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A Year in Review, 2023

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Dear Friends and Colleagues –

2023 was a memorable year for the Rare Book and Special Collections Division! We were hard at work organizing multiple events, hosting visitors, acquiring collections, and arranging historical treasures for the benefit of the public. 2024 has already brought change to the Division in the form of a website redesign. Patrons may now enjoy easier access to event videos, webinars, and news and events related to book arts at the Library. As a way of reflecting on this past year and looking forward to the next, we have highlighted programming and collection resources that are now–or will soon become–available to the public.

 

MAKING THE MODERN BOOK

In January 2023, we organized Making the Modern Book, a symposium celebrating the donation of the Aramont Library. In private hands for over 40 years, the Aramont Library was donated to the Library of Congress in 2020 to ensure public access to landmarks in modernist literature and art. The free, in-person symposium featured artists, scholars and specialists speaking about highlights in the collection, a public pop-up display in the Great Hall, and an evening roundtable discussion on the topic “Artists Approach the Book.”

(left to right) Emily Moore, Robin Holder, Ken Shure, and Jamie Murphy discuss how Artists Approach the Book.

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FRAGMENTOLOGY AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

In February, we co-hosted, in partnership with the Medieval Academy of America, a conference session on Fragmentology, a new field of manuscript studies. The symposium featured a display of manuscript fragments from the Rare Book Division, the Law Library, and the Music Division, many of which had never been exhibited. Staff members from the Conservation Division demonstrated techniques for flattening and preserving these treasures, several of which date to the first quarter of the ninth century. Panelists presented on best practices for fragment research and raised important questions about the role that the Library of Congress has to play in this pioneering field of study.

Marianna Stell offers opening remarks at the Medieval Academy of America session on Fragmentology, hosted by RBSCD at the Library of Congress.

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  • The panel sessions were not recorded, but the Rare Book and Special Collections Division is digitizing its medieval manuscript fragments. Digitized collection items appear in Rare Book Selections as they are processed. For more information, contact our Reference Staff through Ask-A-Librarian.

 

WHEN A BOOK HOLDS YOUR MEMORY 

In November we marked the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, the 1932-1933 famine-genocide in Soviet Ukraine by hosting artist Lesia Maruschak to discuss Project Maria. This creative and personal artistic exploration encompasses photography, writing, painting, installation, film, lectures, textile sculptures, and book making, and was hailed by the National Holodomor Genocide Museum (Kyiv, Ukraine) as one of the most important visual arts exhibitions addressing the famine-genocide in Soviet Ukraine. The talk concluded with a community bookmaking activity.

Artist Lesia Maruschak discusses Project Maria.

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FROM THE ROSETTA STONE TO THE UNITED STATES OF ACID 

Also in November, we hosted artist and master printmaker Didier Mutel for a discussion of his projects “United States of Acid” and “Birds of Acid” to consider why the slow and obsolete process of etching and engraving still challenges and inspires us today. This talk was a rare opportunity to engage with one of the most significant print- and book-makers in France. The talk also included an extensive display of his works.

Master Printer, Didier Mutel, discusses his etching and engraving at one of the oldest etching studios in France.

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RUSSELL MARET ARTIST ARCHIVE

Over the summer, we hosted two Junior Fellows, Callie Beattie and Kate Bennett. Kate and Callie organized, arranged, described, and rehoused the archive of American letterpress printer, type designer, and artist Russell Maret. This included 50 linear feet of mixed media relating to more than 40 different book projects designed and/or printed by Maret between 1994 and 2019.

(left to right) Kate Bennett and Callie Beattie discuss their project with RBSCD staff.

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RETIREMENT OPEN HOUSE FOR MARK DIMUNATION

In March, we held an open house to celebrate the career and the retirement of Mark Dimunation, former chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. We opened both the Reading Room and the Rosenwald Room to Library staff and members of the public, who encountered a specially curated display of collection materials purchased or gifted during Mark Diminution’s tenure. In the evening, we partnered with Live! at the Library to open the display to even more visitors. More than five-hundred people attended to celebrate Dimunation’ s remarkable tenure.

Mark Dimunation demonstrating his legendary charm during open house set-up in the Rosenwald Room.

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NEW CHIEF APPOINTED TO THE RARE BOOK DIVISION

In October, Stephanie Stillo, former curator of the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection and Aramont Library, was appointed the new chief of the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division, assuming the mantle from Mark Dimunation after his twenty-five years of service in that capacity. As division chief, Stillo will lead the development, stewardship, interpretation, promotion, and service of the Division’s collection to meet the needs of a diverse patron base that includes government officials, scholars, and the public.

Mark Dimunation and Stephanie Stillo prepare a celebratory display in the Main Reading Room for Gershwin Prize winner, Joni Mitchell.

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LOOKING FORWARD: COLLECTING FOR THE FUTURE
Acquisition Highlights from 2023

 

The Barton and Josiane Cobert Collection of Historical French Documents. We acquired the Barton and Josiane Cobert Collection of historical French documents as a major gift. The collection includes nearly 900 French language documents that contribute to the Division’s existing corpus of material focusing on the inter-dependence of print and manuscript media from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries. The gift also supports the Division’s mission and mandate to build a teaching collection that can be used by a diverse patron base.

Publishers’ Book Bindings, 1815-1915. From the private library of Ellen K. Morris & Edward S. Levin. We acquired hundreds of books from the Ellen K. Morris & Edward S. Levin Collection of mid-nineteenth- to early twentieth-century American and European Publishers’ Bindings, with motifs created by some of the most well-known artists and designers of the period.

Ken Campbell Broadside, Prints, and Ephemera. Ken Campbell (1939-2022) was an accomplished and influential artist, poet, and printmaker. The Library of Congress is the only collection in the world to hold a comprehensive run of Ken Campbell’s books and prints. Because of this, we were able to acquire a substantial gathering of Campbell’s broadside printings, single prints, press pulls and other printing ephemera that illuminate his creative process as an artist and as a printer.

Dandelion Black Women Artists Project, The 2020 Collection. Partnering with the Prints and Photographs Division, we acquired the Dandelion Black Women Artists Project. The project consists of artworks associated with 2020 Visions, a collaborative artists’ books project that “nine Black women artists were compelled to create to transcend and transform the traumatic events of the year 2020—one of the most tumultuous in the last century.”

Kenneth Patchen Materials. We acquired three pre-publication Kenneth Patchen manuscripts for Cloth of the Tempest (1943), Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer (1944), and See you in the Morning (1947), as well as a notebook containing 48 holograph poems and a painted cover. Kenneth Patchen was an American poet and novelist and described by James Dickey as “the best poet American literary expressionism can show.” The acquisition adds significant research value to our Patchen and St. Mark’s Poetry Project collections in the Rare Book Division.

Columbus Panorama. We added an additional panorama to the Library’s holdings of nineteenth-century panoramas designed for children. Published both in the United States and Germany, the Columbus Panorama depicts three scenes from American history: the arrival of Columbus in the New World, George Washington accepting the signed Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln and the Emancipation.

Sanger, Margaret. Family Limitation. [New York]: n.p., [1914]. We acquired a personally annotated, first edition of Margaret Sanger’s ground-breaking, law-breaking text, Family Limitation, published in defiance of the Comstock Law which effectively prohibited the spread of birth control information.

Thirteen Cloth Figures Made by Children’s Book author Gertrude Ina Robinson. We recently acquired 13 enchanting cloth figures created by Gertrude Ina Robinson while composing her book, Floral fairies: Adventures of Johnny Jump-up and other titles. Robinson used the figures to demonstrate poses for the book’s illustrators.  The Library of Congress holds the archive for Gertrude Ina Robinson and these figures are an extraordinary complement to that collection. Read more about this collection in this corresponding blog post from August 2023. 

For questions about recently acquired collections, contact our Reference Staff through Ask-A-Librarian.

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From RBSCD staff, wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year!

 

Comments (2)

  1. What a year! Thank you for this look back with high expectations for 2024 and beyond!

  2. Great blog postings! Thanks for sharing, it’s great to see the scope of events and learn about other collections. Thanks for spreading the word…

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