Monthly Archives: November 2015

Classics at Play

An exhibit of architectural toys from Avery’s collections
Curated by: Teresa Harris
November 16, 2015-January 29, 2016
Avery Classics reading room

Image from instructional booklet accompanying Richter’s Anchor-Building-Bricks: real stone in three colours. (New York, 1887). Avery Classics AA200 D78

Frank Lloyd Wright credited Froebel blocks with teaching him the geometry of architecture. While not every child who played with Froebel’s toys grew into a world-renowned architect, the blocks represent the most celebrated example of the nineteenth-century trend to transform play into an active educational experience. That trend continues to the present day, and many of the toys on display in Avery Classics attempt to teach spatial awareness, often by allowing the user to build a structure for him or herself. The toys range from puzzles and 19th century peepshows commemorating significant architectural exhibitions to pop-up books to Lego models of masterworks by Wright. Other items on display, like the playing cards featuring monuments of the modern movement along with caricatures of renowned architects, are oriented towards a more sophisticated audience and assume a substantial knowledge of twentieth century architecture. Take a break this holiday season and come play with us!

CUL/IS Showcase Donor-Funded Conservation of Important Portrait

Digby_pre post conservation comparison_letter_size

Columbia University Libraries Showcase Donor-Funded Conservation of Important Portrait

NEW YORK, November 1, 2015 – Columbia University Libraries/Information Services’ (CUL/IS) Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Art Properties, and the Health Sciences Library, Archives & Special Collections, are pleased to showcase the end result of a major conservation project generously funded by donors Geraldine and Robert J. Dellenback. Portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) was painted by the British artist Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661). The painting is oil on panel and signed and dated 1626. It was a bequest in 1974 to the College of Physicians and Surgeons from the estate of Dr. Jerome P. Webster, Professor Emeritus of Clinical Surgery at Columbia, and is part of the Jerome P. Webster Library of Plastic Surgery housed in Archives & Special Collections. “It has been an honor to have provided the funds for the restoration of the remarkable portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby so that at last it might be in the place of honor it richly deserves,” said Mrs. Dellenback, the daughter of Dr. Webster. “This generous donation from the Dellenbacks,” adds Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties, “has been instrumental in helping us properly care for one of the finest British paintings in the Columbia University art collection, and continue to advance our mission of using the art collection at Columbia for educational programming, curricular integration, and research/study by students, faculty, and outside scholars.”

Over time, the structure of the painting’s wood panels had separated, paint losses continued to worsen, and the varnish had aged and altered the appearance of the picture, leading to the decision to place it in the temperature- and humidity-controlled storage vault of Art Properties until funds could be raised to pay for its full conservation. With funds donated by the Dellenbacks, Art Properties contracted with New York City-based specialists from Thomas Art Conservation and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who worked on the painting in 2014. They restructured the wood panels, restored the frame, and conserved and cleaned the surface of the painting, revealing the exquisite portrait hidden beneath centuries of accumulated grime.

The artist, also known as Cornelis Janssen van Ceulen, was born in London, the son of exiles from Antwerp. His artistic career began during the latter years of James I. The portrait of Digby dates from the early part of the artist’s career, when he began moving away from depicting sitters in oval windows, but before he transitioned fully to painting works on canvas rather than wood panel. In her recent book on the artist, Karen Hearn, a retired curator from the National Portrait Gallery in London and Honorary Professor at University College London, has cited this portrait as one of the earliest examples of Johnson’s “melancholy-style,” another prime example of which is in the collection of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

Digby, the sitter, was a member of an old and distinguished gentry family, although his father had been executed for collaboration in the Gunpowder Plot to kill the king and members of Parliament. Before he was twenty years of age, Digby had traveled extensively to Italy, France, and Spain, and in 1623 he was knighted and named a gentleman of the privy chamber of Charles I, then still Prince of Wales. Soon after this portrait was completed in 1626, Digby had a brief but successful career as a commander in the British navy, but after the unexpected death of his wife in 1633 he turned to the study of natural sciences and philosophy, and authored a number of treatises based on his own scientific and medical experiments. Digby’s work on the healing properties of the occult “powder of sympathy” included several references to the pioneering work of the Italian plastic surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi (1545-1599), whose biography Dr. Webster co-authored in the 1950s.

The Columbia University art collection, stewarded by Art Properties and based in Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, comprises over 10,000 works of fine and decorative art objects in all media from all time periods and all cultures. The portrait is on display in the Archives & Special Collections Geraldine McAlpin Webster Reading Room at the Health Sciences Library, and is available for viewing by appointment only. Archives & Special Collections serves as the archives for Columbia’s four health science schools, holds a 27,000-volume rare book library in the history of the health sciences, and has a growing number of personal papers. The Jerome P. Webster Library of Plastic Surgery forms part of the department’s holdings and is considered one of the world’s most comprehensive collections on the subject, with works dating from the 15th through the 20th centuries.

Image credit: Cornelius Johnson, Portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), 1626, oil on panel, 31 x 24 in. (78.7 x 61 cm), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of the Estate of Dr. Jerome Webster (Professor Emeritus of Clinical Surgery) to the College of Physicians and Surgeons (C00.1308). Pre-conservation photo: Avery Library. Post-conservation photo: Juan Trujillo.

Celebrating Avery’s 125th!

Avery Friends gathered Monday November 2nd, 2015 for the inaugural celebration of Avery’s 125th anniversary year. A tour-de-force one-day only exhibition presented 125 treasured works from Avery’s venerable and storied collections.

If you missed this event, please join Avery Friends to ensure your invitation to upcoming Avery 125th events!

Selected photos from the exhibition and reception at Avery Library:

Preservation Master Plan for Taliesin West

TW-master-plan-3803.132Talk by T. Gunny Harboe, FAIA (Harboe Architects)
The Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer Lecture

Monday, November 16, 2015
6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Location: MoMA, The Celeste Bartos Theater

Co-sponsored by Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library and The Museum of Modern Art

Taliesin West was established in 1937 as Wright’s winter home, studio and campus for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation recently released the Preservation Master Plan for this U.S. National Historic Landmark. Gunny Harboe, preservation architect and founder of Chicago-based Harboe Architects, and the plan’s primary author, will present the major tenants of the Taliesin West plan. Mr. Harboe has overseen preservation of some of Wright’s most significant sites including the Robie House and Unity Temple.

The Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer lecture series honors the work of Mr. Pfeiffer, a widely recognized expert on Wright and author of numerous books on Wright’s life and works. Mr. Pfeiffer studied architecture at the Ecole Nationale de Beaux Arts and was  apprentice to Wright from 1949-1959, and to Olgivanna Lloyd Wright from 1959-1987.

Upon Wright’s death in 1959, Mrs. Wright gathered the archive of his work at Taliesin West, thereby preserving and keeping intact the visual and textual legacy of one of history’s great architectural geniuses. It was an unprecedented action, since architectural archives of such size and scope for a single architect did not exist at that time. Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, as Director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, curated and organized the archives from 1959-2012.

Image credit:
Frank Lloyd Wright. Taliesin West Master Plan (1938).
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives. (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)