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University Libraries - News, Events & Exhibits

Art in the Library: Original Artwork in the Collections of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections Gallery, Hollings Library
Oct 1, 2013 - Jan 10, 2014


A special collections library is primarily a repository for printed and manuscript
materials. But collections (and collectors) grow and develop in diverse and occasionally
fascinating ways. As a result, items in our library’s collections include a wide array of
physical objects – or realia, as curators call them – along with a surprising amount of
original artwork. Together with significant collections of art prints and medals, the Irvin
Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
also houses numerous paintings,
drawings, art photography, and sculpture.

Much of the artwork on display in this exhibition came to the library through the
collectors and collections of authors who we aim to acquire comprehensively, such as
John Milton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other pieces were acquired
individually, either to supplement a collection or area of interest, or have come to us
as often unexpectedly generous gifts, such as the Koblenzer portraits of John and Sara
Milton and the O’Bryan Churchill landscape.

The main goal of this exhibition is to showcase the many works of original art in
our collections that are not frequently seen by the casual visitor. Indeed, an exhibition
with this focus has never before been mounted in the libraries. Because of the diversity
of subject matter, as you move through the gallery you may find some interesting
juxtapositions of materials spanning several centuries. We hope it will both surprise and
delight. It might be best to think of this exhibition as a “cabinet of artistic curiosities.” But
just as a rare printed book can be thought of as an object of material culture, something
created out of a very specific combination of historical, economic, and aesthetic forces,
so too can we consider these artworks as contributing to the larger literary and historical
archive that is our collection. The original artwork in this library will never rival that
found in McKissick Museum (nor should it), but it serves instead to add depth and
context to the rare and unique materials available here for study and research in the Irvin

So in this exhibition, you will find: watercolors by an English Poet Laureate; nineteenth-century
book illustrations; doodles by famous authors; an early seventeenth-century
English portrait with an interesting provenance; and a landscape by Winston Churchill,
among many other surprises.

                        -- Jeffrey Makala, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections