Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rare Objects from 300-Year-Old Museum Library Collection Unveiled at the PEM

Unbound, Highlights from the Phillips Library at PEM
November 5, 2011 – November 2012

Progressive Proofs of Beethoven, 1870, Produced by L. Prang & Co., Lithographs on paper, 23.5” x 19”, Peabody Essex Museum.

This fall, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents over 30 rare and storied objects from the museum’s renowned Phillips Library, including a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, original transcripts from the Salem witchcraft trials, and the first example of paper currency in the Western world. Boasting 400,000 books collected over three centuries, PEM’s Phillips Library is one of the largest and oldest museum libraries in the country. Through a selection of books, manuscripts, sketchbooks, maps and ephemera, Unbound, Highlights from the Phillips Library at PEM offers a glimpse into historical documents that were acquired for their power to delight the eye and change the world. The exhibition opens to the public on November 12, 2011.

“Equal parts aesthetically and intellectually engaging, this exhibition offers a unique opportunity to view some of the Phillips Library’s most wonderful objects,” says Sidney Berger, The Ann C. Pingree Director of the Phillips Library and exhibition curator. “From intricate botanical engravings and French lace samples, to a 16th-century Venetian astronomy text, these are the objects that fall into the margins of history. We are bringing them out for a rare moment in the sun.”

Unbound, Highlights from the Phillips Library at PEM is organized in the following three sections:

A selection of rare and delicate objects include a folio of Sukiya ezu, or Japanese pop-up teahouses, created in the early 19th century. These 90 exquisitely detailed and ingeniously constructed manuscripts unfold to reveal pop-up models of historic Japanese teahouses from the 13th to 19th centuries, many of which no longer stand. Each element is hand-drawn and hand-cut to realistically render the teahouses’ architectural elements, from room dividers and windows to doorways and passages.

A remarkably well-preserved leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (Isaiah XVII-XIX) leads off the next section of the exhibition which features documents that tell powerful stories. Created in 1450-1455, the Gutenberg Bible stands as the first example of a book printed in the West using movable type. The process, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, dramatically revolutionized the production and distribution of the printed word. With fewer than 50 copies in existence, the Gutenberg Bible is considered one of the most iconic and studied books in history.

The exhibition also includes objects from the Phillips Library whose aesthetic concerns are paramount. Featured are progressive proofs for a chromolithograph portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven created in 1870 by Louis Prang & Co., the premier lithography company of its day. Hauntingly beautiful and richly detailed, this series of progressives show the elaborate and highly intensive printing process that begins with a shadowy outline and, after overprinting 25 colors, ends with a dimensional, fully realized portrait.    

The Phillips Library is part of the Peabody Essex Museum and is located in two architecturally noted structures, the John Tucker Daland House and Plummer Hall. As one of New England’s oldest libraries, the library has an international reputation as a major resource for maritime history and art, New England life and culture, American decorative arts, Asian art and culture, Native American history and art, and the art and culture of Oceania. The library provides researchers, curators, and the general public access to 400,000 printed volumes, over a mile of manuscript shelves, and an extensive collection of ephemera, broadsides, pamphlets, and a substantial run of periodicals.

The PEM is open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm. Closed Mondays (except holidays) and Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Admission costs adults $15; seniors $13; students $11. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang.

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