The Cosmology of Conversation Wednesday, Sep 18 2013 

“Conversation should be loved; it constitutes good society; friendships are formed and
preserved through it. Conversation brings natural talents into play and polishes them.
It purifies and sets the mind to rights and constitutes the great book of the world.”
– from  Pierre Richelet’s Dictionnaire de la Langue Francaise, Ancienne et Moderne, 1728

Photo credit: Frank Mullen

Photo credit: Frank Mullen

Does that quote ring a bell? We featured it nearly eight years ago when announcing the creation of the Athenaeum Salons. I came across it again this summer while reading and re-reading some of the many books and articles that have been written on salon history and the art of conversation (and it is an art!) and was struck anew by both its astutely observed truths and the relevance of those truths to the Athenaeum’s aims over its long life. Conversation, like reading, creates an opportunity for us to develop our own thoughts and become more known to ourselves by listening for, and cultivating our understanding of, the ideas of others.

Over the course of this past year, a variety of separate occurrences have coincided to make me suddenly aware of the evolutionary and exponential accretion of meaning that the Salons have achieved since that first tentative Friday evening gathering in February 2006. From Salon conversations where someone would make reference to a previous year’s Salon in order to connect to a point just made by a presenter, to Molly Lederer’s perceptive observations in her piece on the Salons in last April’s issue of East Side Monthly, to the RI Council for the Humanities’ recent exciting public recognition of the Salons’ community role of providing connection and context across disciplines and organizations, it is clear that the Salons are no longer merely a mad whim – they now have a life and history of their own. And because so many of you have made it a priority to be here Friday after Friday with your curiosity, your openness, your voices, your support, and your enthusiasm for learning about new people, new endeavors, and new ways of engaging in issues and ideas, that long-ago vision of an ongoing conversation that would thread itself through our lives and the life of our community is no longer a dream – it’s a dream come true.

I was recently mulling the question of what the humanities bring to our lives, and realized that one of the things I value most is the way they teach us to ask questions, and then find in the answers even more questions – which perhaps explains why my no longer questioning the healthy present life of the Salons has made me suddenly very curious about their past and future. To answer these new questions and inspire many more, we will feature a Salon series this year called The Cosmology of Conversation, where we look at times and places in history (including 18th and 19th century France, 18th century Rome, 19th century New York City, early 20th century United States, and a bit about Providence in another era as well) in which the conversational format flourished, satisfying both personal and communal goals. “Cosmology” includes the study of origins, structures, laws, and evolution, and evokes the idea of constellations, a metaphor found not infrequently in the study of salon culture. (A favorite example comes from one of our series speakers, salon historian Daniel Harkett, who relates that to convey the 19th century poet Delphine Gay’s charismatic centrality within the social sphere, a contemporary critic referred to her as the “planet Gay.”) As always at the Athenaeum, we seek to shape the future by means of what we can learn from the past – so I hope you will all become cosmonauts this year!

Photo credit: Robin Wetherill

Photo credit: Robin Wetherill

See you in the Salon!

Our thanks to Guest blogger, Christina Bevilacqua, Director of  Programs and Public Engagement, for her Fall Program Preview.

The Shadow over College Street: H. P. Lovecraft in Providence Wednesday, Aug 21 2013 



August 19-September 22, 2013 / Providence Athenaeum

August 19-October 24, 2013 / John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library, Brown University

HOWARD PHILLIPS LOVECRAFT felt himself inextricably linked to Providence. His deep ties to the city where he was born, lived the greater portion of his life, and now lies buried, pervade his fiction.   In 1937, one month after Lovecraft’s death from cancer at age 46, his surviving aunt, Annie Gamwell, and his literary executor, R. H. Barlow, delivered the first batch of his letters and manuscripts to the John Hay Library. Over the intervening years, the Lovecraft “memorial” at the Hay has grown exponentially, according Lovecraft the immortality to which his fictional character Joseph Curwen aspired.   Thus, Lovecraft’s presence not only haunts diverse historical sites in Providence that inspired his “weird fiction,” but also occupies the stacks of the Hay, home to the largest known collection of manuscript and printed Lovecraftiana.

THIS EXHIBITION, a collaboration between the John Hay Library and the Providence Athenaeum, displays selections from the holdings of both libraries and the private collection of Donovan K. Loucks, webmaster of The H.P. Lovecraft Archive.  The main portion of the exhibition will be on view in the Philbrick Rare Book Room at the Athenaeum and the companion exhibition will be displayed in the lobby of the John D. Rockefeller,  Jr.  Library, Brown University.  Please consult the following websites for library hours.

Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street at College Street

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library, Brown University, 10 Prospect Street at College Street

This exhibition has been organized to run concurrently with the NECRONOMICON PROVIDENCE convention, August 23-25, 2013.

Our special thanks to guest blogger and exhibition curator, Holly Snyder, Ph.D.
Curator of American Historical Collections and North American History Librarian, John Hay Library, Brown University.

Providence Embraces H.P. Lovecraft Friday, Aug 2 2013 


The Providence City Council recently named the corner of Angell and Prospect Streets, H. P. Lovecraft Memorial Square. The renowned author was born on Angell St. and lived on the East Side of Providence for much of his life. He’s buried in Swan Point Cemetery and his admirers installed a special headstone with the quote: I AM PROVIDENCE.


This month the city of Providence acknowledges H.P. Lovecraft in a big way. The impetus has been the arrival of NecronomiCon Providence on August 22nd to 25th. Activities abound! Including a special WaterFire event, a Brown University exhibit, the Rhode Island Historical Society conducts literary walks, and an augmented reality tour, The Call of Lovecraft, is being developed and needs some support.

Ravenous is most excited about the H. P. Lovecraft Bronze Bust Project as the Providence Athenaeum is to be its permanent home. The Facebook page has chronicled the development of the bust and here is one of the latest pictures:


As the NecronomiCon newsletter states: Strange days are here … Lovecraft would be proud.

Children’s Book Week Tuesday, May 14 2013 


Children’s Book Week began in 1919 and it is “the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country” according to their about page.  Sponsored by Every Child a Reader and the Children’s Book Council the focus is on developing a child’s love of books and reading.

Looking around the web for online children’s books Ravenous uncovered a vast storehouse full of hours of reading, listening, and viewing. Check out the International Children’s Digital Library or the Rosetta Project from Children’s Books Online. We liked Barnes & Noble free online story-time page where authors read their animated stories and many children’s books publishers have YouTube Channels.

Virtual options are grand but don’t forget to walk into any library, including the Providence Athenaeum, to find wonderful children’s collections, especially this week.




The DANDY I’m Sure on Exhibition February 15 – June 15, 2013 Wednesday, Apr 24 2013 

In collaboration with the Museum of Art, RISD’s exhibition Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, April 28- August 18, the Providence Athenaeum offers a complementary exhibition with supporting materials from the Rhode Island Historical Society and the John Hay Library, Brown University.  The Athenaeum’s exhibition draws from the collections rich literary and biographical materials to explore the popularization of the dandy from Beau Brummell to Max Beerbohm in 19th century English and French culture.  The following is a brief overview of the main themes and dandy personalities represented in the exhibition with accompanying photographs.

Regency Dandies, 1790-1830 

Beau Brummell & George IV

dandy i'm sure 001

Image:  Ivory silk waistcoat, circa 1830 (Rhode Island Historical Society), watercolor of Beau Brummell’s regiment, the 10th Hussar Guards, and a caricature of George IV ‘A Royal Dandy,’ (Anne S. K. Military Collection, Brown University).

 In the early 19th century, the monarchy and aristocracy of the Regency period were widely despised by the middle class, and the ‘dandy’ became an object of ridicule as seen in the numerous caricatures from the period.  The dandy stood for all that was exclusive, frivolous and selfish, and George IV became known as the clothes obsessed monarch to reign over a society of dandies.

Victorian Dandies, 1830-1880

d’Orsay, Bulwer & Disraeli

dandy i'm sure 002

Image:  Portrait of Count d’Orsay, Fraser’s Magazine (Athenaeum), Men’s leather gloves and beaver top hat (Rhode Island Historical Society)

The dashing Count d’Orsay was the father of Victorian dandyism, and the essential link between Beau Brummell’s restrained elegance of the Regency period and the more flamboyant dandy of the Victorian era.  In the 1830’s, d’Orsay brought in the curve.  His coat was rarely buttoned to show off his waist and his costume was often adorned with diamonds, colored stones and gold chain.   Shimmering pastel colors, soft velvets and silks, perfumes and jewels were part of d’Orsay’s style that Brummell would have abhorred.


Intellectualizing the Dandy in France, 1830s-1860s

Balzac, Baudelaire & Barbey

dandy i'm sure 003

Image:  Top hat, circa 1920, (Rhode Island Historical Society), sketch of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly by Edgar Degas and portrait of Beau Brummell by Aubrey Hammond (Providence Athenaeum)

France was infused with Anglomania during the 1830s, and Brummell was revered by French intellects, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire and Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly as a living masterpiece that should be appreciated rather than mocked by society. In Du Dandisme et de George Brummell. (1845),  Barbey minimalizes the place of clothes in Brummell’s dandyism, not because he considers the art of dress irrelevant but because he wants to emphasize what he calls the intellectual quality of Brummell’s wit, irony, impudence and poise.


Decadents & Flamboyant Belle Époque Dandies

in Life & Literature, 1880s-1920s

Wilde, Huysmans, Proust, & Beerbohm

dandy i'm sure 004

Image:  À Rebours (John Hay Library, Brown University), additional books and portraits (Providence Athenaeum), walking cane with ivory top, mid-19th century (Rhode Island Historical Society)

Dandy protagonists appeared in numerous novels from the period 1880-1920, including Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson, Marcel Proust’s À La Recherche du Temps  and J.K. Huysmans’ À Rebours.   Comte Robert de Montesquiou, an aristocratic French eccentric was the chief inspiration for Proust’s Baron de Charlus and Huysmans’ des Esseintes.


The Dandy I’m Sure will be on display at the Providence Athenaeum through June 15, 2013.  Join us for the last program in this series on Friday, May 10, 2013, Mark Samuels Lasner (University of Delaware), “On Max Beerbohm and Other Musings.” 

And, of course visit the Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion  exhibition at the Museum of Art RISD, April 28- August 18, 2013.  Here’s a full list of dandy events:  risd_museum-artistrebeldandy-programs_events.



There is also a companion catalog to the exhibition Artist/Rebel/Dandy, published by the Museum of Art RISD with Yale University Press, available through AMAZON.

A special thanks to our exhibition collaborators, Peter Harrington, Curator, Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, John Hay Library, Brown University, and Kirsten Hammerstrom, Curator and Dana Signe Munroe, Registrar, John Brown House, Rhode Island Historical Society and for the inspiration of Kate Irvin and Laurie Brewer, Co-Curators of Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion at the Museum of Art RISD.

Kate Wodehouse, Collections Librarian

Can’t Resist the Game of Thrones Wednesday, Mar 27 2013 

We are being inundated this week with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones in anticipation of the third season premiering on HBO this Sunday. Peter Dinklage did a stint on The Daily Show and there are trailers galore on YouTube but Ravenous finds some of the merchandising interesting such as  the beer reported in the HuffPost:


Photo credit: Ryan Grenoble/Huffington Post

Or the random merchandise collected in this Flavorwire post, including the $30,000. iron throne available from HBO:

00373634-484680_catl_500Or the traveling exhibit:

Unfortunately Athenaeum borrowers it will be a long time before we have the 3rd season on DVD but winter is coming…


Membership Libraries Wednesday, Mar 13 2013 

The Providence Athenaeum is part of a small consortium known as the Membership Libraries Group and this weekend we are hosts for the annual gathering. Directors from these unique libraries will meet in Providence to share best practices, enjoy our city and see how the Providence Athenaeum performs.  The Salon this week is “Be Here Now: A Consideration of Conversation,” Thomas Augst, Professor at New York University, and Daniel Harkett, Professor at RI School of Design, will be in conversation with Athenaeum Director of Programs and Public Engagement, and Salonniere, Christina Bevilacqua. Attendees will be wined and dined and thoroughly impressed we’re sure.

A few years back Richard Wendorf compiled a collection of essays on each of the membership libraries:31J-4h2JGEL._SL500_AA300_And this great article: Where Greek Ideals Meet New England Charm from the New York Times discusses our local treasures. But the best way to experience these libraries is to visit them. You will not be disappointed (be sure to check their websites for hours and restrictions of use).

Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections Wednesday, Feb 6 2013 

Discovering digital collections is a joy for Ravenous and the Academy of  Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections are a great find. The database consists of 18 distinct collections that can be searched separately or en-masse. My favorites are the photograph collections, Paramount Pictures and RKO Radio Pictures specifically.


According to Artdaily the Library recently received a donation of over 1,000 movie posters. What a great collection to scan and make digitally available, lets hope it happens.

And this discovery is just in time for the Oscars and the Providence Children’s Film Festival both of which are scheduled for later this month.


The Robert Burns Collection Friday, Jan 25 2013 

ext walkway 2006 004

To commemorate Robert Burns 217th birthday Ravenous would like to discuss the collections and fun we’ve have with Robert Burns, Scotland’s favorite son. On January 25th, 2008 we had a birthday celebration called A Wee Dram of Scotland that is still talked about today. “As Tammie glow’red, amazed and curious, The mirth and fun grew fast and furious” (from Tam o’Shanter).

The photo above is from the exhibit for that event. It represents the Charles Bradley Collection that contains 450 volumes by and about the life and work of Robert Burns. Collected during the 19th century, and donated by Mrs. Charles Bradley in memory of her husband in 1920, it is a wonderful collection.  I’m going to speculate that Mr. Bradley thought: “She is a winsome wee thing, She is a handsome wee thing, She is a bonny wee thing, This sweet wee wife o’ mine”  (from My Wife’s a Winsome Wee Thing).   I wonder where the closest Burns Supper is being held tonight? Haggis anyone?

Dragonfly Bindery/Studio Exhibit Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 


John Russell Bartlett Society members Pat and George Sargent have operated their Dragonfly Bindery for thirty years, offering a wider range of services than most binderies, including restoration and design work that makes use of their art background and training as alumni of the Rhode Island School of Design. They have been able to challenge their creativity and explore new directions in producing unique bindings, casings, and displays for rare books and other printed artifacts which elevate the presentation up to and beyond the artistic level of the content.


The Providence Athenaeum will be exhibiting books, posters and artifacts in the Philbrick Rare Book Room from January 8th to January 29th.

The Sargents will be presenting a talk:  Looking Back at 30 Books from 30 Years at Dragonfly Bindery / Studio on Saturday January 26 at 1 pm.

Thanks to guest blogger, Kate Wodehouse, Collections Librarian



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