The New York City library has much more than books. For over 125 years, it has collected over 56 million items that reflect the city’s history and, in some cases, the country. It offers free exhibits (no library card required) around topics that focus on the city’s history or, in some cases, the country.
We continually update this blog each time we visit an exhibit at the library. Hopefully, you will be compelled to make a stop here when you are in New York City.
2022 New York City Library Treasurers Exhibition
The Treasurers exhibit displayed many of the museum’s rarest and most valuable treasures. These pieces are typically kept under lock and key in climate-controlled rooms and special cases. This show included only 56 of the library’s 10,000+-piece collection, including some that are more than 4,000 years old. It includes letters, manuscripts, and art from the past.
Each piece was accompanied with descriptions of the object and its history. Among the most important and interesting of these to us are:
- Thomas Jefferson’s own copy of the Declaration of Independence. It includes crossed-out words and sentences that Jefferson had included but the committee had deleted. For example, Jefferson’s rather passionate argument that the chattel slave trade, for which he blamed King George III, should be abolished. It was a curious argument for a slave owner.
- George Washington’s final draft of his post-presidency farewell address.
- Copies of first editions from the Guttenberg Bible, to the complete works of Plato (1513) and Shakespeare and dozens of more recent works including Candide, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, A Christmas Carol, Frederick Douglass’s “My Bondage and My Freedom”, Silent Spring and James Audobon’s Birds of America (with copies of his original drawings)
- Documents and photographs of the city’s history including its 1734 Charter and some of the earliest photographs from the building of a few of the city’s most iconic landmarks including Central Park, the Statue of Liberty from the mid-19th century, and the more recent (1931) construction of the Empire State Building.
- Paintings, prints, and musical scores including one of Matisse’s last stencil pieces, Homage to Jazz and the Star-Spangled Banner; and
- Artifacts include Charles Dicken’s writing desk, chair, and lamp; Sarah Bernhardt’s dress; and even Cole Porter’s gold cigarette case.
It is a fascinating must-see exhibit. Although it requires timed advance ticketing, we were able to sign up for a ticket and get in within 5 minutes.
2019 The Stonewall Riots
The Library’s 2019 exhibit marked the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The riots happened when the patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar resisted one of the regular police raids. This led to a week of protest riots that were instrumental in sparking the gay rights movement.
The exhibit, drawn from the library’s archives, contains more than 100 gay rights pamphlets, posters, and photo-journalistic records of the events leading up to the riots. It discussed the important role of gay bars in the community, the years of resistance, the fight for LGBTQ rights, and how this struggle, combined with the contemporaneous sexual revolution and anti-war movement transformed the nation’s culture.
2019 – Mary Cassatt
The Library staged another display on Mary Cassatt during the artist’s period of experimentation under the guidance of French Impressionist master drawer Degas with primarily monochrome prints. It focused on a number of series in which she produced prints depicting multiple states of the same image, each with different effects. It explained the processes she employed and even showed some of her mistakes in the form of prints from canceled plates. The exhibit also showed some of the color prints that were almost an homage to the Japanese color woodblock prints that had created such a sensation in European art circles. While it was an interesting exhibit, her prints do lack the emotion and intimacy that is so apparent in her oils.
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