Tag Archives: art

The Man of Myth and Legend: Lincoln Kirstein, Private First Class

This post was written by intern Jessica Zaccagnini.

It is an unusual occurrence when a movie can spark interest in an actual historical event. Often, people are content with the Hollywood version of a time or event in history and do not seek any further information about the factors that made the event Hollywood-worthy. Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney, is a movie that triggers further curiosity into how such a story made it onto the silver screen. Monuments Men depicts a group of middle-aged art connoisseurs sent on a special mission during World War II to collect art from around Europe that was stolen by the Nazis. Though it is clearly stated that the movie was based on true events, it is surprising to learn just how true the movie is.

As it turns out, there truly was a branch of the military specifically dedicated to collecting the most historical and valuable art that was pilfered by the Nazis via orders from Hitler. The U.S Arts and Monuments Commission was established in 1943 during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. The commission was largely founded by David Finley and Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts. About 345 men and women made up this branch of the military and over the years following the end of the war, they collected over five million pieces of artwork.

Borrowed from http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/
Borrowed from http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/

The John Bale Book Company has a collection of writing from one Monuments Man, Lincoln Kirstein, who also happens to be portrayed in the movie. In the Hollywood movie, Bob Balaban plays the character Preston Savitz who is largely based on Kirstein, an art-culture icon. As the movie suggests, all of the men that made up the branch in real life had a job or an intense personal investment in the art world and their credentials made them experts in the war effort to get the stolen art back to its proper place and Kirstein was no different. Continue reading The Man of Myth and Legend: Lincoln Kirstein, Private First Class

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EVA AND HER SCRAPBOOK: A 1932 TRANS-ATLANTIC VACATION (PART 2)

This post was written by intern Jess Zaccagnini. To see the first part of her post, click here.

Eva’s train to Switzerland included a hefty meal of “fish, roast veal, potato, string beans, cheese, pastry, and a fresh peach.” The customs check-point in Basel, Switzerland seems to have been more lax than in Paris; the officer asked if the girls had Mountainany cigars or cigarettes and let them pass when they said no—“that’s all there was to it.” The mountain ranges seemed to have impressed Eva the most as she describes “how wonderful [it was] to look out and see those great touring peaks outlined against the sky.” The scenery and the quiet soothed Eva as she began to write and reflect on how noisy it was in Paris.

The girls took an Alpine tour on their first full day in Switzerland, which circled around the mountain closest to their hotel, on the Lucerne Lake. The tour bus ascended four thousand feet around the steep, narrow cliff sides. As they approached the infamous Devil’s Bridge, Eva describes how “we could hardly brace ourselves against the wind to walk. And girl at flaciercold! Just about froze.” Soon they rode above the snow line to see “great fields of daises, buttercups, and many others… the sight of all the colors against the snow was spectacular.” An attractive destination spot for this particular part of Montreux, Switzerland is the Rhone Glacier, the largest in the Alps contributing to several surrounding rivers and lakes including Lake Geneva. Eva describes the glacier as “a huge jagged mass of blue ice.” The other girls got the chance to go down through the glacier but Eva chose to stay behind because she “[didn’t] like to feel trapped.”

Small Alpine towns dot the mountainsides that over-look the glacier forglacier sight-seers to stay. The girls stayed at a hotel in one such town— Gotthard-Furka-Grimsel. Eva describes the loud “roar of the melting snow as it started to form the Rhone River.” Her night at the glacier was cold; she needed to sleep with all her clothes on and in the morning she woke up with her “neck as stiff as a board.” Eva also learned that she dislikes Swiss coffee, and their hot chocolate “was made out of goat’s milk, and it tasted like a stewed bransack” (a simmered bag of grain).

On their decent down the 5,000 foot mountain, the girls stopped in the town that circled Lake Geneva and visited the Castle of Chillon. The Castkecastle dates back to at least 1005 where it was used as a Roman guarding post and later as a sixteenth century prison. Eva did not go inside the castle because “that night club scared [her] so [she] dared not go in anywhere again.”

At this point in her trip, Eva is two weeks from being “out on the Atlantic on the way home” and she almost cannot wait to be there as she “hopes there will be peas and radishes” when she arrives home.
The last leg of their journey starts with arriving in Germany on July 20th. The train ride to Germany was “hot and dirty, not much like the Swiss trains.” The girls had a good laugh over what they were served for supper aboard the train: “soup, steak, potato, vegetable salad, a big piece of cheese (for which [they] needed a gas mask), a pretzel, and a bottle of beer.” What else could one expect of a German meal in the 1930s?

Continue reading EVA AND HER SCRAPBOOK: A 1932 TRANS-ATLANTIC VACATION (PART 2)

JoBa Cafe: Rethinking Our Mission

This post was written by Ede Reynolds. To see her other posts, click here.

Bookstores used to be a place where you went to discover something new or something that would entertain you– much like a library except you got to pay for the book and keep it forever. That’s what it was like when we opened our doors 22 years ago. In the ensuing years the Internet changed all that. Now, much of what you read is online, and in the case of Google Books, it is for free. This has forced bookstores and libraries to rethink their purpose in the community.

Our company has more than 80,000 books listed for sale online, books that sit in boxes on shelves in a warehouse. When one sells, we retrieve it and ship it out to every part of the world (even Antarctica). But people still, on occasion, come into the store to buy books the old-fashioned way and that is why our first floor maintains a selection of general knowledge titles. For collectors and scholars, the second floor contains older, more specialized titles and bindings. And there is a third component, those things that sell at trade shows to serious collectors.

So, if most people buy books online, what is the role of the bookstore? Economic development people like bookstores because it hearkens to a more genteel time. Bookstores announce, “This is a literate town, one that appreciates learning”‘ But bookstores aren’t just “window dressing.” We have a role in the new computer-connected world.

Continue reading JoBa Cafe: Rethinking Our Mission

Medical vs Artistic: A Choice of Imagery in the 19th Century

This post was written by intern Elise Plyler.

SofGMedical texts have a long history as substitutes for pornography. Books describing anatomy and reproduction have been lifted from bookshelves by curious young people and featured as the subjects of controversy for centuries. From this tradition comes the 1844 pocket edition of Michael Ryan’s The Secrets of Generation: Comprising the Art of Procreating the Sexes at Will. This book is an abridged and illustrated version of Ryan’s 1837 work, “Philosophy of Marriage.” It begins with an impressive frontispiece depicting two nude women stretched out on either side of a man in his bedclothes and the text is punctuated with four additional images of nude women.

These images are a far cry from those in the edition held by the National Library of Health, which depict the symptoms of venereal disease on men. While less appealing, the images in that copy are much more fitting; five of the book’s ten chapters cover the recognition and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. The nudes have no relation to the text. They are, however, lovely classical images of women posing by lakes and forests.SofG2

The publisher of the copy in the John Bale Book Company’s collection appears to have taken a dry medical text, peppered it with mildly obscene illustrations and slapped on a “click-bait” style title that would not be out of place on a Facebook newsfeed. Despite its sensational title, The Secrets of Generation gives little practical information in its single chapter on influencing the sex of a child. However, it is strangely comforting to see that the practice of bolstering readership with misleading titles and pictures of beautiful women is not a modern aberration; the same techniques are seen in this book published one hundred and seventy years ago.

This book is not in the best of condition. Only a few remnants of the paperback cover can be seen on the spine, and the pages are spotted and folded at the corners. Despite this, the piece remains a wonderful document of nineteenth century theories of reproduction and an intriguing curiosity to explore.

“The Abuse of Plants:” Shen Shaomin’s “Grafting Operation Diagram”

FullCover This post was written by intern Elise Plyler.

“Grafting Operation Diagram,” by Shen Shaomin (1956- ), a contemporary and controversial Chinese artist, is a stark white tome. Its only exterior marking is the title reverse-etched on its thick, hinged plexiglass cover in English and Chinese characters. If the John Bale Book Company sold books by the pound, this piece would be a treasure based on weight alone. However, the real significance of the book is found on its 125 thick vellum pages. The book is a manual for the training of bonsai trees, but this is not your typical gardening handbook.

The “Grafting Operation Diagram” is a twisted parody of a bonsai manual. This book contains 38 pages of detailed illustrations of methods which push the boundaries of normal bonsai arts. Many of the techniques, such as skinning the bark from the trees and cauterization, are perfectly ordinary bonsai practices AntNibblingMethod(Deadwood). However, the naturally human-like form of trees allows these methods to mirror human torture; the clamps look like thumbscrews and shackles while the process of “ant-nibbling,” where the tree is smeared with honey in order to attract ants to bite it, is similar to the ancient torture known as “Scaphismus” (Gallonio 11).

While I looked through “Grafting Operation Manual,” I began to question the ethics of treating a living organism in this way. The trees are cut, burned and flayed. Even as I cringed at the mutilation of the bonsai, I recognized the hypocrisy in selective sympathy towards living organisms, an ideal underlying Shaomin’s book. Continue reading “The Abuse of Plants:” Shen Shaomin’s “Grafting Operation Diagram”