Monday, August 18, 2014

A View of the Past

It is always interesting to learn how researchers use the material we make available to them at the Library Company. Obviously, many academics visit us to examine books, documents, and images for use in scholarly publications, but our researchers are not limited to scholars.  Our historical resources have also served as inspiration to filmmakers, playwrights, and artists. Check out past blogs about some of these projects at; and  One Philadelphia artist Paul MacWilliams recently shared with me this reproduction of his monumental (50 x 70) oil on linen, Pennsylvania Statehouse, 1776, based on more than three years of research at local  repositories including the Library Company of Philadelphia. 

 Mr. MacWilliams, who holds a degree in illustration from the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), used late 18th century Philadelphia maps, prints, and other visuals to research the landscape of the city looking north from Independence Hall. He also read through John Fanning Watson’s Annals of Philadelphia to gain a better understanding of life in the colonial city. Outbuildings, gardens, even horse droppings in the street are meticulously rendered in his work which took three years to paint. Mr. MacWilliams also painted a companion piece depicting the view from the same vantage point in the 21st century.

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hunting for Werewolves at LCP

Today we think of werewolves as a pretty common trope from the Wolfman to Twilight.  However, they are just one species in the supernatural cannon.  The Library Company holds a host of books dealing with witchcraft, sorcery, spirits and ghosts, but surprisingly werewolves are a scarce breed.  

While cataloging older stack books, I came across a 1920 bibliography put out by the New York Public Library called A List of Works Relating to Lycanthropy. 
New York Public Library. A List of Works Relating to Lycanthropy.
New York: New York Public Library, 1920.
This seven-page pamphlet contains books in English, French, German, and Latin ranging in date from 1590 to the early 1900s.  Compiler George F. Black did not subscribe to the belief in werewolves, calling them “a terrible form of superstition,” which “arose from instances of human savagery.”  While short, this bibliography holds a good number of entries and even goes so far as to include information on what chapters and pages in each volume a reader can find information on werewolves.  The earliest account, published in London in 1590, is A Moste True Discourse, Declaringe the Damnable Lyfe and Deathe of One Stube Peeter, a Highe Jermayne Borne, a Sorcerer; Who, in the Likeness of a Wolfe, Committed Many Murders, 25 Years Together; and for the Same was Executed in the Cuttue of Bedbur, Near Coleyn, the 31 of Marche, 1590.  It is also one of the few (in English at least) that seems to deal seriously with the idea of werewolves as fact.  Another example is Beauvoys de Chauvincourt’s  Discours de la Lycanthropie ou de la Transmutation des Hommes en Loups from 1599.  However, as early as 1615, texts like J. de Nynauld’s De Lycantrhopie, Transformation, et Extase des Sorciers were being published which refuted the idea of werewolves as fact.  There are many texts listed in this bibliography from the 1800s that explore the mythos and origins of werewolves in folklore.  

Peter James Begbie. Supernatural Illusions.
London: T.C. Newby, 1851.
Intrigued by this find, I tried to locate other books in the library’s collections on lycanthropy.  After searching the catalog and perusing the shelves, I finally stumbled upon Major P. I. Begbie’s 1851 Supernatural Illusions, a book on various creatures of the night including kelpies, witches, will-o’-the-wisps, spirits, and werewolves.  Like other authors writing on the occult Begbie calls these superstitions “absurdities,” prefacing his book as a partial translation of an earlier text by Dr. Jacob Brรคuner.  

Here is what I’ve learned from reading Begbie.  Historically werewolves were considered creatures “discarded from Satan’s livery stables.”  The whys and hows of werewolves have changed over time, going from a man throwing “his soul headlong into the carcase of a wolf, leaving his own body, for the time being, inanimate on the ground” to “false apparitions conjured up by the devil.”  Witches are apparently the natural enemies of werewolves and “cease not to persecute them.”  Begbie claims werewolf lore comes from disgruntled wives accusing their husbands of lycanthropy to be rid of them, and since wives are naturally witches, they must be a gentleman-wolf’s greatest enemy!  He also brings up the concept that women can turn into cats, who then cause all sorts of mischief for men.  

Both Begbie and Black presented werewolf lore as a superstitious subject to study, giving examples and accounts to look at, but dismissing them as wild tales.  I will admit to being slightly disappointed that I did not find more “true” accounts of werewolf attacks or how to spot them.

These were the only books in the library that I could find easily that shed light on the myth or “reality” of werewolves.  How many other lycanthropic books might be lurking in the stacks, waiting to be discovered?  Perhaps if we shed a bit of moonlight on them, they might be easier to find!

Emma Ricciardi
Summer Reading Room Assistant

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Catalogers: Art Historical Detectives

August Kollner, The Elms, etching. Gift of Clarence Wolf.

The Elms, an etching by Augustus Kollner, initially seemed like it would be a relatively straightforward work to catalog.  The artist’s name, title and date, 1844, were all printed beneath the image. 

However, in a cataloger’s world of art historical mysteries, things are not always as they seem.  Woven among blades of grass on the lower border of the print and barely visible to the naked eye is another date: 1896.  

So which date is correct?  For the answer we must look back into Kollner’s biography.

Augustus Kollner moved to Philadelphia in 1840 and spent his first few years traveling throughout the East Coast making sketches of the scenery.  He also created watercolors and drawings during his explorations of the Philadelphia area.  It seems likely that Kollner sketched the idyllic riverside scene depicted in The Elms during this time; an assumption confirmed by the 1844 date.  However, later in life Kollner made oil paintings, watercolors, and prints of his earlier sketches.  In addition to labeling these later works with the date they were created, Kollner would also include the date of the original drawing.  This leads to the very confusing situation of two works of art made by the same person, of the same scene, but inscribed with two conflicting dates.

A little more digging reveals another clue to this mystery.  In the collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, there is a watercolor drawing by Kollner called The Elm Tree Opposite Laurel Hill.  It depicts the same scene as the etching at the Library Company: a grouping of tall trees on a riverbank with a stone building on the right.  This drawing is also dated 1844.  Given Kollner’s unusual system for dating his works, it is safe to say that the Free Library’s watercolor was created in 1844 and the Library Company’s print was made in 1896, when Kollner revisited his previous work. 

In fact, Kollner did not just copy his previous drawing into another medium; he made a few key changes when he revisited the work over 50 years later.  He populated his etching with a boat on the river, two men conversing in front of the trees and woman standing on the wooden balcony of the stone building.  He also identified the building as the Falls Hotel by labeling the sign on the building (which is present in the drawing, but left blank).  With these changes, Kollner situates the scene in a more specific location - the neighborhood of East Falls, across the Schuylkill River from West Laurel Hill Cemetery.   

With a magnifying glass and a bit of research this art historical mystery is solved.

Alison Van Denend
IFPDA Foundation Curatorial Intern, Summer 2014

See Nicholas B. Wainwright, “Augustus Kollner, Artist” in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. LXXXIV. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1960. 325-351.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mellon Scholars Program: Tools for Success

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

My name is Michael Dickinson, and I am a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Delaware. I recently had the pleasure to serve as the graduate research advisor for the Mellon Scholars Program alongside Program Director Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar and LCP Curator Krystal Appiah. During the third week of June, the program held a week-long workshop for a select group of students interested in research and graduate study in African American history, literature, and library science. Workshop participants attended an array of professional development seminars intended to explain and familiarize students with the graduate school application process including drafting a successful personal statement and curriculum vitae, applying for academic funding, selecting recommenders, and graduate school admission procedures.  Moreover, workshop activities familiarized students with tools for success at the graduate level including time management, writing sophistication, and the utility of academic mentorship.

Menika Dirkson, Maria Esther Hammack, Harvey Long, Jessica
 Wicks, Sherri Cummings, Kwasi Agyemang, Michael Dickinson,
JaMarcus Underwood, Tasha Martinez, and Leroy Jones, Jr.
The two sessions I led were dedicated to navigating graduate school and editing a personal statement. I was truly impressed at the engagement and enthusiasm of the participants. "How should I approach the large amount of reading material required in graduate school?" "How do I make my personal statement stand out?" "What challenges should we expect in graduate school?" These were just a few of the questions I received. Clearly the students were eager to learn and full of curiosity. Over the course of the week, I also led the group on a number of trips to historical resources beyond the Library Company, including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, MotherBethel A.M.E. Church, and Temple University's Blockson Afro-American Collection.

Harrison Graves, Maria Esther Hammack, Jessica Wicks, Kwasi Agyemang,
and Blockson archivist Leslie Willis-Lowry at the Charles L. Blockson
Afro-American Collection at Temple University
On each of these excursions, Mellon Scholars could be found eagerly taking notes or photographs. Each of the locations was chosen as an institution likely to aid in the participants' intellectual and academic development. Throughout the week, students became increasingly aware of the depth of historical resources for early African American history held at the Library Company and throughout Philadelphia.

The program hosted a number of research presentations to provide students with opportunities to engage in formal scholarly discourse. The Mellon Scholars briefly conducted research at the Library Company as well in order to gain experience researching in archival collections. Each participant was given a topic supported by primary source material held at the Library Company. Specifically, each Scholar was assigned a historical African American figure or organization along with a larger theme to examine for the exercise. For example, one student was assigned African American activist Octavius Catto as a window into early black political activity. With the assistance of the LCP and Mellon Scholars Program staff, the students were able to uncover valuable source material.  Participants then presented their findings in a conference-style format on the final day of the workshop. The presentations were both engaging and impressive, especially given the limited time students had had to conduct archival research. The quality of the final projects as well as the enthusiasm demonstrated by the students throughout the week surely attested to their excitement for the program, passion for early African American studies, and gratitude for the opportunity to research at the Library Company of Philadelphia. It was truly my pleasure to work with such a talented and passionate group of students through the Mellon Scholars Program.

Michael Dickinson
Mellon Scholars Graduate Research Advisor, Summer 2014