03 February 2012

New York Public Library centennial

Left Entrance. Right Lego lion, by Nathan Sawaya.

In January Jay and I went to New York, to see offspring before they became busy with their academic studies.  Research interests took us to the business and mid-town branches of the New York Public Library.  We also visited the mother ship itself: the famous New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street.

Extended through March 4, 2012, the library presents a centennial show of the library's history, Celebrating 100 Years. For FREE, you can see, among other things, a Gutenberg Bible, a manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence, and e. e. cummings' typewriter, which does indeed have a shift key. Learn more here: http://www.nypl.org/, and look under menu heading "Classes and Events".

There is a self-guided tour brochure available.

Grand lobby. A Beaux-Arts Palace for books and people.

McGraw Rotunda.

One of the stations on the self-guided tour is the McGraw Rotunda, home to four realist murals painted by Edward Lansing as part of the Work Projects Administration program for artists. The oversize wall paintings were unveiled by Mayor LaGuardia in 1940.  If the theme of the murals - the history of the recorded word - were continued, what would any murals depict today? Jeff Bezos holding a Kindle? My husband, who himself has a dozen high-tech patents, ready to toss his Mac out the window as he confronts yet another bug in Microsoft's Word?

Medieval Scribe, Edward Lansing.
The library continues to collect all manner of artifacts, including contemporary prints, many of which are on display.

Details of prints by (left to right) Blanche Lazell, Ryan McGinness, and Sonia Delaunay.

Reading room with paintings of publishing headquarters, such as the Time building.

The library was built at a time when the phrase "aspirational consumption" applied to public buildings - by erecting such a rich environment for knowledge and learning, New York society sought to establish that it valued not just remunerative pursuits, but those of the mind as well.  The NYPL is an unusual entity, as it is funded through a combination of both public and private sponsorship. Fortunately a number of modern philanthropists have stepped up to the plate in recent times, meeting the demanding capital and maintenance needs of such a structure.  If only the access to the materials matched the excellence of the collection.