Campus News

Bowdoin Library Celebrates One-Millionth Volume

Story posted April 19, 2006

A recent gift to Bowdoin College, comprising a stunning collection of fine decorative hand bindings, publications from fine presses, and artists' books, brings with it the added distinction of increasing the size of the Library's collection beyond one million volumes.

The Jane Webster Pearce Collection, a bequest to Bowdoin College, was received in February 2006. Ms. Pearce, a resident of Green Island, Mt. Desert, Maine, and an avid bookbinder and book arts collector, acquired over 100 works between 1977 -- when she purchased her first piece, a designer binding by Gérard Charrière -- and her death in August 2005 at the age of 94. In bequeathing her books to Bowdoin College, Pearce intended the collection both to remain intact near the family home on Green Island and to be accessible to the broader public.

Arthur Rimbaud's Les illuminations, a limited-edition copy from the Pearce Collection, marks the one-millionth volume acquired by the Bowdoin College Library.

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Lithograph by F. Léger, from A. Rimbaud's Les illuminations (1949).

Published in 1949 with 15 hand-colored original lithographs by Fernand Léger, the Pearce Collection copy was specially bound in a designer binding by Kerstin Tini Miura, whom Pearce had commissioned to perform the work in 1985. The volume exemplifies the broad interdisciplinary interests and research needs of the Library's users, serving as a nexus for inquiry into French literature, modern art, printmaking, fine binding, and literary criticism. For the Library, it has special value not only as a rare book -- only 395 copies were published, and only a handful in such full color -- but as being both unique in its binding and fitting in commemorating the generosity of its donor.

Pearce first cultivated her interest in bookbinding in the 1970s by learning the craft under the tutelage of Frederika Child. After Child's death, Pearce acquired Child's bookbinding tools, set up a bindery in her Princeton, New Jersey, garage, and engaged noted binder and artist Gérard Charrière to teach bookbinding techniques to her and a small group of her friends. She continued perfecting her craft from then on, while simultaneously collecting designer bindings by others. Aside from considering aesthetics and craft skill, her criterion for acquisition was that she had met the binder or book artist personally.

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Binding: Michael Wilcox, 1998.

During 30 years of collecting, Pearce commissioned or acquired fine hand-bound books (as well as examples of fine printing and artists' books) from numerous notable contemporaries. In addition to Charrière, she collected works by such renowned bookbinders as Michele Brown, Don Etherington, Deborah Evetts, Don Glaister, Monique Lallier, Kerstin Tini Miura, Gray Parrot, Sally Lou Smith, and Michael Wilcox. Book artists include Tara Bryan, Rebecca Goodale, Ronald King (Circle Press), Hedi Kyle, Scott McCarney, Maria Pisano, and Claire Van Vliet (Janus Press). August Heckscher's High Loft press is also well represented.

The variety and quality of Pearce's collecting is of great advantage to Bowdoin, since the Bowdoin College Library book arts collections intend to provide a wide variety of examples that can serve as resources for teaching, learning, research, and inspiration. The Jane Webster Pearce Collection complements other distinguished holdings in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives: the Susan Dwight Bliss Collection of 19th-century fine bindings; the Gehenna Press/Leonard Baskin Collection; other fine press collections, such as those of the Anthoensen Press, the Arion Press, the Cuala Press, the Limited Editions Club, and the Mosher Press; the Edward Russell Hale Fore-Edge Collection; and hundreds of artists' books and livres d'artiste.

The Bowdoin College Library, established soon after the founding of the College in 1794, has long been among the preeminent liberal arts college libraries in the country, known for its outstanding book, journal and manuscript collections. Today, the Library combines its constantly growing treasury of print material with a wealth of electronic resources, and it provides a wide array of instructional and reference services to facilitate their use. In addition to its one million volumes, the Library maintains over 5,000 print and electronic periodical subscriptions, holds nearly 22,000 audiovisual items, 40,000 maps, over 35,000 photographs, and 5,000 linear feet of manuscript and archival material.

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The Birds of North America Online is the Library's 1,000,001st acquisition.

Subscriptions to over 130 online indexes and databases provide access to thousands of additional full-text electronic books, journals, and other information resources, including the Library's "1,000,001st" acquisition, The Birds of North America Online. This resource conceptually reshapes John James Audubon's monumental 19th-century work by presenting digitally in text, images and sound a comprehensive life history of contemporary North American birds. This digital work complements John James Audubon's Birds of North America, the extremely rare double-elephant folio edition that was donated to the College in 1955. These Library holdings, in print and in digital form, are essential to sustaining intellectual and recreational life at the College -- and in the wider community beyond -- and milestone occasions such as this one provide a delightful opportunity to celebrate that constant effort.

Beautifully Bound, an exhibition celebrating the Bowdoin College Library's acquisition of the Jane Webster Pearce Collection and the College's one-millionth volume, is open to the public at Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, 2nd floor, daily through July 7, 2006. An opening reception will be held at 4 p.m., Thursday, April 27, 2006.

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