Monday, January 5, 2009

New York Public Library

I am not a native New Yorker, but I try to make the best of it, living here. That's a joke! But in truth there are several places in the U.S. that I can imagine myself in. Mostly this has to do with domestic realities: large supermarkets! dishwashers! yards planted with flowers! barbecues on the patio! the sound of birds outside your window when you wake up in the morning!

But here I am, married to a real New Yorker (from the Bronx, at that). It's not bad at all.

We live half a city block from Riverside Park and the Hudson River, which is our back yard, particularly in summer, when we kayak a lot. (Central Park, says Rick, is for tourists, though we spend a lot of time there, too.) We are volunteers at the Downtown Boathouse Organization, which puts the public into kayaks on the Hudson in the summer. Yes, it really is clean enough to kayak. Last year, I even did a circumnavigation of Manhattan.

One of my favorite hangouts, however, is the New York Public Library, where I do most of my research on world literature. I have my own shelf and quiet work space in the Wertheim Room, named by Barbara Tuchman, who was a scholar at the Library, in honor of her father. The Library also holds exhibitions, including one last year on "John Milton at 400." I gave a talk in the accompanying lecture series, on the subject of Milton in Germany in the 18th century. 

So, whenever I want to take a break from work in the Wertheim Room, I wander down to one of the exhibitions, all of which draw on the rich resources of the Library. These days I am captivated by "Art Deco Design: Rhythm and Verve." The image above of the lady in the gorgeous evening dress, a photomechanical print by Paul Poiret from 1924, is from that exhibit. The intense colors of many Art Deco prints derived from a painstaking hand-applied technique, called pochoir, which used stencil plates. The hues were added separately until the composition attained the highly tactile look we associate with these prints. Interestingly, the term "Art Deco" was only coined in 1968. Manhattan of course is the city of Deco architecture, as in this decoration from Radio City Music Hall.

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