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Acknowledging the Katherine White Library

In 1981, the art collection of Katherine Coryton White (1929-1980) came to the Seattle Art Museum. Along with her important gifts of African, Native American, Oceanic, Meso and South American art, her book collection was given to what is now the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library at SAM Downtown.

Recently, Pam McClusky, Curator of Art of Africa and Oceania, gave a talk about White and her voracious desire to collect and understand all that she could about African art. That desire to understand reminded me that we had books from her personal library in our collection: I remembered seeing her distinctive bookplate, yet couldn’t readily identify those donated works in our online catalogue (OPAC). The library volunteers and I set out to properly acknowledge her gift by identifying those books and noting their provenance in the catalogue with a note stating “From the Library of Katherine White.”

The original idea was to go book by book through the collection and see if we could find a bookplate or handwritten inscription linking it to White. But something wonderful happened: a box of catalogue cards was discovered in an area of the library typically used for storage. It contained a complete list of the books from White’s library.

The incredible find: a box of cards listing White’s donated book collection
Library volunteers identified books in the collection and noted the former owner in the library catalogue (OPAC).
Such cards would have been used in the card catalogue (the hole at the bottom allowed the cards to slide along a track) which preceded our online catalogue. In this case, we were very happy to have such relics retained.

With this valuable list in hand, we identified more than 350 books, all research-level material, much of it rare, including several 19th century books. There are many interesting works, but some highlights include:

  • The Ancient Art of Veracruz, published by the Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles in 1971 is one of only four copies (the other three are in two California libraries and the British Museum).
  • New Guinea Art in the Collection of the Museum of Primitive Art, published by the museum in 1968 is one of only three copies (the others owned by a Canadian and a German library).
  • The Journal of a Residence in Ashantee was published in 1824 and is the oldest work from her collection.
  • The African Sketch-Book, a well-regarded two-volume set, was published in 1873, and is one of only 87 publically available copies in the world, is quite beautiful and is inscribed by the author, William Winwood Reade (1838-1875).
Cover of The African Sketch-Book, 1873.
Inscription by the author, William Winwood Reade in 1873.
Title page to the first volume of The African Sketch-Book.
Engraved frontispiece to The African Sketch-Book: “The more I looked, the more I was surprised. Here was a great wild elephant, who paid no more attention to us than a cow in a field to people looking over the hedge.”

To see a full list of her books given to the Seattle Art Museum, visit our OPAC and under Lists, choose Special Lists, then The Katherine White Library.

To learn more about Katherine White, see:

  • Pamela McClusky. Katherine White: Her Epic Quest to Collect a Continent (video) Seattle Art Museum, 2013. 60 minutes. VIDEO N 7398 M33 W3 2013. Available for viewing in the Bullitt Library.
  • “Taming Reality: Katherine White and the Seattle Art Museum” in Kathleen Bickford Berzock and Christa Clarke, eds. Representing Africa in American Art Museums: A Century of Collecting and Display. University of Washington Press, 2011. N 7380.5 R47. Available for consultation in the Bullitt Library.

Come see these and other works from the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt’s collections on the 5th floor, Seattle Art Museum (Venturi Building). Go to our website for hours and information:

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Top photo: Katherine White’s personal bookplate.

Books on Costume from the Bullitt Library: Peasant Dress Illustrations

The special exhibition, Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion, gives us an opportunity to look at notable books on costume from our own library collected during our eighty-year history. The original SAM Library was founded in 1933, in conjunction with the opening of the Seattle Art Museum. Some examples on view now at the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library were collected early on as typical art historical research material, but with time and a growing appreciation for earlier printing, illustration and binding methods, these works have now achieved rare and “important” status.

One such treasure is National Costumes: Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia – a book not available in any other library on the West Coast 1. It was published in 1939 by the Hyperion Press, Paris, printed in Brussels and is a great example of outstanding illustration with large, full-color lithographic prints designed by E. Lepage-Medvey (French, active early 20th century).

Title page of National Costumes: Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia.

Noting the hardships experienced in this region of Europe at the time — it was, of course, the middle of a World War — art historian André Varagnac (French, 1894–1983) fully appreciates the beauty relayed in the Lepage-Medvey’s illustrations and the sublime nature of everyday objects, like traditional peasant dress:

[With the war,] everything appears to be upset from beginning to end. And yet it turns out that in the pictures representing traditional costume nothing be changed. The creator of these drawings has aimed at opening our eyes… Present day fashion has seized on this peasant aestheticism, which is so often unconscious. And so, in turning towards that form of existence, the artist has come upon what is most permanent and stable in humanity.

Plate 24: Dress of a Young Woman, Vyskova, Moravia.
Plate 29: Dress as Worn in Uhersky Brod, Slovakia.

Come see these and other works from the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt’s collections on the 5th floor, Seattle Art Museum (South/Venturi Building), Wednesday through Friday 10am – 4pm. Learn more here.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

1 According to WorldCat, the world’s largest network of library content and services.

Top photo: Cover of National Costumes: Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia. Tan cloth on boards, brown stamped lettering, first edition.

SAM Libraries: Book(s) of the Month Club: September and October

September marked the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month (it runs through mid-October). In addition to Hispanic artists you may already be familiar with – Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, etc. – this celebration gives us an opportunity to look at other areas of our collections dealing with Hispanic art and artists that are perhaps less well-known. All books in this list are available for consultation at the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library at SAM Downtown:

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SAM’s American Art Library: A Collection of Collectors: Professor David Tatham

An art museum is often fittingly described as “a collection of collectors,” for each is founded on the gifts of magnanimous individuals who loved art and built personal collections that became an invaluable public resource.

The same can be said about library book collections, too—they represent the personal interests of individual readers. This is especially the case with the American art book collection found within the other collections of the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library at SAM downtown. The museum’s founding director, Dr. Richard Fuller, took a special interest in building a reference library to enhance public knowledge of the city’s art collection, and his tenure was marked by yearly growth of the book collection in all areas, through purchases, gifts, and exchanges with other libraries. Over the years, the library grew in relationship to the growth of individual curatorial departments, with American art thus little represented, since American art was not actively collected or exhibited at SAM.

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SAM Libraries: Book(s) of the Month Club: May and June

I didn’t get an entry in for May, so you’re getting a double-whammy of book highlights this month!

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. Many artists acknowledge, raise awareness of or define their own sexuality through their artistic practice. We have a number of books in our libraries that address the art, intersections, relationships and crossroads of the LGBT community.

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SAM Libraries: Book(s) of the Month Club: April

April is the month when we celebrate Earth Day.

Earth Day was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in held on April 22, 1970. Interestingly, Nelson announced his intent to have a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment – which led to the first “earth day” – in the spring of 1970 at a conference in Seattle in September 1969. (Source:  EarthLink.)

Earth Day gives us a great excuse to look at books and videos in our library collections that focus on environmentalism and land-focused art.

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