They say you can’t buy happiness, but visitors will find it in abundance in “Happiness: The Writer in the Garden,” the Beinecke Library’s latest special exhibition, on view May 5-Aug. 12, with the companion exhibition, “Bird-Watching.”
“Like a wandering vine, the subject of garden-making winds through the shelves of books and boxes of archives in the collection of the Beinecke Library,” notes exhibition organizer Timothy Young, curator of modern books and manuscripts, about “Happiness.”
Young says that as he selected materials for the building-wide show, he noticed that one state of mind appeared over and again: happiness. “Writers of all dispositions seem to agree that the work of shaping the natural world into manageable plots brings particularly rewarding forms of joy and satisfaction,” he notes.
Many parts of the library’s collections are represented in the exhibition — from 17th-century printed books to contemporary archives. The writers, artists, creators, and collectors who are featured in the exhibition include Edith Wharton, Francis Bacon, Vita Sackville-West, Joseph Spence, Alexander Pope, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Langston Hughes, Beatrix Farrand, Thomas Hill, Robert Dash, Jonathan Williams, William Carlos Williams, Adrienne Rich, Joseph Spence, Diana Balmori, Alexander Pope, Czeslaw Milosz, Susan Howe, Leonard Baskin, and Rupert Barneby and Dwight Ripley.
The companion exhibition, “Bird-Watching,” also draws from the Beinecke’s extensive archives. “In games and children’s literature, personal notes and intimate correspondence, birds and their lives on the wing captivate the imagination,” says organizer Nancy Kuhl, curator of poetry in the Yale Collection of American Literature.
“Conjuring the observer in the field, the image of the bird watcher may seem far removed from libraries like the Beinecke. Although they may seem quite different at first glance, bird watching and archival research have a good deal in common,” Kuhl says. “Like both ornithologist and amateur enthusiast, the archival scholar may be keenly focused on minute details, seeing and evaluating minor variation in seemingly similar things; she is patient — she sits quietly (sometimes for long stretches) waiting for something special to appear in a familiar place; she carefully records her findings in detailed — sometimes idiosyncratic — lists and descriptive narratives; she is, by turns, solitary in her contemplation and engaged in lively discourse with those who share her interests.”
The real lives of birds
“Bird-Watching” documents the real lives of birds — their forms, their songs, and their behavior — in word and image; the exhibition honors, too, the birds of fantasy and wild imagination. Writers, artists, creators, and collectors in the exhibition include Mo Willems, John James Audubon, William Carlos Williams, John Digby, Karl Priebe, Carl Van Vechten, and Stein and Toklas.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their best bird-watching skills to the Beinecke Library for this exhibition, Young emphasizes: “Nancy and I discovered that a pigeon had landed at the library … and he dreamt of being an Audubon bird of America. Librarians like it when dreams come true, so visitors should keep their eyes alert both on the ground floor and upstairs on the mezzanine.”
“The Beinecke Library seeks always to be a place of illumination and inspiration, where scholars and researchers, as well as the casual visitor, encounter the past in the present for the future,” says Kuhl. “Awe and delight are regular features of the work that happens here. We hope this spring and summer exhibition will delight visitors and lead them to explore our collections even more.”
In keeping with the theme of delight, the Beinecke Library has created a special area for the “reader in the garden” to accompany “Happiness: The Writer in the Garden.” Visitors will find a special garden, chairs, and little library alongside life-size reproductions of photographs of Stein, Toklas, and others installed outdoors, immediately adjacent to the south side of the library’s ground floor glass wall.
“Our hope is that visitors will wander through the exhibition, learn about gardens and birds, and consider relaxing and reading a while in our garden,” Young says. “The library’s founders wanted it to be ‘an inspiration to all who enter,’ and this summer we hope it will be an inspiration and delight, inside and out, and a particularly happy place for visitors, whether they have been here countless times or are enjoying the Beinecke Library for the first time.”
Exhibit spaces to be open seven days a week
To enhance the public’s ability to enjoy “Happiness” and future exhibitions, Beinecke Director E.C. Schroeder says the library’s ground floor and mezzanine public exhibition spaces will be open seven days starting Sunday, May 14.
“We have seen enormous interest in our building and exhibitions since we re-opened in September after renovation, with longstanding friends returning and large numbers of new visitors from campus, the New Haven community, and beyond” Schroeder explains. “We are committed to access in all that we do, so we are happy to open seven days a week as we write the next chapters of the Beinecke Library as a center of education and inspiration.”
Beinecke exhibitions are always free and open to the public. The Beinecke Library’s ground floor and mezzanine public exhibition spaces are open: Monday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, noon-5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-4 p.m.
For more information and details about the special exhibitions and related special events, visit the library’s website here: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/happiness