Saturday, 14 July 2012

Victoria and Albert Museum: The National Art Library

Our tour guides were Sally Williams and Francis Willis.  Both are wonderful ladies and Francis especially was very generous in allowing us to touch and handle items from the special collections. It was a great gesture!  The fact that I can truthfully say that I have carefully flipped through the pages of a tortoise shell bound Bible in which only 20 are known to be in existence is an awesome honor.  It was amusing to see the artist books; once I had reach a full understanding of what they are.  I can say that I have turned the pages of an original Charles Dickens manuscript.  How many people can say they have done that?  Fan or no fan of Charles Dickens, that is just incredible.  No one can deny the great footprint that he has made in literature. I have never actually seen anything of the sort before.  I especially enjoyed the creativity in the 'Dirt Book'.  The pages were so original, tangible and colorful.  The 'Book of Nails' was just utterly amusing.  Some may think that something like that is not art but they would be gravely mistaken.  That is just plain creative and I could easily argue that the said person is jealous that they did not think up the idea themselves first.   The visit was just great and the National Art Library is in great hands with Sally and Francis. It is obvious that they enjoy what they do each and every minute of every day.  I really appreciated the hands on aspect that came along with this visit.  I was greatly surprised that we were allowed to touch everything they showed us.  These were classic, historical pieces.  I was allowed to touch the pages; to flip through them.  Wow.,r:21,s:0,i:140

The National Art Library serves a dual purpose as a public reference library and curatorial department for the actual museum.  One of the more impressive materials in the special collections belongs to the Forster Collection.  The most famous part of the collection is original manuscripts of nearly all of Charles Dickens books.  I was fortunate enough to be able to flip through the pages of Bleak House; corrected proofs.  Dickens and Forster were great friends and Dickens relied on Forster’s input in regard to his writing; thus the manuscripts being in his possession.  Great care and efforts were made in order to preserve the condition of the manuscripts.  This link will take you to a description of the Forster Collection accessed through the National Art Library Online Catalog. 
I must say that the National Art Library Online Catalog is very, very impressive.  I would have to say that it is the best one I have ever used personally.  I also like that the fact that articles and other libraries are linked to the catalog as well.  The online catalog available to the public would not be possible without the National Art Library Heritage Project. 

The following link does a great job at providing a comprehensive description of the library’s overall collection.  It is quite vast and I would never come close to giving it justice with a simple description.

General Bits of Information
  •     About 1 million books are in the collection
  •     No items are ever weeded out of the collection
  •     The library is teamed up with the Painting and Drawing collections making them the largest department in the museum
  •     A large portion of the collection acquisitions are gifts/donations. For example the well-known Forster Collection which includes Charles Dickens’ manuscripts. 
  •     60% of the collection is foreign language
  •     The special collection ranges from medieval items to the present and consists of about 4,000 'art books' meaning books that are created by actual artists meaning them to be pieces of art
  •     The Forster Collection of 18,000 items was donated.  Several Charles Dickens original manuscripts were part of the collection.  Most of these items are prized possessions of the library.
  •     The library was built in 1884. The physical building mostly has not changed.  There are still the original shelves.
  •     The original library itself was first at Somerset house
  •     The conception of the library originated from the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in 1852
  • The library houses a large collection of children’s books dating back to the 16th century.  These number about 100,000 books.  The Renier Collection comprises over 80,000 books.  The collection contains major authors and artists along with various genres. 
  • The National Art Library has the world’s largest collection of Beatrix Potter drawings, manuscripts, correspondence and photographs.  A large portion of the collection was generously given to the V & A by Leslie Linder; a Beatrix Potter scholar. 
 After our tour, I was able to wonder around the museum.  Having a huge interest in everything fashion, I went through the fashion exhibit.  I could look at dresses all day long and be happy.  If only the ball gown exhibit was free. I did visit the History of Jewelry Exhibit extensively.  It was very interesting and awesome to see such great examples of jewelry throughout history.  As most people know I love fashion especially jewelry so I was very much a kid in a candy store.  The displays ranged from necklaces, rings, pendants, crowns, bracelets and much more.  The way everything was displayed was like a timeline so it was really neat seeing the evolution of jewelry.  The link will lead you to a description of the exhibit I saw along with photos of jewelry that I was lucky enough to see! The article is quite fascinating and does a great job illustrating what I saw in the exhibit.  It was actually great reading through it.  It took me back to when I was actually looking at it all!

I can’t stress it enough.  The V & A is rich is history; especially the library.  I was very surprised by what the National Art Library was in possession of.  I honestly believe that if I were to begin working there I would just roam around for days in absolute awe of all the items in the collection.  They are housing some of the greatest representation of literary history.  This library is a perfect example of a library greatly benefiting from the generous donations of others.  

Also one last addition.  I do have to mention that the food trays in the food court area (which closely resembled fine dining) were really pretty.  I never would have thought I would actually describe a food tray as lovely and delicate but apparently the V & A can even make a food tray a piece of art! If only they were a free token of my visit to the museum. 

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