Campus News

Special Collections Awarded Preservation Assistance Grant

Story posted January 09, 2008

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives a preservation assistance grant. The grant totaling $5,000 is to be used to support a preservation assessment of the Susan Dwight Bliss Room and Rare Book Collection.

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Teams of consultants from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center and Harriman Associates, a mechanical contracting firm, will be brought in to perform an overall condition assessment of the facility and its contents, to provide recommendations for the improved immediate care and longer term conservation of the books and ceiling art work and to prepare a detailed proposal for appropriate HVAC systems for the room.

The Bliss Room itself was presented to the College by Ms. Bliss in 1945 and was installed as a rare book room in what was then the College library. Originally designed by C. Grant LaFarge for the Bliss family's Manhattan residence, the room elements were shipped to Bowdoin and redesigned by the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to fit the space. Among the notable features of the room are its antique ceiling and mantelpiece, which are both fine examples of 16th-century Italian Renaissance art. The ceiling, originally from a Neapolitan palazzo, is executed in carved and gilded wood and gesso.

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Other carved wooden statues decorate the book cases, and an intricately carved mantelpiece of Istrian stone surrounds the decorative fireplace. The wall paneling is French walnut decorated with gilded ornamentation and was originally installed ca. 1730 in the Hotel de Sens (Faubourg Saint Germain) under the supervision of Jean Lassurance (architect to the King). Most of the room furnishings, including several handsome Italian Renaissance tables, alabaster chandeliers and wall sconces, and oriental rugs, were included in the gift.

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Examples of fine book binding from the Susan Dwight Bliss Collection include (L. to r.) George Charles Williamson's George Engleheart (London, 1902), bound by Morrell; Alfred Musset's La confession d'un enfant du siècle (Paris, 1891), bound by Charles Meunier; and James Gairdner's Houses of Lancaster and York (London, 1896).

The Susan Dwight Bliss Collection, donated anonymously to the College by Ms. Bliss between the early 1950s and 1965, contains about 1,200 volumes relating primarily to the fine arts, decorative arts, French and English history and literature, and European and Asian travel. Imprints range from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, with the bulk, in French, dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The collection was begun by Ms. Bliss's father, New York banker George T. Bliss; she shared his passion for books and continued to expand the collection after his death in 1901.

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