The Faded Library

1930s residenceA friend of mine recently purchased this historical house built in the 1930s. This wonderful old home is full of detail and architectural interest and interestingly, was transferred to him not quite empty. The lovely old study came with a rather motley collection of faded books on the library shelves. This collection of books, an assortment of old book club selections, spans a period from 1930 to 1984. Apparently, it was collected and left on these shelves over an eighty year period by the families that had lived in the house.  New books had not been added for the last thirty years so all of the books are homely and faded, and are old enough to evoke a guilt of sorts when considering exactly what to do with them. I think, rather than representing the “great gift” the previous owners implied, the books really were a big old pile of books that hadn’t been read for years, that  no one knew what to do with and everyone felt too guilty to dispose of.

As the responsibility for the interior design of this lovely old home was given to me, I needed to take a good look at the possibilities of the library and determine exactly how to deal with it’s faded aspects and keep the guilt and looks of it’s somewhat weary presence at bay. Together, we needed to make a decision about the fate of the faded old books.  Neither of us feel the house is sacred and should be left untouched just because it is old and charming and has some historical significance, thus…a dilemma of sorts has developed. Our options appeared to be, get rid of the faded pile, move it to another room and use the library for my clients personal collection of contemporary books, or somehow develop the library and embrace the story it represents.

After considerable thought, we have decided to embrace the weary books, read them, catalogue them, and see if we can purchase the missing books from the Book of the Month Club years represented as that particular segment of the library is most obvious and the easiest place to start. As none of the books have dust jackets, my research has found them to be of marginal valuable so additions shouldn’t be particularly expensive but they would be an interesting collection to pursue and would give the library its own story. At present, I am unsure of my clients dedication to  this project, but I am starting our evaluation and he is humoring me.

After a little research, I discovered that Book of the Month Club editions of this age have a small  indented dot on the back cover near the spine. This marking makes these books easy enough to recognize.

About five weeks ago I began my reading plan.  So far I have read eight books and I am finding many hours of pleasurable reading and a few other hours, not so much. My ultimate intention is to write a “little report” on each book as I work my way along the shelves. This is all a little crazy I know, and a somewhat over done evaluation, but one I am looking forward to. I will keep you posted on how it develops.

The eight books I have read so far are:

The Nun’s Story…Kathryn Hulme….1956

Marjorie Morningstar …Herman Wouk…1955

The Summer of the Barshinskeys…Diane pearson…1984

Crescent City…Belva Plain…1984

By Love Possessed…James Gould Cozzens…1957

Vagabonds…Knut Hamsun…1930

The Durable Fire…Howard Swiggett..1957

Voss…Patrick White…1957

Some of these books are Book of the Month Club, some are not…I just started with a shelf before I had decided on the order I am now hoping to develop. My intention is to write individual blurbs about the books and see if I can rally some followers for our project…

Book of the Month Club old library

The Gallery of the Louvre

The Gallery of the Louvre

Unknown-1I keep having the oddest little starts and stops with this discussion.  I am unsure why. I think maybe because there are several aspects to my subject and it is hard to pull them all together into a unit that makes sense to anybody but me. These random issues presented in a somewhat convoluted way are; the ubiquitous drawing and painting talked about throughout history, the captured images and the artists that made them and my iPhone. My iPhone, that amazing device, that I use to capture an image of everything that holds still and some things that don’t. My little invaluable implement that brings me images from everyone and everywhere.

When I realize I have six thousand images on my iphone from this last year alone, I am again aware that, any more,  everybody takes a picture of everything and sends it off to someone, or adds it to something, or uses it to tell a story, or in some way make a point, or view a topic to a better understanding. Odd how that all works now, and how complicated and difficult it once was to capture an image and share it.

I have in the last few months read several books, the story line of which was formed in the 1700s or 1800s and even earlier, and I am once again made aware that everyone used to paint…imagine. I am reminded that before the mid 1800s if you wanted to share an image or remember an image, you had to paint it or draw it or, I suppose, carve it…imagine.  Now, instead, practically everyone I know has an iPhone and they are all constantly capturing random images the easy way.

Thinking of some of the books I have recently read, the epic novels by authors such as  Wilbur Smith come to mind. He reminds me, that on every great journey of exploration an artist  went along to capture the images and validate the journey. A foreign and unusual thought for now, when you think about it. Yet, I wonder how was it that everyone seemed to know how to paint and draw, and in some ways everyone seemed to be expected to paint and draw not necessarily to express themselves but to capture an image. I spent some time this morning looking for the Saturday Night Live sketch of years ago when Woody Allen said something classic like, “It is the Renaissance, everybody paints.” which was hugely funny at the time, but really, when you see the art in Europe, and watch for the reference in the books you read, it does indeed seem like every one used to paint. Which brings to mind another soapbox…art in the schools…but that is for another day.

Not too long ago I finished reading The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough’s book about the American migration to Europe to study the arts, more specifically, Art, Literature and Medicine, an 1800s version of “study abroad”, if you will. For some reason, I was particularly interested and intrigued by Samuel Morse’s decision, in 1831, to paint The Gallery of the Louvre. His plan was to capture thirty eight, primarily Renaissance and Baroque, images from the galleries of the Louvre and reproduce them in miniature on to one painting to take home to enlighten Americans about the great art of Europe. Having not to long ago been to the Louvre, even I, considered a manic by many, am having trouble understanding why anyone would decide this undertaking to be reasonable and then spend a year doing it. Determined to become a famous painter Morse was certain this encyclopedic painting, when he displayed it in America, this reproduction of these thirty eight significant, mostly Renaissance works, would cement his future as a painter. Unfortunately, the energetic and diverse people of the new world, were less interested in the works of the old masters and a  painting of the Louvre than they were in the telegraph whose invention idea Morse also brought home from his “study abroad”.  Eventually, Morse was forced to give up his dream of becoming a painter and had to settle for just being a genius inventor.

Once again I can’t seem to stay on track with my thread and I am wandering off to other areas. When really the point I was wanting to make ultimately was, I would really like to see Morse’s painting, The Gallery of the Louvre. I am charmed by his idea, and impressed with his dedication and drawn to this painting through the writing of David McCullough. I am ready with my iphone to text, tweet, email, and Facebook and blog, even if forbidden, a picture of this very fascinating painting to everyone I know and many I don’t, and see what I can do to help Samuel B. Morse become known by American school children as a painter, rather than an inventor, as he had wished.


FYI: The Gallery of the Louvre is owned by  The Terra Museum of American Art in Evanston, Illinois.The Louvre was purchased, in 1982 for the highest price ever paid at that time for an American painting, $3.25 million, by Daniel Terra, one of Ronald Reagan’s fund raisers and Ambassador-at-Large for Cultural Affairs. It is recognized today as a key work in the development of American Art.

Key to the Paintings shown in The Gallery of the Louvre. 1. Veronese, The Marriage at Cana 2. Murillo, The Virgin 3. Jouvenet, The Descent From the Cross and the Preparation for Burial 4. Tintoretto, Portrait of Himself 5. Poussin, The Deluge 6. Caravaggio, The Fortune Teller 7. Titian, The Crowning With Thorns 8. Van Dyck, Venus Entreating Vulcan 9. Lorrain, Cleopatra Disembarking at Tarsus 10. Murillo, The Holy Family 11. Teniers, The Knife Grinder 12. Rembrandt, Raphael Leaving Tobias 13. Poussin, Diogenes Throwing Away His Bowl 14. Titian, The Pilgrims at Emmaus 15. Huysmans, Landscape 16. Van Dyck, Portrait of a Lady and Her Daughter 17. Titian, Portrait of Francis I 18. Murillo, A Beggar Boy 19. Veronese, Christ Carrying the Cross 20. Correggio, Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria 21. Rubens, The Flight of Lot and His Family From Sodom, Conducted by Angels 22. Lorrain, A Seaport at Sunset 23. Titian, The Entombment 24. Da Vinci, The Portrait of Mona Lisa 25. Le Sueur, Jesus Bearing the Cross 26. Rosa, Landscape 27. Raphael, La Belle Jardiniére 28. Van Dyck, Portrait of a Man in Black 29. Guido, The Union of Design and Color 30. Rubens, Suzanne Fourment 31. Guido, The Repose of the Holy Family 32. Rembrandt, Head of an Old Man 33. Van Dyck, The Adulterous Woman Taken Before Our Savior 34. Vernet, A Marine View by Moonlight 35. Guido, Dejanira and the Centaur Nessus 36. Rubens, Thomysris, Queen of Nassagetae 37. Mignard, Virgin Mary and Child 38. Watteau, Embarkation From the Island of Cythera.

An undertaking beyond imagining.

Books, Books, and More Books

Books, Books, and More Books

The image below isn’t my room but it could have been yesterday.  I decided, since I needed to do a little cleaning, to rearrange some  of my book shelves according to color.  That was certainly interesting.  I am not sure what I expected…blocks of color for sure, chaos with the categories for sure, and I am not really certain what else or what prompted this behavior. I was surprised with what developed. What I didn’t expect was that titles would be much easier to see, and that the color blocking seemed to bring order to the distracting nature of the dust jackets.  So try it the next time your bookcases need dusting. Just be sure you are ready for your Margaret Thatcher Biography to end up in-between Harry Potter and The Plains of Passage and for Barbara Bush to end up next to the Art of Maurice Sendak, anyway that is what happened at my house. Seriously though, try it. I added some blue pieces of antique glass to the blue shelves and interspersed  my collection of Mexican bird feather pictures rescued from the 50s. Those birds pictures were ugly then and they are ugly now but I still love them and they look quirky and fun mixed in with the books.   I have certainly noticed, even though the piles of books still surround me the four books a week I used to read has now dwindled to one as learning the ins and outs of blogging has occupied my every minute.