The Library

Whitehead's Personal Collection Housed at The Studio

Attached to the Studio was a beautiful library for the use of Byrdcliffe residents. Alvan Sanborn, in Good Housekeeping, noted that the library had about five thousand volumes and was modestly decorated with Byrdcliffe furniture, “sculptures, potteries, tapestries and paintings.” He further commented that it was “a delectable retreat well worth by itself the trip from New York to a person of bookish habit, if only by reason of its freedom from the slightest taint of institutionalism. In fact, it might be readily mistaken for the library of a private individual with a bias art-ward.” Indeed, the contents of the library were Whitehead’s personal collection dating back to his days with John Ruskin at Oxford, which he transferred to Byrdcliffe to share with his community. Included on the shelves were works by Socrates, Homer, Cicero, Virgil, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Edward Gibbon, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, C.R. Ashbee, John Ruskin, and William Morris, including some of his famed Kelmscott Press volumes. Periodicals such as The Craftsman were also on hand to assist in the practical side of craftwork.

Naturalist John Burroughs visited Byrdcliffe in 1905 and commented “The large solid library was a surprise to me. Few colleges have as good, I should like nothing better than to spend a season here seated on the secluded upper veranda, reading up on certain subjects.” One person who especially enjoyed the library was Annie Thompson, sister of metalworker Bertha Thompson, who remembered Whitehead’s vast array of Italian, French, and German books, “It was a wonderful place for me, I found a lot of poetry, fiction, and biography to interest me. He [Whitehead] was very generous about the use of it.” Indeed, Whitehead opened the library to his guests and trusted them with it, as Thompson notes, “There was no librarian—we just signed in and out or read them in the comfortable room.” Some of this library is now housed at the Winterthur Library in Wilmington, Delaware.

Images

Interior of the Byrdcliffe Library

Interior of the Byrdcliffe Library

The interior of the Library at The Studio. Pictured amongst the furniture, pottery, and sculpture is a William Morris tapestry. Note the full book shelves and ample area for reading, studying, and relaxing. | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Three Photos of Byrdcliffe

Three Photos of Byrdcliffe

View of the Catskills Region (top). The interior of the library (middle). Of note is the card catalog which is now housed in the Downs Collection at Winterthur and may have been created on the grounds of the community. View from the porch of White Pines (bottom). Jane Whitehead can be seen reading to the left. | Source: The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 209. | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Access Information:

This is attached to the former Studio that now houses the Byrdcliffe Theater.

Cite this Page:

Thomas A. Guiler, “The Library,” UpstateHistorical, accessed October 21, 2017, http://upstatehistorical.org/items/show/7.
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