Category Archives: Exhibits

Information about our exhibits

Other People’s Mail

Working with archival material allows the researcher opportunities to learn about different places and other times.  Photographs of long-vanished buildings or reports of events long over are reminders of things no longer present.  But perhaps the most immediate, and occasionally the most poignant, way to immerse yourself into a different world is through reading other people’s mail.

Stacks of World War II letters

World War II Correspondence

Archival collections often contain a variety of correspondence, including business communications, official statements, organizational announcements, and academic inquiries.  For many researchers, however, it is personal correspondence that best brings the past to life.  When reading mail sent years or even centuries ago, one can’t help but try to fill in the gaps, to hunt for clues in deciphering the stories behind the penned or penciled words, seeking the individuals who wrote or received the letters.  Recently, the Rare Books & Special Collections division of Boatwright Memorial Library purchased a collection of more than 700 letters, the majority of them written during World War II.  The collection is a compilation of several different sets of correspondence.  Although connected by the time period, these different sets offer a view into the lives of many individuals, each with their own story to tell.

For example, one set of about 100 letters written on U.S. Navy letterhead share the story of a young couple named Paul and Charlotte.  Paul wrote almost daily between March and July 1944, and through his letters, readers come to know a bit about life in the Navy, the challenges of planning a wedding via correspondence, and enough of a hint about Charlotte’s world to spark curiosity.  A bit of research uncovered that Charlotte and her family were Jewish immigrants to the United States, having left Germany in 1934.

The largest set of correspondence in the collection are the approximately 250 letters written by George Orlikowski to his girlfriend, and later his wife, Mary Zyla Orlikowski, which cover the time between July 1942 and March 1945.  In addition to learning much about both of their lives, many of the envelopes and stationary are humorous by themselves.

World War II letter

Letter from George to Mary with code for salutations

In one letter written in December 1944, George offers a secret code to Mary so that she can know where he is at in the Pacific after he sails without the censor catching on to them; he indicated he would change which salutation he uses in his letters to her to identify his location. Even after more than 70 years, the letters still carry the scent of his cigarette smoke.

Perhaps the most intriguing series of correspondence in this collection are the variety of letters sent to Dorothy “Dot” Raynham, a female college student, by a variety of soldiers between 1942 and 1944. With at least fourteen different men writing her from nearly all branches of the military, these letters offer glimpses of military life as well as life on the home front for at least one college student and her family.  Whether it is a bomber pilot wistfully recalling their dance to a Glenn Miller tune or a sailor encouraging her in her schoolwork, the range of correspondents suggests there may be an interesting story about this particular moment in her life.

Reading other people’s mail in the archives offers a glimpse into the past, one way to bring history alive, for researchers of all types, including University of Richmond students.  This collection has already been utilized in several classes, including a Weekend College session doing hands-on history and a first-year seminar exploring a life in letters.  Materials from this collection as well as correspondence from other collections is currently on exhibit on the first floor of Boatwright Library through the end of April.

Faster than a Speeding Train!

Arna Wendell Bontemps

Boatwright Library recently hosted an event that was part of the Children’s Literature Association Conference. While at the library several participants toured the Galvin Rare Book Room and part of our children’s literature collection. One book garnered considerable attention: The Fast Sooner Hound by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy, illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton, part of our Mark Lutz Collection.

The Faster Sooner Hound

The Faster Sooner Hound

You may recognize Virginia Lee Burton’s name from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (1939) and the Caldecott medalist The Little House (1942). But the other two authors may not be as familiar. Jack Conroy, among many other things, was a left wing writer and editor in the 30’s with ties to many writers in the Harlem Renaissance. He also worked in the Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), collecting folk tales and oral histories. One such story was the tall tale of a dog that could outrun the fastest train. He worked with Arna Bontemps to create the book.

Arna Wendell Bontemps was born in Louisiana in 1902 to a Creole bricklayer and a schoolteacher. When he was three, his father moved the family to California after a racist attack. He was sent to the San Fernando Academy and instructed by his father to not “go up there acting colored.” Bontemps resented the effort to make him renounce his heritage. When he graduated college he took a teaching job in Harlem. He soon married and had six children doing away with his dreams of a Ph.D. in English. But he did become closely connected to the Harlem Renaissance and friends with Countee Cullen, W. E. B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and especially Langston Hughes, with whom he frequently collaborated.

He published poems, for which he won prizes, and novels, including Black Thunder, the tale of a slave rebellion near Richmond, Virginia planned by Gabriel Prosser. He moved to Huntsville, Alabama to teach college; and finally went back to school to get a degree in library science from the University of Chicago (1943) and became a librarian at Fisk University where he worked until his retirement in 1965. Until his death in 1973, he held professorships at the University of Illinois and Yale University, and a return to Fisk as a Sooner2writer in residence.

The rare books room copy of The Fast Sooner Hound is as lovely to look at as to read. Come take a look.

New Exhibits Around the Library

Fall is here with it’s changing colors and moods. And we have some exhibits to match.

On the first floor in the Reference Commons, we have captured a bevy of mythical beasts and monstersPicture1 for your entertainment. There are witches on trial and monsters of every description.  We have centaurs, gremlins, woodwives, unicorns, dragons, and really ugly bugs from the Rare Book Room and Special Collections.  Then, we found some chimera, man-beasts, mythical monsters, and zombies roaming around the circulating collection.

On the second floor in the Silent Study area, we have gathered some chilling reading to keep you busy in the dark.  From the Rare Book Room come warnings from the dead, witches from Eastwick, treatises on poison and remedies against Satan.  There are hauntings, villagers turned against each other, vampires old and new, man-made monsters, werewolves, and headless horsemen.  Just remember not to scream; it’s silent study.

In Recreational Reading, we are showcasing our 1856 whaling journal, from whence came our blog’s name and image, along with other books and images of whales from around the library.

And don’t miss the display in the open shelves on the second floor.   You can read about the making of your favorite horror movies and learn about some you didn’t know.  See the movies the staff picked as favorites and decide whether you will go for monsters or ghosts or chainsaws for your viewing pleasure.  Whatever you choose, keep the lights on.

Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré was an amazingly popular illustrator; some say the most popular of all time. He produced more than 10,000 engravings in more than 4,000 editions of literature, travel, and history. In the forty years between 1860 and 1900, a new Doré illustrated version of the Bible, with his 238 engravings, was published every 8 days. Millions of people came to see a gallery of his paintings, along with hundreds of watercolors and dozens of sculptures. His monument to Alexandre Dumas sits in Paris today.

While his name is now unfamiliar to most people, they are not unfamiliar with his work. His engravings have been on the cover of Time magazine, used in such classic movies at King Kong, Great Expectations, and The Ten Commandments, as well as many recent films, like Amistad, Seven, and What Dreams May Come. His Don Quixote drawings have influenced generations of illustrators as well as theatrical and cinema producers.

Doré was born in Strasbourg, Germany, in January of 1832. By the age of 12 he was carving his own lithographic stones and making sets of engravings with stories to go with them. At 15, on vacation with his family, Doré noticed a set of engravings in a publisher’s window. He went back the next day with his own set of drawings and proclaimed his drawings were how the illustrations should be done. The publisher, Charles Philipon, agreed and hired Doré on the spot.

By the time he was 16, Doré was the highest paid illustrator in France. He had published his first book at 15 and become the featured artist in the weekly Journal pour Rire. He produced more than 2,000 satirical caricature engravings before launching into the field of literary engravings in 1854, for Rabelais and Balzac. He produced a giant literary folio of Dante’s Inferno. His publisher refused to publish the book, declaring it too expensive at a hundred francs. Doré paid the bill and in two weeks, the 100 he printed were sold and more were ordered.

Throughout the next 20 years, he illustrated everything from Don Quixote to Baron Munchausen to Perrault’s fairy tales. The Doré Bible was so famous it is mentioned in Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He tried his hand at painting with varying success in France, but his art was embraced in England. In 1867 a gallery opened on Bond Street in London, and later his work toured the United States. At the Chicago Art Institute, his exhibit drew more than 16,000 daily. In eight months, 1.5 million people came to see Doré’s work. (The previous record for attendance at any US art museum had been 600,000 for an entire year.)

In the 1870’s, Doré turned to sculpture where he redeemed himself with the French. Then he toured the Alps and Scotland, producing watercolor landscapes. In 1882 he had his only US commission to illustrate The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.

DoreRavenNotTheLeast

Illustration for The Raven by E. A. Poe.

Only 51 at his death in 1883, Doré had attempted and excelled at almost every form of art and won over the critics and the people. The Galvin Rare Book Room holds many editions of his work and several are currently on display on the first floor of Boatwright Library through September 2014.