Book Review | The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America at the New-York Historical Society by Linda S. Ferber

Previously published by Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) Reviews in January 2015.

the coast & the sea book cover In addition to serving as an exhibit catalog for part of “Sharing a National Treasure: The Traveling Exhibition Program of the New-York Historical Society”, The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America at the New-York Historical Society aims to delve into the visually expressive customs of marine and maritime painting and to demonstrate the connections and relations between them. Works covered range from 1728 to 1904 and focus mainly on happenings at, and evolution of, the New York Harbor. Paintings and text also focus on Naval involvement in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Author Linda S. Ferber is the Senior Art Historian at the New-York Historical Society and previously served as curator. She does a noteworthy job connecting all of the paintings through her guiding narrative. By drawing the reader’s attention to particular aspects of the pieces, Ferber ably links the objects’ artistic and historic backgrounds.

The text can be easily read as a book that recounts a factual series of events, or referenced intermittently as a research piece. It could also serve as an introduction to marine and maritime art, since Ferber concisely explains the concepts. An introduction to the Hudson River School painting movement is also provided.

Color reproductions of over sixty paintings form the core of the volume. Photographs of a handful of maritime objects are also a welcome addition to the text. Often figures and their descriptions are on subsequent pages, which requires the reader to flip back and forth to view the specific aspects of the painting that are being described.

Though the book has a table of contents, it is not very helpful since the main body of the text is listed as a single section without reference to the topical, titled subsections within it. A selected bibliography provides information on a number of sources for additional research. The book’s index is quite thorough and useful, as is the notes section. The thick, glossy pages of this book along with a solid stitched and glued binding make for a physically sound, high quality volume. The jacket and square shape are appealing and appropriate for the content included.

This book would be a suitable reference piece for anyone researching American marine or maritime paintings, New York coastal history or art related to Naval involvement in early American wars.


Film Review | The Normal Heart starring Mark Ruffalo & Matt Bomer

dvd cover the normal heart

Produced by HBO, The Normal Heart has a lot in common with the 2013 film Dallas Buyers Club. These films deal with the emergence and rapid increase of AIDS cases in the United States. The Normal Heart is an adaptation of a play by Larry Kramer that debuted in 1985. It places emphasis on both the gay men’s struggle happening in New York City and the personal life and relationship of an activist and New York Times reporter. The film starts out with Ned (Ruffalo) visiting his gay friends and the group learning about a new type of gay cancer (AIDS). They form a committee, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, with the intent to spread awareness, raise money and support those affected by the disease. Being the 1980’s, the men must tread a fine line with what is and is not socially acceptable and handle conflicts with those close to them.

The film does an excellent job showing how difficult things could have been at the time for gay men. The relationship between Ned and his lover (Bomer) is touching and tragic. The acting is well done and the film flows well. It may make you cry, but check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | The Last Magazine : a novel by Michael Hastings

last magazine book coverPublished posthumously, The Last Magazine introduces an aspiring, early 20’s employee at an in-print periodical in New York City. Narrated primarily in the first person by fictional Michael Hastings, the story gives a first hand view of the workings involved in putting out the Magazine. The power struggle between two top writers, the field reporting from an international correspondent in Iraq, and Michael’s daily deeds shape the book. The scoop goes beyond the simple day-to-day though, and is supported by racial tensions, sex and drugs and a human desire to stay afloat no matter the cost.

In the past I’ve found workplace fiction to be interesting, so I figured this was worth a try. Hastings’ writing style is conversational, informal and very readable. The book has a journal-like feel with short, dated chapters. The characters, thought not particularly likable, are appealing in their eccentricities. The story carries on smoothly, alternating focus between Michael and A.E. Peoria, an international correspondent. The hefty amount of blatant sexual encounters may put off some readers, but mostly they contribute to advancing the narrative. This novel was discovered and published after Hastings died in a car accident in Los Angeles in 2013. Some sources contend that book characters have real life counterparts with whom journalist Hastings worked. Check our The Last Magazine from a library near you. For an excellent workplace fiction read, try The Company by Max Barry.

Book Review | San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown by Robert J. Chandler

Previously published by Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) Reviews in July 2014.

cover of san francisco lithographerMore than just a book about one man, San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown is about the emerging lithography scene in nineteenth-century San Francisco and Brown’s role in it as a mixed race artist and businessman. Author Robert J. Chandler, previously the senior research historian for Wells Fargo Bank, has done extensive research on the life and times of Brown. Though other scholars have written about Brown, Chandler’s work is the first comprehensive biography, which seamlessly references appropriate field literature to piece together Brown’s life from his birth in Pennsylvania to his death in Minnesota.

Though not entirely chronological, the book’s topical organization allows the reader to easily access information by subject. Interweaving of historical facts with the narrative provides an interesting read with welcomed section and chapter breaks. At times the amount of numbers, mostly dates and monetary values, may feel slightly overwhelming. Despite this, the ideas are clearly presented and developed in a way that makes the book accessible to all readers rather than only appealing to researchers or art historians. Some background knowledge of lithography would be helpful as the process is only explained briefly within the third chapter.

Chandler supplies a wealth of full color reproductions of Brown’s lithographic work and that of his competitors. Brown ventured into painting later in life and images of some paintings are also included. Captions fully explain each of more than 100 images. Chandler includes an index and a comprehensive bibliography that would be very helpful as a starting point for related research. The full checklist of Brown’s known works is an added bonus, since so many of the pieces he produced were ephemera that were discarded shortly after their intended use. The jacket, standard full-page size, stitched binding, and photo-quality paper make the book physically appealing.

This book is recommended for any libraries with a specific interest in lithography, Californiana, ephemera, post-Gold Rush San Francisco or African American artists.

Book Review | Virtuality and the Art of Exhibition: Curatorial Design for the Multimedia Museum by Vince Dziekan

Previously published by Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) Reviews in September 2012.

cover of virtuality and the art of exhibitionThe use of digital media is greatly impacting curatorial design of exhibitions in museums and galleries. In Virtuality and the Art of Exhibition: Curatorial Design for the Multimedia Museum, Vince Dziekan attempts to foster an understanding of how the curatorial design process has evolved to incorporate digital technology. Dziekan surveys existing field literature and provides detailed descriptions of specific exhibitions that have implemented multimedial design.

Dziekan draws solid ties between relevant field literature and thoughtfully connects themes throughout the book. Though several of the articles cited seem slightly dated, they appear to be standard field works. As articles are being written frequently in this popular area, it would be nearly impossible for a published text to be able to include all of the most current literature. Though the author is clearly well-versed in his topic, his wordy and complicated prose made the text difficult to follow at times. Concise and clear explanations would have benefitted readers trying to understand new concepts and ideas.

The book’s organizational structure provides an easy path for the reader to follow and allows for jumps between sections without the need to read them in order. The end of each chapter has a detailed notes section, and the bibliography is very complete. The book does not include an index, but the table of contents serves the purpose adequately. The dimensions, texture, and paper quality make the format and physical characteristics of this book appealing, and the binding is solid.

Dziekan supplies visual examples in the form of grayscale images, mostly reproductions of photos, which work well with the text. It would have been helpful to have incorporated better quality reproductions of some images, with a few in color. Dziekan does not identify a specifically intended audience, but the book would be relevant for curators or other individuals involved in, or looking to learn about, the production of an exhibition involving digital technology. Academic libraries with museum studies programs or museum libraries that are new to incorporating multimedial pieces in their exhibits could benefit from this text.

Introduction to the Collection Series: Exhibition Catalogs, Price Guides, and Batch Books! Oh, my!

At the core of The Rakow Research Library is the book collection, numbering approximately 37,500 titles. We try to obtain every book on the history and art of glass and glassmaking, meaning new, old, and rare volumes are constantly being added to the collection. The acquisitions team is responsible for purchasing books and receives suggestions from reference librarians, curators, and other museum staff. There are three primary ways in which books are acquired. They can be purchased from a vendor, they can be received as an exchange from other libraries, museums or universities, or they can come in as donations. With “glassy” books, we try to obtain one copy for public use and a second non-circulating copy.

Recent acquisitions in the Rakow Library

Recent acquisitions in the Rakow Library

Along with the obvious glassy subjects such as glassmaking techniques, stained glass, glass artists, and glass company histories; topics range from architecture to Christmas ornaments to neon and beads. Fiction, children’s books, craft instruction and pattern books, glass dictionaries, and identification and price guides are here, too. We have unique materials that are self-published by contemporary artists. In addition to those, we also collect in subject areas that support glass research, including archaeology, ceramics, and other decorative arts, to name a few. Materials in our collection can be found in more than 50 different languages. The oldest book dating back to approximately 1150 is the Mappae Clavicula, which was hand-copied by monks and contains formulae for making colored glass.

Rakow Library rare books in secured stacks

Rakow Library rare books in secured stacks

Kelly Bliss is in charge of cataloging the book collection. Nearly 50% of the book cataloging that Kelly does is original, meaning that no other library reports holding that item. Kelly’s favorite book in the Library is a William Leighton Batch book, which was donated by the family in 1993. A batch book is a glassmaker’s recipe book for different types and colors of glass. Dated October 1850, this miniature book inside a leather case was written by hand and contains 46 pages of recipes that easily fit in the palm of your hand. Additional miniature pages contain typed up recipes. Like many other items in our collection, it is one-of-a-kind.

William Leighton batch book

William Leighton batch book. Bib. #44510

Though we used to microfilm rare books for preservation and circulation, they are now being digitized for increased accessibility. Some books have been put on “page turning” software and are available on our website allowing patrons to read the digitized versions. We are happy to lend any books through Interlibrary Loan provided that we hold at least two copies, and we encourage you to visit and see the collection first hand. Kelly says, “People can’t imagine what we have . . . to look at all of the different topics we have, they would be amazed.”

The Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library Open Stacks

One aisle of the Rakow Library open stacks

This is the fifth installment of the Rakow Research Library’s Introduction to the Collection Series.
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The Rakow Research Library is open from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday – Friday
Telephone: 607.438.5300 | Email (general inquiries):
Explore the collection online using the classic catalog or the Library’s collection browser.

Introduction to the Collection Series: Trade Catalogs for Glass Research at The Rakow Research Library

The Rakow Library is home to an extensive collection of glass company trade catalogs. Approximately 17,000 trade catalogs in various languages, representing firms worldwide, are housed in our temperature and humidity controlled secure stacks with preservation in mind.

19th century Silber and Fleming glass trade catalog. Bib. #89888

19th century Silber and Fleming trade catalog. Bib. #89888

A trade catalog is issued by a manufacturer, distributor, wholesales, or retailer with the intention of promoting business. Trade catalogs are invaluable resources for identifying manufacturer’s styles, patterns, dates of production, and original prices. They also provide background on economical and social circumstances for the times in which they were published.

Trade catalogs are primarily used for identification purposes by an audience of collectors, researchers, curators, and members of the public wanting to identify glass objects. For ease of access, we have categorized trade catalogs into the following subject areas: bottles and druggists’ glassware, cut glass, flat glass (including stained and architectural), laboratory ware (including industrial and optical), lighting glassware and lamps, tableware, tools (glass blowing and working tools), glass art, paperweights, and glass jewelry, among others.

1923 McKee Glass Company cut glass lamp trade catalog. Bib. #28854

1923 McKee Glass Company trade catalog. Bib. #28854

19th century F. and C. Osler glass chandelier trade catalog. Bib #92821

19th century F. and C. Osler trade catalog. Bib #92821

The Rakow Library is committed to acquiring and preserving these materials and pursues expansion of the collection. Sheila Tshudy, in charge of trade catalogs, contacts firms, works with rare and second hand book dealers, and searches eBay to find new additions. The ever-growing collection is also supplemented by gifts from generous donors.

Though our trade catalogs do not circulate, they are all available for use in the Library and we do loan microform copies, if available, through Interlibrary Loan. A large part of this collection was microfilmed and we have over 1,000 microform catalogs which were filmed with permission while on loan to us from other institutions and private individuals. The earliest dated catalog is a price list from 1722, from the firm Manufacture Royale des Glaces de France (Saint-Gobain) entitled Tarif du prix de glaces de la Manufacture royale.

Digitization of select trade catalogs from the collection allows us to provide access to these unique resources via our website. The digital collection is continually growing, and currently more than 200 trade catalogs are available digitally to be viewed in their entirety. We encourage you to visit The Rakow Research Library and consult these valuable resources.

This is the third installment of the Rakow Research Library’s Introduction to the Collection Series.
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The Rakow Research Library is open from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday – Friday
Telephone: 607.438.5300 | Email (general inquiries):