TAKE FIVE — PART TWO OF FIVE!
REFLECTIONS ON THE SPIRIT OF GIVING AND THE LAST FIVE YEARS OF LIBRARY DONATIONS
Following Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s donation of the museum to Florida International University in 1997, other members of the Wolfson family have stepped up to the plate to help ensure that the institution would have the funding to make targeted acquisitions of additional objects and artifacts appropriate to the museum and library’s collecting mission. Just months ago, for example, several rare and important pieces were added to the library thanks to the generosity of the Wolfsonian-FIU’s Collectors’ Council Fund, with contributions from Ellen and Louis Wolfson III and Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. These monetary contributions demonstrate the faith and confidence the Wolfson family has in the competence of the curators and librarians to guide the growth and future development of the museum collection.
Soon after The Wolfsonian became part of Florida International University, I was tasked with organizing and installing an exhibition of some of the Wolfsonian-FIU library’s material in the Green Library on the University Park campus with the aim of introducing our collection to the faculty, staff, and students. The choice of theme was an easy one: the Wolfsonian library holds an incredible collection of interwar period steamship company travel ephemera, and we knew that then director of libraries at FIU, Dr. Laurence A. Miller was an ocean liner buff.
What I did not know at the time, was that Dr. Miller was not only an avid cruise line enthusiast, (contributing articles and reviews to a number of trade periodicals), but had been amassing and assembling a collection of post-war cruise line promotional materials since the 1950s. Years later, associate librarian Nicholas Blaga and I were invited to lunch by Larry, who had since retired and was enjoying even more time aboard ship. At that meeting, Dr. Miller showed us his exhaustive collection of books, periodicals, and original cruise line industry materials from the post-war period and expressed interest in donating the same to the Wolfsonian. Needless to say, we were delighted at the prospect of acquiring such a comprehensive collection that complemented rather than duplicated our own. It took fifty banker’s boxes to transport the collection to the museum and we have yet to come up with a definitive number of items, though something hovering in the neighborhood of 25,000 to 35,000 would not seem too far off. Even as our interns have been working with Dr. Miller to catalog the materials, Royal Caribbean International CEO Adam Goldstein and the Director of global facilities and properties Russ Bogue visited and had the opportunity to meet the collector and to see a wide variety of archival materials documenting their company’s history and ships. Naturally, with such an extensive collection to choose from, this blog will only be able to provide a small teaser of the many wonderful items in the collection.
After the passage of a number of years, I sometimes find it difficult after so many subsequent visits and conversations to remember exactly when first contact was made with a particular collector-turned-donor. Such is the case with Robert J. Young. What I do know is that Mr. Young was living in Deland, Florida (where some of the Wolfsonian staffers involved in the publication of the Florida Theme Issue of The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts had traveled in researching one of the entries), and afterwards journeyed down to Miami Beach to pay the museum a visit. During that visit, Mr. Young (an octogenarian) talked with enthusiasm about his idol Bernarr Macfadden and the American Physical Culture movement and expressed interest in finding a permanent home for his collection of rare periodicals and books. Since our curator Marianne Lamonaca had long been contemplating a health and hygiene themed exhibit, she and I encouraged Mr. Young to send down some materials on approval. What arrived soon thereinafter were numerous boxes of rare periodicals and other materials that have greatly enhanced our coverage of the subject and period. With Mr. Young’s recent passing, we decided to organize a library display of some of those materials as a tribute to his generosity. http://www.librarydisplays.wolfsonian.org/Physical%20culture/PC.htm
HIGHLIGHTS OF A GIFT OF ROBERT J. YOUNG
Sometimes gifts to museums come after many years spent cultivating relationships with high profile collectors; other times museums are contacted “out of the blue” by collectors or their agents expressing interest in placing them in an institution where they can be sure that their materials will be cared for and appreciated. In 2009, our rare books cataloguer Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi was contacted online with an offer by Harry Gottlieb of a collection of 398 pristine color lithographic prints taken by William Henry Jackson. Jackson had been hired by the railroad companies to take scenic views of the railway routes to promote tourism and had produced beautiful color prints using the “Photochrom” process, and we were as eager to acquire a set as the collector was to find them an appropriate home.
HIGHLIGHTS OF A GIFT OF HARRY GOTTLIEB
Sometimes gifts are made to museums to memorialize loved ones who have passed away. John and Ideal Gladstone had always been active contributors and supporters of the Wolfsonian and Florida International University. John had contributed several articles to the Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts and they had gifted an archive of twenty-two publications and hundreds of issues of nineteenth century periodicals to FIU’s Archive Collections. After John passed away, Ideal began inviting the Wolfsonian’s librarians into her home to sift through her late husband’s library, allowing them to select whichever rare and reference books they considered appropriate for the collection. John was a real renaissance man and his library has proven to be a real gold mine for important reference works on such diverse subjects as: art history; the American labor movement; Communist art and aesthetics; World’s Fairs; technology and industrial design; and illustrated books by Rockwell Kent and others.
HIGHLIGHTS OF GIFTS MADE BY IDEAL GLADSTONE, IN MEMORY OF HER HUSBAND, JOHN
The Wolfsonian has always been interested in acquiring archives or large bodies of the work of individual artists from our period. The library, for example, has great collections of the work of a number of important book designers and graphic artists, including a group of Dutch artists working in the Nieue Kunst (or Art Nouveau) style; a collection of books, periodicals, posters and clippings of American graphic artist Bill Bradley; a collection of hand-painted book covers designed by the Rupprecht Presse in the mid-1920s; and a collection of books designed by Merle Armitage. While the Wolfsonian also had a fair number of limited edition books designed by Mac Harshberger (1900-1975), that collection was recently swelled by the generous bequest of a cousin of the family who donated scores of musical scores, song books, archival photographs and other ephemera left behind by Mac, his lyricist sister, and his partner and composer, Holland Robinson.
HIGHLIGHTS OF A GIFT FROM THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM WHITNEY
We were also recently approached by a local Miami resident Elinor Brecher, who had a gem in her possession that originally belonged to her grandfather. This rare oversized portfolio entitled Century of the Common Man: two speeches by Henry A. Wallace contains autographed color silk-screened illustrations drawn by Hugo Gellert. Born in Hungary in 1892, Gellert had moved to the United States where he used his artistic talents to support the Communist Party of the United States of America. The portfolio had been passed down to Ms. Brecher, who gifted it to the Wolfsonian in her grandfather’s memory. It joins more than fifty other illustrated works by that artist.
HIGHLIGHTS OF A GIFT OF ELINOR BRECHER, MADE IN MEMORY OF HER GRANDFATHER As it would be impossible in such a short space to mention each and every donor to the collection, I will conclude this installment with a brief nod to a number of individuals who also donated significant rare pieces to the Wolfsonian librarian within the last five years. I thus conclude by recognizing the generosity of Dolores Trenner, Richard Schick, Tim Gleason, and Abbey Chase who gifted some of the wonderful items pictured below.
HIGHLIGHTS OF A GIFT OF ELINOR BRECHER, MADE IN MEMORY OF HER GRANDFATHER
As it would be impossible in such a short space to mention each and every donor to the collection, I will conclude this installment with a brief nod to a number of individuals who also donated significant rare pieces to the Wolfsonian librarian within the last five years. I thus conclude by recognizing the generosity of Dolores Trenner, Richard Schick, Tim Gleason, and Abbey Chase who gifted some of the wonderful items pictured below.