“So, eisha,” you ask, “what exactly does an Exhibition Coordinator in a rare book & manuscript library DO?”
Why, thanks for asking. Let me try to explain.
Our division has a very nice little gallery, where we put up two major exhibitions a year. We also do a few mini-exhibitions in other locations – usually just a case or two for a special event or anniversary. Occasionally we host a travelling exhibition (like the one we did of book artist Werner Pfeiffer’s works a while back). Here he is arranging his artist books in one of our display cases:
Or sometimes we display items we’ve borrowed from a private collection (like our current exhibition from Jay Walker’s Library of the History of the Human Imagination). That’s the one where I got to touch a Sputnik:
But the majority of our exhibitions are curated by one of our staff members from our own collections. As the Exhibitions Coordinator, I’m kind of like a project manager. I don’t usually select the materials or write the text – that’s the curator’s thing. I do all the practical stuff, like consulting with our conservation department on what treatment the objects might need before they go on display, and getting everything photographed for the website, and getting the text formatted, printed and mounted… Not very glamorous, and like any big deadline-oriented project it can be pretty stressful. But, hey, I get to touch Sputnik. Hell, I even got to go to Jay Walker’s house. Here’s the special library he built for his collection, with a little help from Disney on the lights and music:
This fall, though, I’m putting on my big girl panties and actually curating a major exhibition of my own. The working title is “Wardrobes and Rabbit Holes: a Dark History of Children’s Literature,” and it is (I hope) going to be awesome. Of course, it’s also a LOT of work. Thankfully, I don’t have to do everything myself – I’m lucky enough to have assistance from the lovely and talented Jillian Piccirilli, who has worked with us on a couple of exhibitions (on the art of Alison Mason Kingsbury and the Jay Walker one), and has so far kept me from curling up fetal under my desk, panicking under the crushing enormity of everything that has to be done by November 7th. Here she is, helping me go through our list of books in the exhibition prep room, about to do some case layout mock-ups.
We have a table in the prep room with the case dimensions taped out on it, and we lay out the items for a specific case, figuring out what page we want the books opened to for display, arranging them to make sure it all fits together, and making notes on any holes that want filling. I have to say, we’ve got some good stuff so far. For example, this charming little book of child martyrs:
Here’s a selection of Cinderellas (clockwise from top left: American, ca. 1840; French, 1900, illustrated by Arthur Rackham; and a facsimile of the earliest American printing, ca. 1800):
And this is one of my favorite finds so far. It’s a 1790s chapbook of Sleeping Beauty that just happens to be bound next to a collection of Scottish proverbs from the same era. Just TRY to keep from reading them aloud. I DARE YOU.
So, there’s kind of a taste of what I’m up to lately. I’ll show you more cool things as I go, but I don’t want to give all the goods away before we open, so really… you should just come see it. Road trip, anyone? C’mon, I’ve even got a sofabed.