Johnson. At the east end are the periodicals which the Carter subscribes to, along the south wall are the major reference works in the library (catalogue raisonnÃ©, etc.) and the Bio Files. On the west wall are the study alcoves, and the north wall displays the collection of exhibition catalogs held at the Carter. It’s a wonderful space, and as I said, really the only space that most patrons of the library see. Behind the scenes, though, it’s a different world.
For example, how does the Carter decide what resources to add to the library’s large collection of over 100,000 items? What path do these items take from the bookseller to the stacks? What happens when a patron requests a book? What about interlibrary loans? Also, the library is just not books, periodicals, and ephemera. It is also a repository for some very important archives – such as the archives of Laura Gilpin, Eliot Porter, Karl Struss, and important records relating to the history of the museum itself. What of the archives, then?
My mind was filled with these questions when I began volunteering at the library here at the Carter. My name is Jason Dean, and I am a student at Syracuse University earning my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Before I started my library science program, I contacted the Carter library about providing me some practical library experience. So far, working at the Carter has provided me with a wealth of experiences and knowledge, some of which I would like to share with you – and I might even be able to answer some of those “How does it work” questions I posed above.
For my first post, allow me to give you a brief description of how the museum selects what resources are purchased and then added to the collection. There is a document that states a broad collection development policy. It's the tool that guides what the library collects. Though it offers some solid boundaries, it must also be flexible enough to accommodate new subject matter that may relate to new art entering the collection or special research projects. Any of the staff members (including curatorial staff) can propose the purchase of a book, but the final “veto” power rests with Sam, as he is the library director. Individual librarians have influenced the document as well, with their interests and their quest to expand the collection of the library in a meaningful way. These purchases can be sourced from any number of businesses, from ones we use every day – Amazon – to specialized rare book dealers. If an item falls within the areas outlined by the collection development policy, then the subject is researched to see if it will fit into the collection of resources we have here. If it does, then the item is purchased and integrated into the collection.
We also receive a great number of books which are gifts, or books that are sent in exchange by other museums. When the Carter exchanges books with another museum, generally we will send them exhibition catalogues they are interested in, and in exchange they will send us the books we want that the other museum has published. As I mentioned above, we have some very generous donors that give books outright to the library frequently. These gifts are recorded, and then they are researched to see if they fit into out collection.
Depending upon the size of the item purchased, it might simply go into the extensive bio files and skip the next step in the process altogether. However, if Sam, Jon, or Mary Jane think it best, the item will go on to the next step in the process.
What happens to the book next? Do we just put it on the shelf and leave it be? This question will be answered in the next post, which will take you through part of the behind the scenes area in the library. I hope you enjoyed this small look into the library, and I also hope you’ll keep checking “The N-Files” blog, as there is some great information about this wonderful library on the blog.
Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in design and architecture from the mid twentieth century. One of the most influential periodicals of the period, Arts & Architecture, is enjoying new exposure as a reprint published last fall by Taschen. This reprint reproduces all the issues from the first ten years of the magazine, 1945-1954. The publisher plans to offer another edition that reprints the final issues through 1967 this fall. This monumental project has received a healthy amount of press coverage and is noted in the recent issues of Wallpaper (Feb. 2009) and Modernism (Winter 2008/2009). You may have also heard about the Birth of the Cool exhibition appearing now at the Blanton Art Museum in Austin which focuses on art, music, and design from the mid twentieth century in California. Arts & Architecture figures prominently in the exhibition and accompanying catalog.
The Carter library is the proud home of the original edition of the magazine and offers very nearly the entire run from 1948 through its final July/August issue in 1967 --- all issues as they originally appeared. Anyone interested in art and design from the period --- not to mention other related political and cultural topics --- would delight in flipping through our holdings. You're guaranteed to make some discoveries. The March 1961 issue shown in the cover scan below appeared the same year that the museum opened. The second scan of the title page of the final issue in 1967 shows that the prescient theme of the issue is water, a topic very much on our minds in 2009.
There are many discoveries to be found at the Carter beyond what is displayed in the galleries. Often the art works are only the tip of a much larger collection of material, much of it textual and documentary. It is this assortment of letters, diaries, books, clippings, and sketches that make research and analysis of art beyond its immediate visual appeal possible. These items illuminate the artist's intent, the work's context in time and place, variations, and changes, without which much of an artwork's tale is lost.
The recent Carter publication, Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth's Late Paintings of Lancaster, is a fine example of the art research that is possible with supporting documents. Betsy Fahlman and Claire Barry approach Demuth's work from differing angles but both are able to elaborate upon their discussions of context and content because of their use and study of his archives.
Take a moment during your next visit to the Carter to use our Library and Archives and see what you can discover.