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Q&A with Rare Book Curator Amy Pickard

The Central Library's new exhibition, "Building Buffalo: Buildings from Books, Books from Buildings," features more than 65 works from great architects in world history. Their ideas and the presentations of their work on the library's racks played an important role in how the city's architects molded the future Buffalo.

The books in the exhibit span the 16th to the early 20th centuries, and were collected by the Buffalo Public and Grosvenor libraries before being brought together by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Included are the works of such architectural titans as Vitruvius, Sebastiano Serlio, Andrea Palladio, Karl Schinkel, Andrew Jackson Downing and Louis Sullivan.

Guest curators for "Building Buffalo" were Nicholas Adams, who teaches the history of architecture at Vassar College, where he is Mary Conover Mellon professor, and Francis R. Kowsky, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus who taught art history at Buffalo State College.

Resident Rare Book Curator Amy Pickard facilitated the project.

The three authored a companion 80-page catalog, featuring architecture books and photographs from the Rare Book Collection.

The News spoke with Pickard about the exhibit.

Q: How did the exhibit come about?

A: In 2015, Nick Adams started to discover a wealth of architectural history books while in the Grosvenor Room doing research. That led him to formally offer to guest curate an exhibit of our architecture books. Not long after, Nick enlisted someone locally to partner with him on this exhibit, and the natural choice was Frank Kowsky.

Q: What are some of the rarest books on display?

A: Giovanni Piranesi's 1835's "Opere di Architettura Prospettiva Antichita" is quite large -- it's considered a double elephant folio. There are 29 volumes in the set, and you can see looking at it why they cannot all be displayed.

The only reason we even have them is because a Cleveland book dealer named J.H. Jansen came through Buffalo in 1925, and offered them to the Grosvenor library for $1,200.00. E. B. Green and other architects came up with the money.

Q: The catalog says that book helped communicate Rome's monumentality, which became the architectural and urban standard around the world, including Buffalo.

A: The Piranesi would have been your takeaway from your visit to Rome. For a city our size to have all 29 volumes is pretty amazing.

Q: The part of the exhibition title, "Buildings from Books," spoke of a time before airplanes, when faraway places were not as easy to visit.

A: It was important for architects to have bookshelves of these books. They were the basis of their profession. Over time, we've kind of gotten away from that. We evolved to pattern books being the type of book an architect might have on hand. Now many of the resources are online.

This exhibit is kind of an homage to a time when the books were the only sources for that information.

Q: There are lots of examples of books that were an influence on Buffalo buildings. Ralph Adams Cram's "Church Building, A Study of the Principles of Architecture in their Relation to the Church" and "The Ministry of Art" impacted Robert North's St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. Hugh Ferriss' "The Metropolis of Tomorrow" influenced John Wade's Buffalo City Hall. And Andrea Palladio's "I quattro libri dell'architettura" had an impact on the building of what's now known as University at Buffalo South's Abbott Hall.

A: The books preceded the built Buffalo, and they heavily contributed to it.

As Frank Kowsky wrote, "Since the Renaissance, books have shaped the imagination of architects, city planners and landscape architects. Many books and their illustrations have had a direct influence on the built architecture in Western New York."

Q: There's an important Frank Lloyd Wright book, Hendrik Wijdeveld's "The Life-Work of the American Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright." It's a 1925 collection of seven articles previously published on Wright by European and American writers in a Dutch avant-garde design magazine. The Larkin Administration Building is featured prominently, 25 years before its demolition on Seneca Street.

A: It's a must-see for Frank Lloyd Wright fans. It's fortunate today that we treasure the value of architecture that came before us. But it's unfortunate that we didn’t recognize it soon enough to save the Larkin Administration Building.

Q: What surprised you as the exhibition came together?

A: A guest book that was in Darwin Martin's house was a surprise. It includes the signatures of Carl Sandburg and of Frank Lloyd Wright and third wife Olgivanna.

The guest book was previously thought, according to catalog records, to belong to John Larkin. But in fact we found out by investigating that it was actually from the Darwin Martin House. We didn’t discover this until we were working on the last two display cases.

It was entered in the Rare Book Collection primarily because of its beautiful Gray Bell binding, a local book binder whose work was prized by many. You can pick out elements of the windows of the Martin House in the binding.

Q: What's next from the Rare Books Collection?

A: Our upcoming exhibit will focus on our World War I poster collection and the Buffalo home front. We have over 3,000 posters collected by Edward Michael, a local real estate developer. He collected them during the war, and traveled abroad after it was over to collect more. He donated them many years ago to the Grosvenor Library.

There will be other supporting material, including a letter from Elbert Hubbard, the founder of Roycroft, to his son. In it, he tells him where his will was as he was about to leave on the ill-fated RMS Lusitania.



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