Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A different side to J.P. Morgan

This past weekend, I took a trip down to NYC to say farewell to a couple of friends, who are making the move back to the UK after a year in the city.  A trip to the Morgan Library was on my friend's bucket list so we arrived at 36th and Madison ready for some culture.

This is the private library of financier Pierpoint Morgan (1837-1913), who began collecting rare books, illuminated, literary and historical manuscripts and old master drawings and prints as early as 1890.  Morgan's library was built between 1902 and 1906 and his son transformed the library into a public institution in 1924 as his father had wished.

The Morgan library is a beauty to behold with three tiers of shelving and two hidden staircases.  One thing that really caught my eye were the book boxes, which are not the run of the mill beige board but were covered in marbled papers with every box different yet in keeping with the overall decor of the room.  I was very impressed, it makes my bound volume boxes look decidely frumpish.

There was an audio tour of the library, something that I have never done before but really enjoyed since you could dip in and out of sections you found interesting.  The librarian, who began work in 1906, was a young inexperienced girl by the name of Bella da Costa Greene, who ended up working for the Morgan until 1948.  She became the "soul of the library" and guided its collection policy.  It appears, however, that all was not as it seemed.  Bella's name was actually Bella Greene, and she was the daughter of the first black man to graduate from Princeton.  Her white mother, however, separated from Bella's father, adopted the da Costa name and encouraged her children to live the life of 'white' people.  Bella, therefore, never revealed her ancestry to Morgan and the library guide suggests that she may not have been allowed to remain had her origins been discovered.  She was a feisty young lady though and I envy her her wonderful job!

In the Morgan Museum, there was an exhibiton on Churchill, which is drawn from the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.  It really did feel like a small world!

The exhibition benefited from items from Cambridge as well as a film created by the Morgan.  It was interesting to see how two institutions could work together and in harmony to create an exhibition not possible without the collaboration.  DiscoverChurchill.org has also been launched in tandem with the exhibiton as a means of drawing in a younger generation of learners and educators.

The weekend was not completely library related - I managed a walk along the High Line Park, which has to be my favourite way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the city!

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