Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Inquiring Minds" at the Rosenbach

Most visitors to the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where I am a docent, think of it as a house museum with galleries of changing exhibitions showcasing books, art and artifacts from its collections. But the Rosenbach also functions as a resource for researchers. A new exhibition, curated by Rosenbach registrar Karen E. Schoenewaldt, spotlights the ways in which researchers have recently delved into the collections.

Fifteen projects are represented. Here are a few:

An author of a recent Dracula novel studied the Rosenbach's notes for Dracula, composed by Bram Stoker over seven years, for characters and plot threads not used in the final version.

The assistant general manager of a local gourmet foods store is using the Rosenbach's "Mr. Allen's method of curing bacon" to reproduce a 19th-century version of the food.

A student at the Moore School of Art, who came to the Rosenbach to research Maurice Sendak and music for an art history class, ended up using his illustrations from Outside Over There as inspiration for her final fashion collection. A dress from her show is on display and is a major crowd-pleaser.

A biographer, using the Rosenbach's extensive Marianne Moore collection, discovered that Moore's interest in the philosophy of William James and the novels of his brother Henry may have had its roots in her college crush on William's daughter Peggy at Bryn Mawr.

And so on.

For each project, the exhibit provides the Rosenbach source material, a description of the research and the final work. This gives visitors unusual insight into scholarly and creative inspiration and process. For those works which cannot be fit into a glass case, there is a computer terminal-- where, for instance, you can see the fashion show mentioned above or read my blog, "Rebecca Gratz & 19th-Century America," which is among the projects covered.

The examples I have chosen highlight a Rosenbach policy: although many academics use its collections, you need not be one to gain access to them. Click here for more information about research at the Rosenbach.

The exhibition will run through March 25, 2012.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Visitors at the Hebrew Sunday School

In the summer of 1840, Rebecca wrote to a niece about an occurrence at a recent session of her Sunday School. Just as school was beginning, two men entered the classroom. They said that the children outside had invited them in and asked if they might stay. Rebecca gave her permission.

As the classes ended the older of the two men stood up and asked if he might speak. He and his companion, he said, were Seventh-Day Baptists (a Protestant denomination, in general agreement with other Baptists except for the proper day for the Sabbath which they observe on Saturday).

The man told how he had been ridiculed since his youth for keeping Saturday "like the Jews." Now he "felt happy there were communities of Israelites spread over the land...he deemed it a privilege to keep their holy Sabbath [and] prayed God would bless them." His words, Rebecca wrote, impressed the children. The two men then quietly left.

(For an anecdote about a Jewish visitor to the Sunday School, click here.)

(This letter is in the Miriam Gratz Moses Cohen Papers, No. 02639, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)
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