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Remarkable Gifts Bring New Riches to Rare Book Room Collection

By Carole Fuller

Mortimer Rare Book Room curator Martin Antonetti says recent gifts to the Smith collection offer the community an opportunity to study´┐Żand to hold´┐Żremarkable and rare books from the past. Photos courtesty of Jim Gipe/Pivot Media

World War II marked a horrific period for Henri Matisse: his marriage was ruined, his health was precarious after surgeries for cancer, and he suffered from persistent insomnia. Yet Matisse referred to his final 14 years as "une seconde vie," a second life, in which he produced the work he believed was his truest expression. Between 1943 and 1944, at the height of Allied bombings over Nice that sent the artist to the countryside, Matisse completed the 20 collaged painted-paper cutouts for Jazz. The flowing lithographed text and brilliant collages illustrate four themes: the French music hall and circus, mythology and legends, images from war with Germany, and the artist's memories of his life and travels. Publisher Tériade promised Matisse that he would render the printed books in the vibrant gouache Matisse used. This proved to be very difficult, and only layers of pochoir stenciling and hand coloring provided the sufficiently intense colors that live on in this striking work.

The ability to hold this book and see, perhaps for the first time, the intensity of color the artist desired is itself a rare experience. Yet it is one that is now available to the Smith community, thanks to the generosity of Ryda Hecht Levi '37, who bequeathed a remarkable collection of nearly 60 artists' books to the Mortimer Rare Book Room (MRBR). Her gift and those of five other recent donors to the rare book room provide new experiences in history, art, science and literature.

Henri Matisse completed the 20 collaged painted-paper cutouts for the printed book Jazz between 1943 and 1944. This striking book, in the intense colors Matisse favored, is considered to be among the most valuable books in the rare book room collection. Click image for more detail and other images from Jazz.

Despite the pervasive shift from print to digital media, courses on the history of the book and its influence in various disciplines, taught by MRBR curator Martin Antonetti, fill rapidly. And faculty from across the curriculum use the rare book collections to provide historical context and background for their courses as well. These recent gifts significantly increase the depth and quality of Smith's collections, particularly in the physical sciences, in classical studies, and 17th- and 18th-century English history and literature.

Tom Derr, who donated a collection of major scientific books, noted that six women in his family, over four generations, went to Smith. In speaking about his motivation for giving, Derr explained, "I mean to honor not only my forebears for whom this college meant so much, but all the long line of those who have gone before us here, whose gifts and endowments have made us what we are, and whose memory and wishes we keep alive when we, too, express our faith in Smith's mission with our own gifts."

Martin Antonetti, lecturer in art and curator of rare books, contributed to this story.

Collection of Works by and About Justus Lipsius

Gift of Mark Morford, University of Virginia professor emeritus of classics and Salloch Fellow in the Mortimer Rare Book Room

Humanist and classical scholar Justus Lipsius (1547–1606) was one of the most learned men of his day and the founding father of Neostoicism, an attempt to combine Stoicism and Christianity into a new philosophy that would dampen political and religious conflicts. His reading and interpretation of rare manuscripts in the Vatican created a rift with the Catholic hierarchy. After renewing his Catholic faith, Lipsius moved to Louvain and produced a number of treatises on subjects such as the cross, fortifications and armaments, the grandeur of Rome, and the goddess Vesta. Mark Morford, who came to the Northampton area following his retirement from the University of Virginia, donated his collection of original editions of the works of Lipsius because he was impressed with the way Smith uses its rare books for pedagogy. Morford is completing his research on the 15th-century printed books in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, a project he has been working on for more than five years, with generous support from the college's Kennedy Endowment.

John Gould, Mammals of Australia, Volume II. Click image for more detail.

John Gould, Mammals of Australia, Volume II

Gift from the estate of B. Elizabeth Horner, Myra M. Sampson Professor Emerita of Biological Sciences

A famous ornithologist and naturalist, John Gould (1804–81) was one of the few artists of his time who traveled to Australia. He produced three volumes (the second devoted entirely to types of kangaroos and wallabies) documenting the wide variety of exotic mammals he found there, beautifully illustrated with hand-colored lithographs. Betty Horner, a mainstay of the biology department for nearly half a century, was also an internationally respected authority on marsupials. During her career she collected many rare scientific works such as this, which are now part of the rare book room's collection.

Isaac Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica

Gift of Thomas Sieger Derr Jr., Smith professor emeritus of religion and ethics

The Principia, published in 1687, is regarded as one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. Newton provided an all-encompassing synthesis of the cosmos, finally proving its physical unity. He showed that all aspects of nature were subject to the universal law of gravitation and could be explained, in mathematical terms, within a single physical theory. It was a grand conception that produced a revolution in human thought, equaled perhaps only by that following the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859.

Early Maps

Click image for more detail.

Gift from the estate of Charlotte Shirley Wyman '48

Charlotte Wyman was an active community volunteer and philanthropist, but her gift of maps seems especially fitting for a woman who traveled extensively for business and pure pleasure. The collection contains maps from the golden ages of Dutch and French cartography (16th to 18th centuries) covering all geographical regions (including a rare celestial map showing the constellations). Looking at these concepts of the then-known world helps inform our understanding of the political and social history that shaped nations and inspired exploration.

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