The Fine Arts Library recently augmented its collection of turn-of-the-century penny pamphlets on selected European painters called ‘Gowan’s Art Books’. These little books – 16mos, actually, ca.25 pages – cost a shilling at the time (around five cents) and were intended to serve as school texts. They were published in Edinburgh and London (and, eventually, Brussels and Lausanne, in French by the father and son team of William B. and Adam Luke Gowans. Despite their plebian intent, these volumes are actually quite charming, with decorated paper covers and photographic reproductions of the paintings by some of the best photographers of the time, such as Thomas Annan and Fritz Hanfstaegel.
These guides came to us from the estate of Henry Edwards Scott, Harvard Class of 1922, who did graduate work in art history at the Fogg and was professor of fine arts at the University of Pittsburgh, Amherst College, and the University of Missouri.
One of the singular, and most generous, book funds available to the Harvard College Library is the one created by Douglass A. Roby, Class of 1965. Although Mr. Roby spent a great part of his career working for the New York City Transit Authority, he was an accomplished scholar, receiving advanced degrees from Yale University and Hunter College and specializing in medieval history. Just before his death in 2001, Mr. Roby established a fund to support library resources that provide a positive portrait of the lives of gay men and women.
One of the purchases made using Roby funds was a periodical called The Male Figure. Bruce of Los Angeles (Bruce Bellas, 1909-1974) was one of the foremost photographers to emerge from the Southern California body-building mail-order catalogue scene of the mid-Fifties and early Sixties. This example of his work, a portrait of Rlee Brewer (not a typo), comes from the journal Bruce produced, published in three dozen tiny chapbooks from 1956 to 1965. In the era before Stonewall and Gay Liberation, when there was the very real chance that anyone purchasing photographs of nude men would be arrested, images of this sort had to be coded to pass as (somewhat) innocent depictions of musculature and exercise in a manner that would make them recognizable to (mostly closeted) gay men and invisible to everyone else.