Global Encounters in Worcester

We know how to keep busy in the dead of winter here at the American Antiquarian Society.  In late 2012 Patricia Johnston, the Professor Rev. J. Gerard Mears, S.J. chair in fine arts at the College of the Holy Cross, approached AAS with the idea of having one of her Holy Cross classes research and prepare an exhibition on an aspect of life in pre-1830s America.  The students arrived at the library in September of 2013, and working with the Society’s curators and reference staff, began searching the collection for material related to the ways in which early Americans encountered the rest of the world, a theme selected by Dr. Johnston and the students.  They looked at exploration and travel narratives, maps, children’s books, ephemera, and broadsides.  Nearly fifty items from the library were selected for loan to the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery exhibition, scheduled for winter 2014.

The AAS staff and the Holy Cross students, faculty, and staff involved in the exhibition.
The AAS staff and the Holy Cross students, faculty, and staff involved in the exhibition.
The frontispiece of the 1694 Dutch "Atlas Minor."
The frontispiece of the 1696 Dutch “Atlas Minor.”

During the 2013 winter holidays, the books, maps, and ephemera moved to the conservation lab at AAS where each item was evaluated, cleaned and conserved if needed.  Many large, eighteenth-century maps from the collection had stains and old repairs removed and tears mended. An important, hand-colored 1696 Dutch atlas, donated to AAS in 1848, was repaired and fortified for travel.  Each item was next photographed by the Society’s photographer and the material was packed up for delivery to Holy Cross earlier this month.  Some objects will be missed at the Society.  The case for a 1795 British globe in the Graphic Arts workroom now sits forlorn and vacant, and the head librarian will be looking at empty hooks on a wall in his office where our ca. 1850 painting of Canton, China, usually hangs.  However, we all realize that more people will see these wonderful objects and the rare material from the library collections at this exhibition than would ever see them in our offices!

The Society’s conservation team discuss book cradles with designer Frank Gregory. The cradles were custom-made for each volume.

Installation began in early February for the exhibition, called Global Encounters in Early America, which opens tonight and runs through April 6, 2014. Over one hundred objects are included in the show, almost entirely borrowed from local Worcester county organizations like AAS, Old Sturbridge Village, and the Worcester Historical Museum.  For more on the exhibition and all of the activities surrounding the show—including a K-12 teacher workshop on March 15 and an academic symposium on April 4 and 5—please see the complete description and calendar.

Timothy Johnson, a preparator for the Cantor Art Gallery, places the Society’s Dudley Adams globe, 1795, during the installation of “Global Encounters.”

So, no excuses for having cabin fever in all this winter weather and snow—come out to the opening tonight, or visit the Cantor any time between then and April 6 to see wonderful treasures from several local historical organizations.  AAS may not loan that Dutch atlas again for another 166 years, so be sure to stop in and see it, and all the other wonderful books, prints, ceramics, costumes, and maps on display!

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Lauren Hewes

Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

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