The Brooklyn Museum Libraries have recently acquired over 160 books concerning Mexican, Haitian, and Spanish Colonial Folk Art, 92 of which are unique to NYARC libraries’ holdings and over a dozen that are not in WorldCat at all. This exciting gift comes to us through the generosity of Margery Nathanson, proprietor of the Grass Roots Gallery de Artes Populares, which was in operation from 1980 to 1990.
The subjects addressed in these publications cover a wide range of artistic activity including textiles, painting, photography, paper maché, architecture of homes, churches, and monuments, ex votos, or devotional sculptures, retablos (paintings on tin), toys, ceramics, dance, even carved gourds and feather-based assemblages. Supplemental to these are a selection of reference materials on the history, language, and religion that inform such artistic practices.
Vargas, Miguel Palafox. La Llave del Huichol. (Mexico : Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historía, 1978)
Processing this donation was particularly interesting to me on a personal level, as a former Spanish major and the one-time president of my college’s Anthropology Club. Memories from time spent abroad in Quito, Ecuador, promptly came flooding back as I turned the pages of our new acquisitions: for instance, the odd sensation of being a non-native Spanish speaker learning a new language, the indigenous Andean Quechua, in a Spanish-language classroom. La Llave del Huichol, a linguistics manual for the indigenous Mexican language Huichol, recalled this feeling to me as I flipped past its juxtaposition of phrases such as Bitari ja uku maneme pu jayeikagua ta uyetá (The rain leaves puddles on the sidewalk) with their Spanish equivalents. Such two-tiered, mediated translation lends both distance and depth to the language-learning experience.
Zumbühl, Hugo. Tintes Naturales para Lana de Oveja. (Huancayo, Peru : Kamaq Maki, 1986)
Otavalo: Weaving,Costume, and the Market, similarly, conjured up reminiscences of my own weekend in the small town renowned for its elaborate handcrafted Alpacan-wool textiles. Textiles as a category are particularly well-represented in the Nathanson donation, documenting traditions from Yucatán to Guatemala to Brazil. One of such books, Tintes Naturales para Lana de Oveja, concerning the composition and manufacture of natural dyes in Peru, was among the most unique books I encountered while processing. Snippets of tinted yarn are tied onto the edge of the page for each corresponding dye, resulting in a tassel effect at the fore-edge. It even includes actual samples of the plants and other substances used in dye-making, an effect that adds considerable dimension and texture to the reading experience.
Brésil, Henri-Robert. Les Flamants Roses (Pink Flamingoes). In La Peinture Haïtienne: Haitian Arts. (Paris : Nathan, 1986) p. 178
The Haitian materials in the donation are especially valued here at Brooklyn, given the strong Caribbean presence in the surrounding neighborhood and previous exhibitions held at the Museum. La Peinture Haïtienne: Haitian Art is a bilingual account of the 1944 foundation of an art center in Port-Au-Prince that would give rise to an enormous mid-century flowering of painting and sculpture from artists emerging from all walks of life. The author’s timeline of significant events in the history of Haitian art makes reference to Brooklyn’s own exhibition of 1969, "Image D’Haiti." Dancing on Fire comes full circle with frank, crisp, bled-to-the-edges photography of the Haitian people themselves, in joy and strife, as social context to the vivid paintings found in the pages of La Peinture Haïtienne.
With Halloween around the corner and Día de Los Muertos shortly following, it seems apropos to mention 19th century Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. The donation brings nine new books devoted to his work which augment the library’s strength in this area. The Museum holds a number of Posada’s prints and even mounted an exhibition on Posada in 1944. The new books are heavily illustrated with the woodcuts and engravings of frolicking calaveras and passionate revolutionaries that characterized Posada’s work. One finely printed oversize volume from 1963 is distinctive in its inclusion of a number of early works that are less commonly reproduced but demonstrate a significant stylistic range.
For those less familiar with the traditions surrounding The Day of the Dead, a more kaleidoscopic presentation of the sugar skulls, papel picado, and ubiquitous jolly skeleton figurines can be found in Día de los muertos ... from Chicago’s Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. While such exuberance surrounding the theme of death might seem macabre in a certain light, the holiday is considered a celebration of the lives and spirits of lost loved ones, as well as being responsible for some incredible folk art!
Linares, Ricardo and Miguel. [Day of the Dead installation.] In: Día de los Muertos. (Chicago : Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, 1990.) p. 59
The Nathanson donation builds on the Brooklyn Museum Library's existing strength in areas of Haitian, Mexican and Spanish Colonial Art, and these materials—many of them rare—will be of use to many of our current and future users.
--Jennifer Chisnell, IMLS Intern Coordinator, Brooklyn Musueum Libraries & Archives
Image (above): Posada, José Guadalupe. La Calavera Catrina, or, The Calavera of the Fashionable Lady, the Queen of the Skeletons. In: Las Calaveras Vivientes de Posada. (México : Editorial Innovación, 1979.) p. 32