Monday, April 27, 2015

Contemplating Books

Do you know about The Grolier Club? It is a sanctuary for book lovers. I discovered it just a few years ago when they were hosting a Virginia Woolf book exhibition. I was so excited about that one. Unfortunately I wasn't in time to see the exhibition, but I went in anyway and fell in love. Now I visit every time I'm in New York.

The ground floor gallery of the Grolier Club

The space is absolutely gorgeous and its all about books. So, you might ask, what is the Grolier Club?

Here is their mission statement:

Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America's oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named for Jean Grolier (1489-1565), the Renaissance collector known for sharing his library with friends, the Club's objective is to foster 'the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.' The Club maintains a research library on printing and related book arts, and its programs include public exhibitions as well as a long and distinguished series of publications." 

It's fascinating to read about the exhibitions they have put on over the years, all of them free and open to the pubic. There have been over 800 exhibitions on topics as varied as William Blake, Rudyard Kipling, chess, murder mysteries, Japanese prints, and Art Nouveau posters. There are 8 exhibitions a year, four in the ground floor gallery, and four in the second floor gallery. Anyone can walk in the door and view the exhibitions. There are lunchtime exhibition tours, afternoon lectures, and evening panel discussions. The space itself is lovely, with the coziness and intimacy of a small house. The publications that go along with the exhibitions are exquisite books. I have bought several over the years.

Last week when I was in New York, I went to the Grolier Club to see what was going on

 I took the stairs to the second floor gallery

 Where there was a small exhibition along the walls of the landing 

This exhibition was "Victorian Connections" and was about the literary and artistic circles of William and Helen Allingham. He was a poet, scholar and editor and she was a water-colorist and illustrator. They were a Victorian couple and well-connected with the great writers and artists of the time. This is the kind of thing they talk about at the Grolier Club: the Victorian literary and artistic scene in which everybody seemed to know everybody else and its celebrity couples such as Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and George Henry Lewes. It was fascinating to think about the "rock stars" of the Victorian era: Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Julia Margaret Cameron and others. I always learn something new when I visit the The Grolier Club. This place just exudes a reverence for the literary arts and an appreciation of the beauty of books. 

The second floor gallery

In their ground floor gallery was the exhibition: Aldus Manutius, A Legacy More Lasting Than Bronze. I learned that Aldus Manutius, the greatest scholar-printer of the Italian Renaissance, founded the Aldine Press in Venice in 1494. He was the first to print the canon of Greek classics -- Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus and Sophocles, the first to print in italic type, and the first to publish books in a portable format, thereby making great literature available to a mass audience for the first time in history. He developed a new type face for his publications that was originally called "Aldine" type; we know it today as italic. Publications of the Aldine Press were treasured and collected even while the Press was still in operation. This exhibition contains more than 130 books published by the Press. It was fascinating to learn about the birth of reading as we know it today. 

But, my very favorite exhibition was one I saw two years ago -- Gardening by the Book -- which combined two of my loves: books and gardens. It was an exquisite show of rare botanical books as beautifully curated and arranged as any garden. I read that the curators hoped we would "lose our cares and delight our senses in the contemplation of books and gardens." That is definitely what happened to me. Take a look:

The exhibition was in the beautiful first floor gallery and contained a wonderful display of rare old books

It celebrated The Garden Club of America's extensive collection of garden books and prints. The theme was the love and knowledge of gardening and the collecting and preservation of garden literature. It was also a tribute to the 100th anniversary of The Garden Club of America. The unique beauty and individual characteristic of each book was highlighted in the wonderfully designed exhibition cases. Each one was a visual feast.

There were gardeners' tales

Books in bloom

Writers in the garden

The language of flowers

More than125 illustrated volumes about flowers and gardening were presented

Each one a thing of beauty

 It was a celebration of the beauty of botanical books and the joys of gardening

Anyone who is passionate about books would love the Grolier Club. It is a cultural treasure in the heart of NYC. This organization celebrates reading and the written word and values the intrinsic worth and beauty of books as something to be displayed and enjoyed by all. Every time I visit I am inspired. Be sure to visit next time you are in New York. Go here to learn more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Orchid Show: Chandeliers

The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden

I just got back from a wonderful week in New York where the weather was beautiful. The week was filled with great theatre, interesting art, fascinating book exhibitions and many fabulous meals. And there was walking! A lot of it. New York is such a walker's city; spring has definitely arrived which makes walking around the city delightful. The highlight of the trip was going to the New York Botanical Garden to see The Orchid Show: Chandeliers. Some of you may have had a chance to see this stunning exhibition, but if not, here is a little photo tour. I was in awe of the New York Botanical Garden -- this was my first time visiting -- and absolutely wowed by the orchid show.

The NYBG sits on 250 acres and the extensive grounds are an oasis for the weary urban dweller. I can imagine going here as a retreat from the city. There wasn't time to see everything, but on the walk to the orchid show I noted many cheerful signs of spring and several examples of garden beauty.

I loved the poetry quotes that are scattered throughout the grounds, making me think that every garden should have poetry. Gardens and poetry just go together!

The magnolia tree along the way is magnificent -- I overheard someone say "I could live in there!"
It was a bit like a small house.

 The white blossoms made it look like a wedding

Inside the conservatory, we were greeted by floating islands of orchids

The reflections added to their beauty

We began in the conservatory's aquatic collection, a magnificent room overhung with vines 

There was so much to look at

This is an elegant place

And there were orchids adorning every possible surface

On the ground next to the pool

On the higher ledges

And up in the air

Where we saw the centerpiece of the show -- a three-tiered, star-shaped chandelier that overflowed with blooms hanging from the dome in the central room of the conservatory.

There were signs telling us to look up which was a very good idea

Orchids were growing on trees

Hanging in baskets

And enveloping us in garden rooms

Wherever you looked, you were surrounded by the intoxicating sight and smell of orchids

At every level

In trees

In flowering columns

Mixed in with ferns 

And hanging in incredible baskets up above

The beauty was simply off the charts

Everyone had their cameras out

There were so many photo-worthy moments 

I read that this exhibition was especially beautiful and romantic at night. And that there have been dates and proposals amidst the orchid show. Not surprising. I spotted a bride being photographed and thought what a storybook setting this would be for a wedding. 

If you missed this exhibition, don't despair. There is an orchid show every spring. And now the hardworking staff at the NYBG is getting ready for the next blockbuster exhibition: Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life. This one also sounds wonderful. It's a good reason to plan another trip to New York!