So Rare as a Day in June, or, an RBMS Reception at the Wolfsonian-FIU

This past June 24th, The Wolfsonian-FIU held a reception for Rare Book and Manuscript Section attendees of the Association of College and Research Libraries, whose preconference met in Coral Gables. Guests were invited to a guided tour of our current exhibition, Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction, and a chance to see a display of highlights from our rare book and special collections library selected by Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn and Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi. Here are their respective reports on a representative item from the display:

The Rare Book and Manuscript Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the America Library Association (ALA), annually organizes a Preconference to ALA’s main conference. This year the RBMS Preconference took place in historic Coral Gables, hosted by the University of Miami and anchored at the Biltmore Hotel. Approximately four hundred rare book librarians and archivists from prestigious universities, research institutions, and top museums around the country (along with established rare book and manuscript dealers) attended. With a theme of “Opening Doors to Collaboration, Outreach and Diversity,” programming and presentations reflected the multi-cultural aspects of local special collections materials.


Historic Washington Storage Company. Photo credit: Walter Smalling Jr., Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS, Reproduction number HABS FLA,13-MIAM,5–80

For RBMS participants enjoying an extra day in the Florida sunshine post-preconference, The Wolfsonian-FIU held a happy hour reception and extended courtesy admission to the galleries. Chief Librarian and exhibition curator Francis Luca provided free guided tours of Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction, while Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi and Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle T. Pienn arranged special library materials displays. Visitors included Lee Viverette of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Kevin Repp of the Beinecke at Yale, Cherry Williams of the Lilly Library in Indiana, Daria Wingreen-Mason of the Smithsonian Libraries, Michael Weintraub of Michael R Weintraub Inc. in New York, along with other accomplished rare book professionals.

 TC778.P44 1885_000Cover

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

This 1885 original photograph album of Panama was reviewed with great interest by RBMS guests. This past weekend, the newly expanded Panama Canal opened to commercial trade, allowing for monolithic modern ships to pass through. The antique albumen photographs from this gem in the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at The Wolfsonian-FIU library show a rudimentary landscape from the past.

 TC778.P44 1885_009SanPab

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

At this stage of construction, the water seemed more fitting for kayaks and canoes than cruise ships.

 TC778.P44 1885_013Canoe

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Workers on the Canal construction were largely natives or poor laborers recruited from the Bahamas, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands.

 TC778.P44 1885_015FirstWorkers

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

TC778.P44 1885_008Rudim

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The French efforts to build the Canal would be overwhelmed by engineering challenges presented by the nearly impassable jungle, disease that brought pain and death, a large labor turnover (for those who survived), and out of control spending.

TC778.P44 1885_022Arbit

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In the end, workers and managers both suffered during France’s unsuccessful attempt to build the Panama Canal.

 TC778.P44 1885_026LAST

The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Our visitors also viewed a copy of Owen Jones’s Grammar of Ornament (1856), a monumental folio work and a remarkable tour de force of chromolithography.



Jones opens the review of ornamental motifs with a chapter on the ornament of “Savage Tribes.”  In spite of the demeaning stereotyping evident in the wording, Jones recognized the merit of the designs developed by these peoples, and emphasized that such designs were the result of instincts and aims common to all people of the world.




The plates for the “Savage Tribes” chapter were also important in that it was the first time that such images had been published at a time when “primitive” art and ornament were still regarded as backward and uncivilized.


~ by "The Chief" on July 5, 2016.

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