Friday, 20 July 2007

Spiritual, Special, and Surreal Tuesday, July 17


On Tuesday morning, July 17, our class was privileged to have a private tour of the library at St. Paul's Cathedral by librarian Joseph Wisdom (yes, that's his real name!) We met at the west door and Joe pointed out a bas relief of an open book atop the doorway, which he said symbolizes that ''the word of God is preached here.'' We then climbed a narrow, enclosed staircase to where the ''BBC camerman stands.'' The first room we entered houses the ''Great Model'' of the cathedral, made of oak and plaster in 1673-74, that was proposed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666. It was rejected as ''looking too much like Rome'' but Wren actually pretty much had his way and the final cathedral looks an awful lot like the original model!

An old, musty smell hit us as soon as we entered the library, which contains liturgies, bibles, and books and manuscripts on theology, canon law, civil law, travel, various Latin and Greek subjects, and even numismatics. The library is now open to ''anyone who can make good use of it'' and Joe works there two and a half days a week, along with a few volunteers. Cathedral archives and diocesan records are held in the Guildhall Library, however. Hundreds of the cathedral's books have tape on the spine, holding it together, yet Joe says the textblock is often sound. He showed us a Bodleian Library (Oxford Univ.) catalogue from 1674, with interleaved pages so notations could be added.


Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., I met a group of people from the Linnean Society, including librarians Gina and Lynda, at the staff entrance to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The museum library's head of cataloguing, Diane Tough (yes, that's her real name!), took us to the Rare Books Room of the General and Zoology Library. It is the site of ''Linnaeus 300: A Celebration of the Tercentenary of Carl Linnaeus'' from May through July 2007. The display features material owned by the museum. It is open to museum staff, learned societies, librarians, and in the case of this exhibit, invited guests from the fields of biolgoy, botany, and zoology. (The room is not big enough or secure enough to invite the general public.)

Diane and four colleagues worked hard to curate the display, which ''is a celebration of Linnaeus' monumental achievement at 'creating order out of chaos.' '' I saw the museum's own copy of the first edition of Systema Naturae! There was information on Linnaeus' ''apostles,'' rare books resting on foam book ''cradles,'' botanical and malacological illustrations, and a contemporary poster of Linnaeus done in the ''Chuck Close'' style (see photo at top), to names just a few of the special items.


Months ago, I read that an exhibit titled ''Surreal Things'' would run from March 29 to July 22 at the Victoria and Albert Museum. And since the V & A is next door to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, I popped right over after viewing the Linnaeus display. ''Surreal Things'' is an astonishing show and I am so lucky to have been in London for it! (It next goes to Rotterdam, and then to the Guggenheim in Bilbao in 2008.)

The exhibit features two of Salvador Dali and Edward James's famous Lobster Telephones (in white and orange)! It has a wheelbarrow covered in satin by Oscar Dominguez, many familiar paintings by Joan Miro, a Bed-Cage by Max Ernst, incredible dresses by the legendary Elsa Schiapparelli, and even Dali's Ruby Lips Brooch with pearl teeth!!!! And oh, yes, it also has the famous Mae West Lips Sofa by Dali and James! I just wish the exhibit were staying longer so all of my classmates could have time to see it.

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