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Ben Shahn at Harvard

Ben Shahn at Harvard Commencement 1957


The Fine Arts Library holds the collection of Stephen Lee Taller devoted to the American artist Ben Shahn (1898-1969). The Archive contains many thousands of items related to the artist’s work, including books written by and illustrated by Ben Shahn, magazines in which his work was featured, exhibition and auction sales catalogues, commercial work (book jackets, record jackets, advertisements), dissertations, and newspaper clippings. An image inventory attempts to record every know work by the artist.

A separate portion of the Taller Archive held by the Harvard Art Museums includes drawings and graphic work.  The Museums also hold Shahn’s entire archive of photographic negatives.   All of those works may be viewed in the Museums’ collections database.

Shahn presented the 1956-57 Charles Eliot Norton lectures, published as The Shape of Content.  He also received an honorary degree from the University in 1957.

Camerawoman revealed

Capital, San Pedro la Rua cloister, Estella, Spain. Arthur Kingsley Porter Collection.

The Fine Arts Library holds a collection of over 10,000 photographs of European medieval monuments taken by Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter (1883-1933)  in the 1920s.   The Porter collection includes negatives as well as prints and served as the basis for several of his noted publications such as Romanesque sculpture of the pilgrimage roads (1923).

Kathryn Brush, Professor at the University of Western Ontario,  has studied Porter’s work in depth and  recently focused on the role played by Lucy Wallace Porter (1876-1962) in her husband’s photographic campaigns.  There is reason to believe that Mrs. Porter took many of the images and even that she may have been the more accomplished photographer.  It is of course difficult to attribute responsibility in the absence of detailed shooting records.  It was rewarding therefore to locate  this image of Mrs. Porter behind the camera as evidence of her efforts.


A Medieval Islamic Bestiary

We have a new addition to the Fine Arts Library’s collection of facsimile editions of illuminated manuscripts. The facsimile in this case reproduces the  Kitāb al-Manāfi‘ al-Ḥayawān (The Book on the Usefulness of Animals), a collection of texts classifying and describing the varieties of wild and domestic animals, compiled by the medieval Arab scholar Ibn al-Durayhim al-Mawṣilī (1312-1361) and illustrated during his lifetime with 91 miniatures, probably in Mamluk Syria.



The work is of great importance for the history of Islamic painting, since it is one of the few illustrated codices of the Mamluk period that can be securely dated and linked to a known author. The autograph manuscript is held by the Royal Library of the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, near Madrid, Spain. No other copies are known.




This full facsimile edition of Ibn al-Durayhim’s Book on the Usefulness of Animals, accompanied by a scholarly translation of the text by Carmen Ruiz Bravo, was issued in 1990 by a small Spanish publisher that went out of business soon thereafter. As a result, few copies of this facsimile made their way into the collections of academic and research libraries. Only one copy is recorded outside of Spain, and until the Fine Arts Library acquired its copy none were held by institutions in North America.

Embroidery as artist’s tool

Candace Hicks. Common threads

The Fine Arts Library recently acquired a unique artist’s book made from fabric with decorations and text created exclusively through embroidery.  Candace Hicks is a Texas-based artist who elevates a common copy book by recreating it with stitchery.  Common threads (2011) is one of several sewn books Hicks has made in recent years.

For more information about this and other books in our artists’ book collection, please contact us.


Exhibition Catalog as Artist’s Book

Byars catalogue

Here are photographs of the unassuming and enigmatic interior of a recently acquired 1977 James Lee Byars catalogue, issued to accompany an exhibition at the Städtisches Museum Mönchengladbach in Germany.  A gold box contains a sheet of crumpled black tissue paper with “TH FI TO IN PH” printed in gold, short for ’THe FIrst TOtally INterrogativ PHilosophy’.  Johannes Cladders’ essay is printed inside the box.

Byars’ object is merely the latest addition to our collection of over a dozen Mönchengladbach catalogs edited or assembled by Cladders in the 1970s and issued in challenging formats such as boxes, scrolls, and portable cases and featuring the work of iconic conceptual artists like Marcel Broodthaers, Giulio Paolini, Daniel Buren, and Jannis Kounellis.

Surrealist newsletter acquired

The Fine Arts Library recently purchased a set of four issues of 14, rue du Dragon, the short-lived newsletter of the Cahiers d’Art. The title came from the address of the larger journal’s offices, located
in Saint Germain-des-Pres and just around the corner from the Café des Deux Magots, a popular hang-out in the thirties for the Surrealists and their literary friends.

We have four of the five issues that were published in  the spring of 1933 (a fifth issue, and an index, were published in 1935). Each issue is an octavo, folded from one sheet, and includes two inserts – one sheet of advertisements for local cultural businesses and a pink flier touting the Cahiers. The texts are generally reviews of films and theatre, excerpts from novels, poems, and notices of gallery shows, plus at least one large black and white photograph of a work of art produced by one of the Surrealists or French Modernists.

Art Museum Class

The Harvard Art Museums Archives recently completed  a processing project, generously funded by The Getty Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  In the process of cataloging its major holdings from 1895-present, the Archives has uncovered some wonderful documents. The following represents material found during this project.

1944 photograph showing Paul J. Sachs (left of center) teaching “The Museum Course”

Paul J. Sachs was the first assistant museum director of the Fogg Museum and Harvard professor. He graduated from Harvard in 1900 and lectured at Wellesley College in 1916. Sachs became an Assistant Professor of Art at Harvard in 1917 and became a full Harvard professor in 1927. During his time at Harvard, he began developing his art collection, spending a great deal of time traveling, visiting museums and observing art trends. In 1915, Edward W. Forbes asked him to join the museum staff, and in 1923, Sachs became Associate Curator, remaining in this position until his retirement in 1948.

In 1922, he began teaching his most famous course, “Museum Work and Museum Problems,” commonly referred to as “the Museum Course.”

A list, compiled by Sachs, of former students who went on to become prominent figures in the art world museums.

Through the Museum Course, Sachs taught the history and philosophy as well as the administrative and organizational aspects of museums and curatorial work. He taught the finer aspects of collection development, donor relations, forgery detection and ethics. Students in the course were able to take trips to visit museums and private galleries.  Many of his students later went on to direct the county’s major art museums.



First page of notes from Paul J. Sachs September 29, 1930 Museum Course class

Analytical art

Who knew, in the summer of 1971, that the newest hotbed of art theory would be born, and grow up, in the villages of Chipping Norton and Leamington Spa and the industrial city of Coventry, twenty miles apart from each other and over one hundred miles northwest of London, the supposed center of British contemporary art? For it was there that David Rushton and Philip Pilkington – first-year students in the Fine Arts course at the Faculty of Art & Design, Lancaster Polytechnic – published the two (and only) issues of Analytical Art, rare copies of which have just now entered the Fine Arts Library collection.

Rushton and Pilkington quickly dissolved their work into the larger mission of ‘Art & Language’ group. (The entire text of the introduction to the last issue of the journal is: This is the final issue of Analytical Art. The editors will subsequently be publishing in Art & Language). Together with Terry Atkinson and most especially Charles Harrison they went on to make the discussion of conceptual art central to the critical dialogue of the seventies.


On The ‘Radar”

William Burroughs, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe (1982)


The Fine Arts Library has recently acquired a complete, boxed set of the art journal RADAR, which was published in Switzerland between 1982 and 1988. This German language publication highlights the contemporary art scene in Europe and beyond; each issue includes an original photograph. In addition to this Mapplethorpe, this set features work by Gerard Malanga, Victor Bokris, and others.

To learn more about this title, please see this link:|libra…

“Radar” can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room of the library.


Lewis Rubenstein Murals, 1937

Sketch for controversial Busch-Reisinger mural

The Harvard Art Museums Archives recently completed  a processing project, generously funded by The Getty Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  In the process of cataloging its major holdings from 1895-present, the Archives has uncovered some wonderful documents. The following represents material found during this project.

Painter, educator and muralist, Lewis Rubenstein attended Harvard University (class of 1930), and later became professor of painting at Vassar College in 1939. He was commissioned to create murals by the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Fogg Museum at Harvard, as well as the Jewish Center in Buffalo, N.Y., and the Wareham, Mass. Post Office for the WPA’s Section of Fine Arts in 1940.

The murals painted in the (now) Busch-Reisinger Museum in 1930 proved to be quite controversial. The murals, unveiled in 1937, portray characters Niebelung and Ragnarok of German legend. According to the artist, the characters in the murals are depicted in modern accessories to show the current threat to world peace for that time: fascism. Rubenstein stressed that the murals were, “frescos based on Germanic/Norse legends and used to make commentary on world events not to represent any specific figures.”

The Germanic legend called the Nibelungenlied or “The Song of the Nibelungs” is an epic poem written in Middle High German. It is a four-part story of heroic motifs about a dragon slayer whose death is avenged. The two main characters, Niebelung and Ragnarok are depicted in Rubenstein’s work.This October 31, 1935 article from The Crimson describes the controversial nature of the work. Many people felt that Rubenstein’s mural was a political commentary on Germany’s Socialist regime because the Nazi invasion of Poland occurred two years prior to the unveiling. To many, the mural itself was considered an “insult to the leader of foreign nation.”

The murals were covered by paneling from 1964 until 1980, when Rubenstein requested it be removed in honor of his 50th class reunion.

Crimson article describing Rubenstein’s mural






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