- October 6, 2010
Walking into the Ringling College of Art and Design’s Selby Gallery is like walking into a scene from “Indiana Jones.” Books and manuscripts crafted by artisans and artists centuries ago stand like obelisks of knowledge. The handcrafted tomes of medical texts, philosophy and business transactions are the ancestors of the books, newspapers and manuals that fill libraries and homes around the world.
The gallery currently houses the Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts, one of the world’s most extensive collections of pre-Guttenberg manuscripts, books and texts. With more than 290 artifacts collected and maintained through the centuries, the preservation of these pieces was the life’s work and passion of Larry Schoenberg and his wife, Barbara Brizdle.
These expertly crafted works of art and knowledge represent a wide variety of fields including arts and sciences, education, communication, social policy, business, law, engineering, medicine and design.
After decades of obtaining and preserving these fragile and centuries-old documents, the couple donated their collection in 2011 to the library of Schoenberg’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Ever since, the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, which was created with the donation, has been working to further advance its extensive collection. It has been digitizing manuscripts for public access at the neighboring Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image and supporting scholarly work of students at Penn and across the country.
“It was the smell that first attracted him to old materials,” says Brizdle about her late husband. “Larry was in high school and doing a research project at the New York Public Library on the Bull Moose election. They brought him original documents from that era, and I think he was in love with the smell and feel of old manuscripts ever since.”
Though their collection resides in Philadelphia, Schoenberg and Brizdle moved in 1997 full time to Longboat Key and became supporters of the Ringling College of Art and Design. When the college’s letterpress and book-arts center opened in 2011, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to display the origins of the art of bookmaking contained in the Schoenberg manuscripts.
Unfortunately, Schoenberg died in May, just after the Ringling and the manuscript institute finalized a time and location to display Schoenberg’s valuable and educational treasures.
“Larry cared very much that his collection be used and available to everyone, whether by scholars, researchers, dealers or collectors,” says Brizdle.
The exhibition, “A Legacy Inscribed: The Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts,” runs from Jan. 16 to Feb. 18. The exhibit represents a new type of gallery for the college, which has never displayed pieces of such historical value.
“Once we finalized the exhibition, we had to go through a list of what was safe for transportation and storage of the manuscripts,” says Laura Avery, director of galleries and exhibitions at Ringling College of Art and Design. “We had to make sure the humidity and atmospheric levels in the Selby Gallery were exact so as to not degrade the manuscripts as well as install extra security measures.”
The approximately 65 books and maps on loan from the Penn collection will range in form, function and artistic methods. Featured items include translations of Aristotle’s “Metaphysics,” a transfer of land in Spain from the 1600s, a book on saddle design and even a clay tablet written in cuneiform, one of the earliest known forms of writing, detailing a tax bill.
“For our students to really see what was done historically in the beginning of the written word is really essential and important,” says Larry R. Thompson, president of Ringling College. “I want the students who are practicing press and book design to realize that their work has an impact on society and might even be, like the manuscripts on display, around 400 to 500 years from now.”
“I’m very excited about what the manuscripts can tell us about the past times,” says Brizdle. “The collection and exhibit reflect Larry’s legacy because he has made a difference by making these manuscripts available to future scholars.”
IF YOU GO
“A Legacy Inscribed: The Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts”
When: Jan. 16 through Feb. 18
Where: Selby Gallery I, 2700 N. Tamiami Trail
Info: Call 351-5100 or visit ringling.edu.