More Popular than an Astronaut!: Faulkner and Venezuela, Part 1

This week, we are pleased to feature a guest post by Ethan King, one-time Special Collections graduate student assistant, who is now pursuing his Ph.D. in English at Boston University. Ethan takes a strong interest in Faulkner, and has generously written for us about Faulkner’s fascinating later-life work as a cultural ambassador, a subject featured in our current exhibition, Faulkner: Life and Works.

In the last of his four U.S. State Department-sanctioned missions as a cultural ambassador, William Faulkner ventured abroad to Venezuela in the spring of 1961, completing a busy itinerary rife with press conferences, public discussions, and cocktail parties designed to, as Hugh Jencks explains in his “Report to the North American Association on the visit of Mr. Faulkner,” “strengthen and improve relations between the people of the two countries” (MSS 15242). The materials regarding Faulkner’s visit to Venezuela, written and compiled by members of the North American Association (N.A.A)., esteemed Venezuelans, Americans living in Venezuela, and Faulkner himself, are housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. They form a compelling time capsule, containing evidence of the diverging geopolitical visions of Faulkner and the State Department during the Cold War, as well as Faulkner’s eminence as a global writer and figure.

A case from our exhibition with documentation of Faulkner’s trips across the Globe, including his heavily stamped passports, photographs of encounters with citizens of various nations, and official U.S. government reports on his activities.

Having already traveled under similar governmental auspices to Brazil in 1954, Japan in 1955, and Greece in 1957, Faulkner accepted the invitation to Venezuela reluctantly, citing his growing frustration with political gerrymandering, and perhaps feeling the potential inefficacy of such a trip:

Please excuse this delay in answering the letter of invitation from the North American Union of Venezuela [sic]. I had hoped that the new administration by that time would have produced a foreign policy. Then amateurs like me (reluctant ones) would not need to be rushed to the front.

Although much of the correspondence leading up to Faulkner’s departure in March of 1961 bespeaks his discomfort with the foreign policy of the State Department, it also suggests his respectful acquiescence to the duty he had been prescribed. On the one hand, he declares to his mistress Joan Williams in a dynamic letter from January 1961,

the State Dept is sending me to Venezuela, unless by that time the new administration will have created an actual foreign policy, so that they wont need to make these frantic desperate cries for help to amateurs like me who dont want to go, to go to places like Iceland and Japan and Venezuela to try to save what scraps we can.(MSS 15314)

On the other, he writes to Muna Lee, the Office of Public Affairs adviser in Washington and the key mediator between Faulkner and the N.A.A.,

please pass the word on that I dont consider this a pleasure trip, during which Faulkner is to be tenderly shielded from tiredness and boredom and annoyance. That F. considers it a job, during which he will do his best to serve all ends which the N.A.A. aim or hope that his visit will do.” (MSS 7258-f)

The formal occasion for Faulkner’s trip was the Sesquicentennial of Venezuelan Independence, and the North American Association had been assisted in its preparations by three of Venezuela’s leading writers: Rómulo Gallegos, Arturo Uslar Pietri, and Arturo Croce. In addition to meeting these writers, Faulkner spoke at length with the President of Venezuela, Rómulo Betancourt, at an official luncheon. Not succumbing to a harrying schedule, Faulkner made sure he was available to all who wanted to speak with him, and as Joseph Blotner declares in his biography of the author, “his efforts did not go unappreciated by a group of journalists who had called him ‘el hombre simpático.’ […] Some of the reporters began calling him simply ‘El Premio,’” for being a recipient of the Nobel Prize” (688). While local papers covered Faulkner’s visit in great detail, Venezuelan radio and television coverage of his visit were orchestrated by the U.S. Information Service: they produced a film documenting his visit and delivered several news bulletins to eight radio stations, keeping the listening audience informed at all times of Faulkner’s whereabouts and activities. That the local media did not produce these radio and television broadcasts might suggest that the N.A.A. saw the trip as an opportunity not solely to “strengthen and improve the relations between the people of the two countries,” but to extend U.S. political and artistic supremacy in Latin America.

The official report written by Hugh Jencks for the N.A.A. situates Faulkner’s trip in the cultural context of the Cold War:

The cultural leaders of Venezuela, many of whom are pre-disposed to take an anti-U.S. attitude on all international issues, include writers, artists, newspaper commentators (particularly those connected with El Nacional), educators and people in government. The group also includes many on-the-fencers. Its members tend to agree with the Communist tenet that the United States is grossly materialistic, with no cultural achievements. To bring a literary figure of the stature of Faulkner to Venezuela was an effective refutation of this view. (MSS 15242)

Jencks goes on to write, “The leftist extremists, who certainly would have exploited the visit for anti-U.S. attacks if they felt they could have made hay, remained silent. Mr. Faulkner’s evident popularity was too great for them to make the pitch” (MSS 15242). Commenting on and exaggerating Faulkner’s popularity amongst the Venezuelans, Charles Harner declares in his report “Evidence of Effectiveness, Faulkner vs. Astronaut” that “As far as PANORAMA, the leading daily newspaper of Maracaibo, is concerned, William Faulkner’s visit to the second largest city of Venezuela was more important than Russia’s success in launching a man into space” (MSS 15242). Harner’s declaration springs from the fact that the newspaper granted Faulkner and Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin equal print space, allotting Faulkner the portion above the fold. With passages such as these, one cannot help but read the U.S. official reports of his trip as containing calculated embellishment and sanctimonious self-congratulation and as espousing American exceptionalism rather than a genuine interest in cultural interchange.

Faulkner with a child in Venezuela (MSS 15242).

Faulkner, in contrast to U.S. officials, made bona fide attempts to generate cultural exchange during his trip, cherishing his discussions with university students over the highbrow cocktail parties with political elites; delivering his acceptance speech for the Order of Andrés Bello, the country’s highest civilian decoration, in Spanish (a language he was only starting to learn); expressing an earnest desire to experience all Venezuelan food and in his words, “saborear el vino del país.” Further, he refused housing with Americans living in Venezuela, indicating that he did not want the trip to be a “shabby excuse for two deadhead weeks with [his] North American kinfolks and their circle.”  He reserved his autograph signing for locals: he writes to Muna Lee before the trip,

If possible, I would prefer to avoid being asked for autographs by Anglo-Americans, since the addition of my signature to a book is a part of my daily bread. I intend, and want, to sign any and all from Venezuelans and other Latin Americans who ask. (MSS 7258-f)

Faulkner’s attentiveness to the tenets of his trip (i.e. exercising a willingness for dialectical, rather than unidirectional, cultural construction) rewarded him upon his return to Virginia with, among other things, Spanish copies of the works of Armas Alfredo Alfonzo and Rómulo Gallegos, sent and inscribed by both authors.

Perhaps most importantly, after being profoundly touched by seeing his works printed in translation and by interacting with a foreign readership knowledgeable of and influenced by his work, Faulkner felt it necessary to use his literary status to implement a program through which Latin American books could be translated into English and published in the United States. In this way, Faulkner’s trip to Venezuela planted the seeds of what would become the William Faulkner Foundation’s Ibero-American Novel Project, a Project that, as Helen Oakley explains in her essay “William Faulkner and the Cold War: The Politics of Cultural Marketing,” “played a vital ideological role in the unfolding drama of Faulkner’s relationship with Latin America.” The Foundation’s statement regarding the project is as follows:

Many novels of the highest literary quality written by Latin-American authors in their native languages are failing to reach appreciative readers in English-speaking North America; and accordingly the William Faulkner Foundation, at the suggestion of William Faulkner himself, is undertaking a modest corrective program in the hope of contributing to a better cultural exchange between the two Americas, with an attendant improvement in human relations and understanding. (MSS 10677)

However, as Faulkner died soon into the Project’s infancy, the Project ran into a host of challenges and difficulties created by the market forces of the United States. In my next post, I will cover in more detail the Ibero-Novel Project, as well as the political and cultural struggles that led ultimately to its failure.

Keep your eyes peeled for Part II, coming soon!

Staff feature: On curating “Faulkner: Life and Works”

This week we feature a guest post from George Riser, special collections staff member and one of the curators of our current exhibition, “Faulkner: Life and Works.” George was responsible for the “Works” portion of the show, and we asked him if he would reflect on the experience.

Last spring, I was asked to participate in the upcoming exhibition, Faulkner: Life and Works, and I accepted with enthusiasm and some trepidation. For I knew Faulkner’s reputation as one of the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century would mean that he is as well one of the most scrutinized. I was charged with displaying the nine holograph manuscripts of Faulkner’s novels the University of Virginia Library holds, as well as dedicating exhibition cases to poetry, to short stories, and an array of ancillary materials — letters, drawings, early drafts, and commentary that relate to each novel, story, or poem displayed. And there was an incredible wealth of material from which to choose at the University of Virginia Special Collections — “an obscenity of riches,” as former curator Joan Crane once noted.

On display in George’s section of the exhibition: Faulkner’s list of acquaintances who might be interested in “The Sound and the Fury” (MSS 6271).

While working on the label text for these works, I thought about the affinity I felt for these stories and novels, and for the hundreds of characters that populate Mr. Faulkner’s fictional county of Yoknapatawpha and his town of Jefferson. And I knew that part of the appeal for me came from a familial connection to the geography and the people of Faulkner’s Mississippi.

My grandfather, Conrad McRae, was born in 1897, the same year as William Faulkner, and grew up in Brandon Mississippi, about two hours south of Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford. They both had connections to the railroads — my grandfather as a ticket agent and conductor, Faulkner through his paternal great-grandfather, who started one of the first railroad lines in Mississippi. I have imagined Faulkner riding the train to, say Clarksdale, my grandfather taking his ticket as he strolled down the aisle, and I’ve wondered if they might have passed each other on the back streets of Memphis on their way to seek out bootleg whiskey during the dry Prohibition era.

My grandfather’s people, the McRaes, came to Mississippi in a wave of nineteenth-century Scotch-Irish immigrants, the same as Faulkner’s McCaslins and MacCallums, and it was no stretch to see members of my extended family fitting quite snugly within the pages of any number of his stories, poems, and novels. As I was growing up, we spent three weeks each summer in Mississippi, and I got to know many of my “Faulkner” relatives — my mother’s Uncle Dick in his falling-down shack back in the remote pine forests east of Jackson, or Uncle Cap, the wall-eyed bachelor who raised goats and lived with his sister, Maggie, who kept a few cows and a henhouse full of laying hens, (a few who had taken up residence on her back porch). And there were many others, as my extended family included a number of would-be Compsons and Snopes, Sartorises and Bundrens, and I sometimes wondered if I too, though now far-flung, might still be considered a Faulkner descendant. And then the realization — we all are.

The romantically torn first page of the manuscript for “A Rose for Emily” (MSS 6074).

“Faulkner: Life and Works” runs through July 7 in the Harrison-Small main gallery. To learn more please visit

Now Open: Reading between the Lines of Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle Series

From 1954 to 1956, at the height of the McCarthy Era and at the time the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education launched the modern Civil Rights movement, Jacob Lawrence painted thirty history paintings encompassing the period from the American Revolution to early westward expansion. Thirteen of the resulting panels from the series, Struggle…from the History of the American People, are currently on display at UVA’s Fralin Museum of Art (September 3 –June 5, 2016).

Lawrence wanted to portray “not only the struggle and contribution of the Negro people, but also…the rich and exciting story of all the people who immigrated to the New World and contributed to the creation of the United States.” His colorful, dynamic, and highly symbolic imagery, paired with titles that are often quotations from historical documents, recasts familiar historical subjects and invites new understandings about the foundation of our country.

In conjunction with this exhibition, the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library is pleased to host a small exhibition featuring speeches, maps, drawings, and books that directly inspired or are historically related to Lawrence’s artworks. Original items from our collectionsare juxtaposed with reduced facsimiles of eight Struggle panels. Six of the panels shown in the Small Library exhibition are on view in their original form at the Fralin.

Like the larger Fralin project, this exhibition was organized by Professor Elizabeth Turner, whose graduate students have spent the last few months combing our collections to find the most salient historical counterparts to Lawrence’s paintings. Graduate students in Art History Chloe Downe and Elyse Justice made the final item selections and composed the layouts and label text.


Shown here is a map of the Battle at Yorktown alongside Lawrence’s panel depicting a fallen British redcoat.


Above Lawrence’s panel, which illustrates the death of Crispus Attucks during the Boston Massacre, is a rare period newspaper account of the event.


This Lawrence panel shows the British troops and Shawnee warriors, including Tecumseh, at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. The hand-colored broadside above it illustrates the Battle of the Thames in 1813, the last battle between Tecumseh’s warriors and General William Henry Harrison’s trooops.


IMG_5338For a new perspective on American history and Lawrence’s works, come see Reading between the Lines of Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle  through May 2016 in the First Floor Gallery.

Exhibition Prep Special: Translating Shakespeare’s Sonnets into…Morse Code?

This week we are pleased to feature the third guest blog post from graduate curatorial assistant Kelly Fleming, who will be sharing selected treats from our upcoming exhibition, “Shakespeare by the Book,” over the coming months. The exhibition opens February 22, 2016.

Most readers of Shakespeare’s sonnets associate his poetry with love. In films and literary works of all kinds, Shakespeare’s sonnets are quoted and used to confirm the love between two people. Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) is probably one of the most popular readings on the wedding circuit. As much as Shakespeare’s sonnets are about love, time is more likely to be the subject of the poet’s meditations. The first seventeen—“the procreation sonnets”—urge a young man to make much of time, to get married, and to procreate so that he can live forever through his children. Many of the sonnets after 17 continue to address, to personify, and to apostrophize time, as these first lines illustrate: “Against that time, if ever that time come” (Sonnet 49); “That time of year thou mayst in me behold” (Sonnet 73); “No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change” (Sonnet 123).

Knowing the sonnets’ preoccupation with time, I completely “nerded out” when I discovered that someone had turned Shakespeare’s sonnets into a watch. My own scholarship has nothing to do with Shakespeare, but every time Molly, our curator here at Special Collections, mentioned the watch to me, I would get so excited that I would say in a high-pitched voice, “But Shakespeare’s sonnets are all about time!” I cannot imagine a more perfect way to represent his sonnets than a watch.

Pictured here is the watch with the instructional booklet open to the title page.

Pictured here is the watch with the instructional booklet open to the title page.

The Sonnets Watch Book is book inside a watch; it is a watch that ticks out Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) and sonnet 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”) in Morse code. It was dreamed up and built by three Seattle teenagers (credited on the watch as “Alex, Clara, and Nicholas”) and published by miniature-book publisher and technologist Robert Orndorff (who happens to be the father of two of the makers). Only eighteenth copies of The Sonnets Watch Book are in existence and number eighteen will appear in our exhibition. Bright lights flicker out the letters and punctuation marks of each sonnet. Even though I can’t understand Morse code, there is something incredibly moving about watching the lights change and knowing that Shakespeare’s words are still slowly being repeated throughout time.

Here is an image of the watch as it ticks out one of Shakespeare's sonnets in Morse code.

Here is an image of the watch as it ticks out one of Shakespeare’s sonnets in Morse code.

Last week, I spent a full hour close reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65 and talking about time with my ENGL 3810 students. We were stuck on the following lines for a while:

O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?

Shakespeare’s answer to this question is his sonnet. Unlike the sea, stone, or shining metals, his “black ink” may be able to withstand the rages of time. His “black ink” will continue to “shine bright” and tell of his love. As my students will tell you, this is exactly what happened. We spent twenty-five minutes of our class on four lines because his “black ink” does still “shine bright” in the history of literature.

Imagine, then, an object that literalizes the hope, the wish of this sonnet. Shakespeare’s words, his “black ink,” actually “[shining] bright” in little yellow, green, and red blinking lights on the face of a watch.

Now, who is excited?

Click on the link below for a video of the watch in action and proof that Shakespeare’s sonnets are now more portable than ever before. The Sonnets Watchbook will be on view—alive and ticking—in “Shakespeare by the Book: Four Centuries of Printing, Editing, and Publishing,” which runs February 22-December 2016 at the University of Virginia Library. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering about the history of literature translated into code, perhaps you would like to see Monty Python’s take on the topic. They  start with Wuthering Heights and go on from there…make sure to stay to the end!:


Exhibition Prep Special: Searching for Shakespeare in Booksellers’ Records

This week we are pleased to feature the second guest blog post from graduate curatorial assistant Kelly Fleming, who will be sharing selected treats from our upcoming exhibition, “Shakespeare by the Book,” over the coming months. The exhibition opens February 22, 2016.

My first two weeks at Special Collections were spent hoisting hulking ledgers from the stacks and placing them gently onto cradles to investigate whether two early booksellers in Virginia sold Shakespeare. After the first day, I found my legs covered in wisps of binding and my hands stained with “red rot” from the ledgers’ leather bindings. Thank goodness for gloves.

Here's what my gloves looked like after several ledgers. Imagine what my bare hands looked like before I put them on.

Here’s what my gloves looked like after several ledgers. Imagine what my bare hands looked like before I put them on.

I combed through the account books of Bell & Co., a printer in Alexandria, Virginia active in the nineteenth century and the Virginia Gazette, a newspaper and printer active in Williamsburg, Virginia in the eighteenth century. My eyes sought any spelling variation of the name “Shakespeare” amidst endless purchases of envelopes and paper. Despite our modern perception that Shakespeare’s works are “classics” and that he is a father of the English language, his place in the literary canon was yet to be defined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As my findings attest, Virginians chose to read a myriad of other things more frequently than Shakespeare.

Only one copy of Shakespeare was sold by the Virginia Gazette in the years 1750–1752 and 1764–1766. Even though David Garrick was busily working to increase the popularity of Shakespeare in London at this time, the colonies seem to have been a step behind. Since Williamsburg was home to the Virginia legislature and the College of William & Mary, it is not surprising that the books sold by the Virginia Gazette were largely educational: Latin grammar textbooks, dictionaries, and religious texts like the Book of Common Prayer. Despite the fact that Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (a book the Virginia Gazette also sold) marks Shakespeare’s works as the first usage of many English words, students were not studying Shakespeare. The education system in the eighteenth century trained students (that is to say, young men) in what they considered the “classics”: philosophical and literary texts from ancient Greece and Rome. When students did read literary texts in English, it seems that they read English epics, which use classical elements to describe contemporary England. The epic works of Milton, Dryden, and Pope, for example, appear numerous times in the accounts of the Virginia Gazette. In addition to English epics, we find our copy of Shakespeare alongside another genre excluded from the education system: the novel. In the ledger in our exhibition, we find popular English novels such as Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa and Tobias Smollett’s Roderick Random.

Page of Virginia Gazette Day Book showing the purchase of Theobald's edition of Shakespeare (MSS 467)

Page of Virginia Gazette Day Book showing a purchase of Theobald’s edition of Shakespeare (MSS 467)

Joseph Hutchings purchased 8 volumes of of Shakespeare "for [his] self" (MSS 467).

The Virginia Gazette records show Joseph Hutchings purchasing 8 volumes of Shakespeare “for [him] self” (MSS 467).

Alongside Shakespeare in the Virginia Gazette Daybook, I found a recorded purchase of two of Samuel Richardson's novels, "Clarissa: Or, the History of a Young Lady" (1747-8) and "The History of Sir Charles Grandison" (1753).

Alongside Shakespeare in the Virginia Gazette records are two of Samuel Richardson’s novels, “Clarissa: Or, the History of a Young Lady” (1747-8) and “The History of Sir Charles Grandison” (1753). (MSS 467)


Alongside Shakespeare in the Virginia Gazette records are many educational texts such as Lilly's Latin Grammar. (MSS 467)

Alongside Shakespeare in the Virginia Gazette records are many educational texts such as Lilly’s Latin Grammar. (MSS 467)

Thanks largely to new performances of Shakespeare plays, Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee, and new editions of Shakespeare works in the eighteenth century, Shakespeare’s words come alive by the nineteenth century. The accounts of Bell & Co. reflect this increasing popularity. I found seven copies of Shakespeare sold at Bell & Co. over the course of the nineteenth century (1809–1899). The specific ledger we are using in the exhibition shows Shakespeare alongside Susanna Rowson’s novel Charlotte Temple, Wordsworth, Cooper’s Virgil, and the Bible.

Bell & Co. sold Shakespeare for "6.50" (MSS 2989).

Bell & Co. sold Shakespeare for “6.50.” Different types of currency were in use in the colonies at this time. Without further research, all we can tell from this record is that it is expensive and suggests that the reader bought a multi-volume set (MSS 2989).

On the same page, Bell & Co. recorded the purchase of Susanna Rowson's novel "Charlotte Temple" and two grammar books.

On the same page as Shakespeare, Bell & Co. recorded the purchase of Susanna Rowson’s novel “Charlotte Temple” and two grammar books. (MSS 2989)

Finally, in the twentieth century, Shakespeare begins to be studied and to be studied as a father of the English language. Today, Shakespeare is probably the most often memorized, most often recited English author in schools. I still can recite the famous speech of Titania’s from A Midsummer’s Night Dream that I memorized in the tenth grade and that begins “Set your heart at rest.” But as the exhibition at the Special Collections Library will show us in February, our hearts do anything but rest when we hear the heartbeat of Shakespeare’s iambs, even four hundred years after his death.


On View Now: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Special Collections holds a collection of more than 1500 items related to this and Charles Dodgson’s other works, such as Through The Looking Glass and various works on logic and mathematics. The portion of the collection relating to Alice is the largest, and includes hundreds of editions as well as parodies, interpretations, and reimaginings of Alice’s adventures from all periods and in many different languages. This collection was built  by U.Va. Professor of Philosophy Peter Heath, who taught at the university from 1962 to 1995. His own book, The Philosopher’s Alice (1974), juxtaposes the novel’s text with Heath’s own philosophical commentary.

In honor of Professor Heath’s collection, undergraduate Wolfe Docent Susan Swicegood curated the mini-exhibition “Happy 150th Birthday, Alice!” Faced with the daunting prospect of selecting just a handful of items from the remarkable Heath collection, Susan decided to focus on how illustrators have envisioned the figure of Alice herself over the course of the book’s publishing history. She did a beautiful job, and has filled three exhibition cases with items to stimulate memories and artistic inspiration for all generations of Alice readers. Here are just a few examples to tempt you:


This detail comes from a pop-up edition advertised as a “come to life panorama.”  With her rosy cheeks and curly hair, this Alice looks more like a cherub than a curious Victorian child. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by A. L. Bowley. (London: Raphael Tuck, [1920s]). (PR 4611 .A7 1920b). Peter Heath Lewis Carroll Collection. Gift of Diana Salcedo and Philip Heath.

Alice parodies use the book’s playful structure as an avenue for political or social commentary. This space-age Alice no longer travels down a rabbit hole, but to a new planet. Renzo Rossott, Alice in 2000, illustrated by Grazia Nidasio. (London : Ward Lock Limited, [1970]) (PR4611 .A72 R68 1970). Peter Heath Lewis Carroll Collection.Gift of Diana Salcedo and Philip Heath.



Alice got a big makeover in the 1970s, as modern printing techniques gave illustrators brighter and more dynamic colors that embody childish imagination, and finally giving Wonderland its psychedelic flair. This beautiful pop-up book displays a fabulous, hippie Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland Retold by Albert G Miller, designed by Paul Taylor, illustrated by Dave Chambers, Gwen Gordon and John Spencer. (New York: Random house [1968]) (PR4611 .A72 M53 1968). Peter Heath Lewis Carroll Collection. Gift of Diana Salcedo and Philip Heath.


The exhibition is broken into three sections: “The Origins of Alice,” which looks at how Alice’s visual identity first emerged, “Alice in the Golden Age of Illustration,” focusing on the lavish aesthetic of the early twentieth century, and “An Alice for Every Generation,” looking at Alices from the 1960s through our own time, with examples ranging from the iconic Disney animation aesthetic to the edgy pen and ink imaginings of Ralph Steadman.


We encourage you to stop by and visit the exhibition, which is on view in the First Floor Gallery through September 18. It’s a visual feast–or should we say, tea party?


McGregor Library 75th Anniversary Exhibition Opens

Entering the exhibition, Collecting American Histories: The Tracy W. McGregor Library at 75.

Entering the exhibition, Collecting American Histories: The Tracy W. McGregor Library at 75.

Seventy five years ago, on June 13, 1938, the University of Virginia Library announced its greatest single gift up to that time: the magnificent 12,500-volume library formed by Detroit philanthropist Tracy W. McGregor. Presented by the McGregor Fund, the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History instantly elevated the U. Va. Library to the top rank of the nation’s great research libraries. The McGregor Fund generously financed construction of the elegant McGregor Room on the second floor of Alderman Library to serve as the collection’s new home. On what would have been Tracy McGregor’s 70th birthday—April 14, 1939—the McGregor Room was formally dedicated.


In celebration of the McGregor gift, and to mark its successful 75-year partnership with the McGregor Fund to care for and enlarge the collection, the U. Va. Library has opened a major new exhibition, Collecting American Histories: The Tracy W. McGregor Library at 75. On display until July 2014 in the main floor gallery of the Harrison Institute and Small Special Collections Library, Collecting American Histories features over 125 rare books, broadsides, manuscripts, maps, and prints from the McGregor Library.

"Expanding Westward," one of the stories explicated in Collecting American Histories.

“Expanding Westward,” one of the stories explicated in Collecting American Histories.

Tracy McGregor built a comprehensive and broad-based collection of primary sources relating to American history, with emphases on the exploration of the New World, British North America, and the early American Republic. Over the past 75 years, with unswervingly generous support from the McGregor Fund, Library curators have more than tripled the collection’s size, adding a major new strength in the early history of the American South. Today the McGregor Library is world renowned for the rarity, quality, and significance of its holdings.

Puritan ministers Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather profoundly influenced the history of colonial New England. Their stories are told here through books, broadsides, manuscripts--even a bookbinding from the family library--from the McGregor Library's superlative holdings.

Puritan ministers Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather profoundly influenced the history of colonial New England. Their stories are told here through books, broadsides, manuscripts–even a bookbinding from the family library–from the McGregor Library’s superlative holdings.

The genius of the McGregor Library is that it documents a multiplicity of histories and not simply a single national narrative. McGregor and the Library’s curators endeavored to build a collection that is neither too broad and lacking in focus, nor too narrow and distorted in viewpoint. Primary sources have been acquired not only for their rarity and significance, but also for their utility in revealing new facets of the American experience.


Collecting American Histories features a range of items selected for the diversity of stories they tell about our nation’s past. Some are famous rarities, while others are less well known and have yet to receive the attention they deserve. Some form part of the original library formed by Tracy McGregor, while others have been acquired as recently as this year. Some offer welcome insights into the past, while others are uncomfortable reminders of more challenging aspects of our nation’s history. The stories told range from the early settlement of Virginia to the Mather family of Puritan ministers; to the clash of Britain, France, and Spain over the North American continent; to the diaspora of Native Americans from their ancestral lands; to the servants and slaves on whose backs the American economy depended; to the boundaries of social order and disorder; and to the impressions of America recorded by visitors from abroad.

Tracy W. McGregor inspecting a book from his library.

Tracy W. McGregor inspecting a book from his library.

Collecting American Histories also relates the fascinating story of Tracy McGregor and his wife Katherine Whitney McGregor. Born in 1869 in Sandusky, Ohio, McGregor left college in 1891 in order to run his late father’s pioneering homeless missions in Toledo and Detroit. Tracy married Katherine, one of Detroit’s wealthiest heiresses, in 1901. Together they devoted most of their fortune to significantly improving the lives of residents in the rapidly growing and industrializing “Motor City.” In 1925, following a tour of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, McGregor resolved to form a collection of rare books and manuscripts pertaining to America’s early history. He built his extraordinary library over a single decade, with the express intention of donating it to a deserving institution. Today the McGregor Fund remains a mainstay of Michigan philanthropy, dispersing over $7 million a year in grants.

The story of how Tracy McGregor formed his magnificent library in little more than a decade is told in this case.

The story of how Tracy McGregor formed his magnificent library in little more than a decade is told in this case.

It has been my privilege to curate the exhibition, and I invite you to come view Collecting American Histories. Those who cannot visit in person will soon be able to browse the exhibition virtually—watch this blog for a link to the online exhibition.

Curating Yoko Ono

Anyone who has ever curated or installed an exhibition of books and manuscripts knows that these materials are inherently impossible to exhibit effectively. While paintings and sculpture are created with the intention of exhibition, most of the artifacts we hold are not. Visitors can only see one page of any multipage document, and artifacts that were made to be held in one’s hands and experienced intimately are relatively far away, usually behind glass. Curators are always looking for ways to transcend these difficulties. We hem and haw over writing lengthy descriptions in labels. If we have funds, we create high-quality facsimiles of hidden pages or even a “page-turner” digital facsimile of the complete artifact.

Who knew effective display could involve smashing china cups to smithereens?

Here is the curator, hard at work.

Here is the curator, hard at work. (Photo by Alicia Dietrich)

I have just finished installing our latest exhibition, “Magazines Unbound: Periodicals as Art 1942-1983.” This project reveals an unexpected strength in our collections: magazines conceived of as formal artistic experiments in and of themselves. Most of the magazines displayed are gatherings of paper or even objects into folders, envelopes, and boxes, rather than bound as books. This makes them, in some ways, ideal for exhibition.

The 1950s west-coast Beat magazine Semina displays beautifully, since most of its contents are loose sheets. (

The 1950s west-coast Beat magazine Semina displays beautifully, since most of its contents are loose sheets. Shown are most of the contents of Semina 8 being prepared for exhibition (PS 580 .S45, Marvin Tatum Collection of Contemporary Literature. Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

But two of the magazines–Aspen and S.M.S.–were venues for conceptual artists in the 1960s, who had a penchant for works of art that remain incomplete without the participation of the reader or viewer. Among the objects included are records and audio and video tapes that need to be played, instructions for writing a poem, templates for boxes that need to be glued together, and a paper doll and candy-wrapper that need to be cut out. What’s a curator to do?

I chose to let all the works stand incomplete with one exception: Yoko Ono’s “Mend Piece for John,” shown below.

Yoko Ono's *****. From S.M.S. 5 (October 1968).

Yoko Ono’s “Mend Piece for John,”. From S.M.S. 5 (October 1968). (N1 .S15, University of Virginia Library Associates Fund. Image by Molly Schwartzburg)

A tube of glue is wrapped with a poem, and attached to a plastic bag with a satin ribbon. Inside the bag is a set of typed instructions:

Take your favorite cup.

Break it in many pieces with a hammer.

Repair it with this glue and this poem.

The poem wrapped around the tube of glue in Ono's piece.

This poem comes wrapped around the tube of glue in Ono’s piece with a rubber band. After unwrapping it to be sure I knew what it included, I took a quick snapshot for reference purposes before carefully rewrapping it. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

How could I resist? A friend was visiting from out of town, so we went out to The Factory, my favorite antique mall out in the Shenandoah Valley, where we selected two cheap but visually appealing teacups. “But wait,” you say. “Didn’t the instructions specify that it be ‘your favorite cup’?” Well…let’s just say I wasn’t ready to make that kind of sacrifice for work. It was still a pretty profound experience.

We prepared to destroy the teacups in my front yard.

We prepared to destroy the teacups in my front yard. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

No tortillas were harmed in the making of this artwork. But it only took one try to shatter each cup. This was the fun part.

No tortillas were harmed in the making of this artwork. It only took one blow to shatter each cup. This was the easy part. (Photo by Alicia Dietrich)


The glueing was fun at first, and then we realized how long it was going to take. We had to sit very still holding each piece for at least 15 or 20 minutes before we could safely let it go. So we sat, talked, glued, talked, and mended. It was wonderful.

The glueing was fun at first, and then we realized how long it was going to take. We had to sit very still holding each piece for at least 15 or 20 minutes before we could safely let it go. So we sat, talked, glued, talked, and mended. It was wonderful. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Here's the final view of the item in the exhibition, with all the other materials in S,M.S. 5.

Here’s the final view of the item in the exhibition, with all the other materials in S.M.S. 5. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

I can’t say that visitors to the exhibit will understand the piece fully just because they can view its final result in the cases. But my friend and I discovered that the process itself, even modified, was wonderfully meditative. There is something about mending a cup, slowly and deliberately, that is itself healing, we discovered. Even if the cup is no longer usable. I’ll look forward to taking these results back home after the exhibition comes down.

You can view Ono’s piece in the exhibition “Magazines Unbound: Periodicals as Art 1942-1983” in the First Floor Gallery until January 5, 2014.

Exhibition Now Open: “Miniature Books and Money”

Come on by Special Collections to see our latest short-term exhibition, “Miniature Books and Money.” Drawing almost entirely from the McGehee Miniature Book Collection, the exhibition features almost 100 miniature books in just two exhibit cases, showcasing some of the ways that one topic–money–can be approached through this 12,000 item collection.

This exhibition is launched as a partner project to an exhibition currently on view at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, Monumental Ideas in Miniature Books 2. Learn more about the VABC show here. You can visit the show at their space “Beneath the Art Box”  at 2125 Ivy Road, Charlottesville. Both exhibitions have been mounted in celebration of the 2013 Virginia Festival of the Book, which runs March 20-24.

Our theme was inspired by an artist’s book by Charlottesville book artist Amanda Nelsen, also featured at the VABC. Her book, entitled Fine Print, investigates the rhetoric of junk mail credit card offers with elegance, artistry, and humor.

“Miniature Books and Money” runs through April 18, and may be found on the First Floor Gallery of the Harrison Small building on the UVa Grounds during standard opening hours.

The exhibit features 79 volumes from the Winthrop Press, who provided tiny paperback editions of short stories to be packaged with cigarettes and other products in the 1910s. Come find out why so many of them are associated with the Catholic philanthropic organization, the Knights of Columbus.

If only we could make miniature labels for miniature books! But we worry about your eyes enough as it is…

One of seventy-nine publications of the Winthrop Press in the exhibit, this book’s gorgeous cover image is cheaply printed.



How to make miniature book mounts with everyday library supplies: An Amateur’s Guide

When you apply for a job as a Special Collections curator, the required skills do not include “arts and crafts.” But an ability to work with your hands comes in handy, so to speak, especially when it comes to putting on small exhibitions on short notice. One of my favorite parts of the job is learning new and unexpected skills that help me to share our collections–especially when it means I get to play around with paper.

London Almanack for the Year of Christ 1791 ([London]: Printed for the Company of Stationers, [1790]. (Lindemann 04137, Photo by Molly Schwartzburg).

This week, I was thrilled to receive a quick and dirty lesson on how to make these simple but effective display cradles, courtesy of our book conservator, Eliza Gilligan. After some mumbled curses and false starts, I had soon produced half a dozen mounts that I believe would make her proud. If you’d like to display your own miniature books, take my lead and follow Eliza’s instructions, which are straightforward and allow you to leave your book safe on the shelf for almost the entire process.

Step One: Gather Supplies

Photo by Molly Schwartzburg

Gather your supplies: rulers, bone folder, scissors, 20-point acid-free board (the weight used to make most collection housings), thin poly strap, narrow double-sided tape, and scissors. You’ll also need a photocopy machine. To get a nice clean cut when you slice your board, I recommend using a board shear, but scissors and a ruler will work in a pinch. Oh, you’ll also need a little book. Please note that these instructions apply only to miniature books, and may not succeed with larger books.

Step Two: Make your Template

Consult with your conservator to determine a safe and healthy opening angle for your book. Hold the book open at this angle, standing upright in your photocopier, so the angle is visible to the camera. Place a straight-edge where the base of the item will be, and photocopy the book. I also included the call tag in my images, since I was photocopying several books at once and didn’t want to get them mixed up.

You’ll end up with an image that looks something like this:

Photo by Molly Schwartzburg

Step Three: Prep your board

Cut a generous strip of board to the exact height of your miniature book. It must be the exact height so you do not place stress on the book’s edge when you strap it to the cradle later in the process. Don’t skimp on length until you know what you’re doing. The shortest of these pieces is plenty long.

Lots of minis, ready to go.  (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Step Four: Make Your Six Folds

OK, now for the fun part. Put your miniature book somewhere safe (the little devils are easy to lose track of!) and clear your workspace. You will now use your photocopy as a template to determine the placement first for the binding to rest, and then for each of the six folds you will create.

Start by marking on either side of the spine–that is, whatever you do not want to rest on an angled surface. Then, use your ruler to mark a line that comes down at a 90-degree angle from just inside the edge of the book’s angled cover. If you line it up with the cover of the book exactly, your cradle will stick out and disrupt the view. Also be sure to keep your lines square with the top and bottom edge of the board. If you do not keep it square at all times, your cradle will be cocked.

Yes, those wavy lines were made with a ruler. I’m a bit embarrassed, but honesty is the best policy. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Fold up. I recommend using a heavy metal ruler for a nice solid edge. The board is stiff, so you’ll have to fudge with your lines to get the fold to rest exactly where you want it to (if this doesn’t make sense to you, try it and I think you’ll see what I mean). Folding is not an exact science. Did you remember to keep it squared up?

Don’t let that pesky cork get in the way of an accurate fold! Turn your ruler upside down for the best result. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Use your bone folder sharpen the edge of your fold.

I don’t know which paper tool I love more: the board shear or the bone folder. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

After you make your first fold, place it over the template to mark the next one, then flatten your paper and mark a fold line, and fold again. Be sure to mark on the inside of your board, since all your marks will fold inward. If this is too difficult, you can mark on the outside and then transfer the mark to the inside.

Be sure that this first fold is at a 90-degree angle when you make your mark for the next fold. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

You will make three folds on each side. Return to the first image in the blog post if you need a reminder of your final goal. Don’t try to keep the first or second fold in place as you go–just turn the whole strip of paper around the template image as you work. You will need to trim excess paper off as you prepare to make your final fold. Be careful not to cut off too much–you’ll want a generous piece to tape to the base. Here’s what you’ll end up with.

Photo by Molly Schwartzburg

Step Five: Adhere Double-sided Tape

Place a line of tape on each of your final sections, on the outer side of your cradle. Fold in and adhere, being sure that your final fold lines up with your spine markers.

Double-sided tape before final placement. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

The next picture shows what your cradle will look like. Actually, it should look a lot better, as this was my first effort. Overall, this cradle is correctly assembled, but you can see the signs of my inexperience. On the right hand side, I did not achieve a right angle in my first fold, probably because I marked my folds inaccurately. The right side was not adhered squarely either; you can see that the folded section of board is not lined up with the edge of the base. As a result, the entire cradle is slightly cocked. I was less than consistent in my use of the bone folder, so the right-angle fold on the left is not solid. Finally, I made a marking error for my final fold on the left, resulting in an extra fold that had to be flattened out. You should expect to make all these errors and more your first time out!

So did I keep this first try for posterity? No way. Into the recycling bin it went. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Step Six: Strap Your Book

Place your miniature book in its cozy new cradle and strap it in, adhering the strap to the cradle. Most regular books require multiple straps to remain safely in a cradle without putting pressure on the text block, but many miniature books are very lightweight and only require one piece of thin strapping on each side. Use your judgment.

Double-sided tape adheres the strapping to your cradle. If you work in a shared space, be prepared to muffle your curses as you try to make this final step, as your fingers will seem too big and the spaces too small to ever get it all in place. Patience, grasshopper. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Step Seven: Admire Your Final Product!

This elegant little almanac is ready to go into the exhibition case, accompanied by its original matching carrying sleeve. Squee! (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

Warning: miniature cradle-making is addictive. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg)

I hope this little tutorial is useful to you. Please let us know in the comments if you decide to use it for your own projects. Many thanks to Eliza Gilligan for her expert guidance. Now, go forth and fold!