Saturday, June 18, 2011

NY Librarians Meetup Visits the Frick Art Reference Library

1 East 70th Street Entrance

On Sunday, June 12, 2011, members of the New York Librarians Meetup congregated at the staff entrance of 1 East 70th Street for a tour of the Frick Art Reference Library. There we met our tour guide, Suz Massen, Chief of Public Services at the Library. As the group entered the building, one NYLM member remarked, “I’ve never been here before,” just then another member responded, “You’re in for a real treat!”

Once inside, Suz began the tour with a brief history on the Frick family and their two building institution: the Frick Collection at 1 East 70th Street and the Frick Art Reference Library located at 10 East 71st Street. She explained that the mansion at 1 East 70th Street houses the collection of Gilded Age Industrialist, Mr. Henry Clay Frick. In 1906, Mr. Frick acquired the Lenox Library building on Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets where he later built his mansion. The mansion was designed by Thomas Hastings and constructed between the years 1913 and 1914.

Mr. Frick's wife was Mrs. Adelaide Childs Frick. She died in 1931. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Frick had four children: Childs Frick, Martha Howard Frick, Helen Clay Frick and Henry Clay Frick, Jr. However, Henry Jr. and Martha died in childhood. Upon Mr. Frick’s death in 1919, he bequeathed this residence and works of art to the formation of a public gallery “for the purpose of encouraging and developing” the study of fine arts.1

The Bowling Alley

Helen Clay Frick, the couple’s third child, founded and erected the Frick Art Reference Library at East 71stStreet as a memorial to her late father in 1920. From 1920 to 1924 Ms. Frick housed the library collection in the basement bowling alley of the family residence (now The Frick Collection) due to lack of space; for the next decade it occupied a single-story structure at 6 East 71stStreet-- designed by Thomas Hastings.2

The Library has been open to the public since 1924. The Library’s collection began as a photo archive for works of art. This archive was based on the Witt Library, a photo archive amassed by British Art Historian, Robert Witt and his wife Mary Helene Marten Witt. (The Witt Library is now part of the Courtauld Institute in London). Today, the Frick Photoarchive contains over 1 million “photographic reproductions of works of art from the fourth to the mid-twentieth century by artists trained in the Western tradition.”3 Most of the images are black and white. (Ms. Frick did not believe in collecting color photos because of the potential for inaccuracy in the colors depicted.) The archive still continues to collect photographs in order to “facilitate object-oriented research” and together with historical information, provide an “unparalleled resource” for the study of art history.4

The Frick Art Reference Library

Architect, John Russell Pope (who also redesigned the Frick mansion) transformed the single-story structure at 6 East 71st Street into a new thirteen-story building-- that opened its doors to the public at 10 East 71st Street in December of 1935.5 Mr. Pope’s design was part of an overall project to create two important public institutions dedicated to the study and appreciation of art.6

The Frick Art Reference Library’s collection consists of 285,000 books, 80,000 auction catalogs and more than one million photographs. It also includes a large number of microforms and a growing collection of electronic resources. In addition, the Library is a repository for archives and special collections that document the history of art and art collecting in America.7 What’s more, it still possesses several of its original card catalogs.

The Library is a multi-language library, containing materials written in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Danish, German, Italian, Swedish, Russian, Portuguese and Japanese. The primary collection categories are paintings, drawings, watercolors and sculpture; secondary categories include prints, stained glass, medals, mosaics, and tapestries. The collection spans from the fourth century to the mid-twentieth century. Its geographical parameters encompass Western European and American schools of art in their broadest sense, e.g., Scandinavian, Australian, Canadian, and Latin American including those not defined by national boundaries.8

Collection strengths are the text and image documents regarding works of art, their history, provenance, and patronage; related materials on art collections, exhibitions, and sales; as well as research tools that aid in the identification of artists, attributions, portraits, iconography, technical analysis, locations of works of art and their reproductions. The Library also collects materials on art historiography and theory.9

The Frick Art Reference Library is open to all adult researchers free of charge. First-time researchers must bring a photo ID and arrive before 3:00 p.m. on weekdays or 11:00 a.m. on Saturdays. Library hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays. The Library is closed Sundays, holiday weekends, Saturdays in June and July and during the month of August.

Last year the Library had the highest number of visitors it's had in over 8 years. It was also featured in an episode of Great Libraries of the World (GLOW), which is a project that honors librarians, curators and subject specialists whose passion and work focus on “preserving the stories of our culture and invigorating society by encouraging enquiring minds.”10 View clip here:

The Frick Art Reference Library employs approximately 50 staff members broken up into various divisions, e.g. Acquisitions, Cataloging, Photoarchive, Special Projects, etc. There is also a full scale conservation laboratory on-site for the purpose of maintaining and persevering paper, book and digital items. The Library offers summer internships opportunities as well as a limited number of academic year internships (in select departments) to undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in careers in art museums or libraries. In addition, the Library’s Center for the History of Collecting in America has a Fellowship Program that seeks to encourage awareness and research about the formation of fine and decorative arts collections in America from Colonial times to the present.11 The program offers a number of short-term fellowships for graduate, pre-doctoral and post-doctoral students, and senior scholars.

The Main and Small Reading Room

The Library’s Main Reading Room is located on the 3rd floor; it features large windows, tile floors, original furniture from the 1920 and is equipped with Wi-Fi access for researchers. The room is decorated in the Italian Renaissance Revival style with a copy of “Madonna Between Saints Francis and John” painted by Nicolas Lochoff (1930), after Pietro Lorenzetti’s fresco in the Lower Church of San Francesco, Assisi, (c. 1320–1329). Directly above the fresco reproduction, are two adorable renderings of Helen Frick's two dogs, Bobby and Pat.12 The Library’s “Small Reading Room is paneled in the Jacobean oak that was formerly in the bowling alley of the Frick residence”.13 It contains photos of early incarnations of the Frick Art Reference Library as well as eight computer terminals for public use.

FRESCO is also the name of the Frick Art Reference Library’s online catalog. The catalog is part of Arcade, the New York Art Resources Consortium's catalog, which unites the collections of the Frick Art Reference Library and the libraries of the Brooklyn Museum and The Museum of Modern Art into one gigantic online art resource.14

Until 1989, the Library had a strict dress code for researchers in the Reading Room. In fact, an Art Libraries Societies of North America (ARLIS/NA) member and librarian related to Stephanie L. Gross, NYLM Organizer, how she and her colleagues had to come to the Frick Art Reference Library in a skirt (the guys in jackets) when Ms. Frick was alive. Though, as our tour guide Suz expressed, “Luckily, we are modern these days! You can wear whatever you want!”

Helen Clay Frick’s Italian Room15

As evidenced by the décor of the Library’s Reading Room, “Helen Frick was a lover of all things Italian.” Her interest in Italian art and architecture was cultivated during her frequent trips to Europe and her admiration of Italian Renaissance painting. When the original one-story Frick Art Reference Library at 6 East 71st Street opened to the public in 1924, Helen decided to design a room/office of her own.

“As specified by [Ms.] Frick, original architectural elements were used for her office wherever possible. Two of the room’s three doors are sixteenth-century, hand-carved oak in the linen-fold design. The pattern, so named because it resembles a field of folded fabric, dates to the late fifteenth century and was commonly used to decorate chests and wall panels in places and abbeys of the area… Other elements in the room, such as the hand-carved ceiling beams, the shutters and the metal hardware were recreated by craftsmen when period items were unavailable. The floor was laid with plain, unglazed red tiles supplied by Henry Mercer, who established the renowned Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.”

In 1934, the original library designed by Thomas Hastings of Carrere & Hastings was demolished to convert andexpand the Frick family residence into a museum. As a result, Ms. Frick’s entire office was dismantled (with the exception of the floor tiles); and moved to the new building where the floor plan was altered slightly and rotated in order to capitalize on the views of Central Park across Fifth Avenue. Helen Frick used her office for more than 50 years and when the Library’s 6th floor was remodeled in 1999 the Italian Room was left largely untouched.

The Rooftop Terrace

The terrace is located on the rooftop of the Frick Art Reference Library, overlooking Central Park. (And just off the terrace is the cozy staff diner!) On this particular day NYLM members not only got a gorgeous view of the park, but of the Puerto Rican Day Parade celebration which was taking place right below us. As NYLM members looked out and over the right side of the terrace, Suz explained that the Garden Court at 1 East 70th Street was added in the 1930s; and that its accompanying skylight was constructed after the Frick family moved to their Fifth Avenue residence. She also noted that the Seventieth Street Garden was designed by Russell Page in the late 1970s.16

The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection is internationally recognized as a premier museum, known for its distinguished Old Master paintings and outstanding assortment of European sculpture and decorative art. Opened to the public in 1935, the museum provides visitors with the opportunity to view masterpieces by artists such as Bellini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya and Whistler. Furthermore, it has continued to acquire works of art since Mr. Frick’s death.17

The Collection attempts to preserve the tranquil ambience of Mr. Frick’s private house, which is one of New York City’s few remaining Gilded Age mansions. The Collection boasts some of the best known European paintings and one of the finest groups of small bronzes in the world. It includes magnificent eighteenth-century French furniture and porcelain, as well as Oriental rugs and other works of exceptional quality.18

The Frick Collection is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (On Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., visitors are invited to “pay what you wish.”)

Currently on view at the Frick are the two special exhibitions, Turkish Taste at the Court of Marie-Antoinette (June 8 through September 11, 2011) and In a New Light: Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert (May 22, 2011, through August 28, 2011).

For more information on the Frick Art Reference Library and the Frick Collection, please visit their website at

Works Cited

1. Frick Collection. (2006). Education: Building of the Frick Collection. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

2. Frick Collection. (n.d.). Frick Art Reference Library: General information. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

3. Frick Collection. (n.d.). Frick Art Reference Library: Photoarchive. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

4. Ibid.

5. Walsh, G. A. (2001). History of industrialist, art patron, and philanthropist, Henry Clay Frick. Retrieved June 17, 2011 from

6. Frick Collection. (n.d.) Frick Art
Reference Library: General information. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

7. Frick Collection. (n.d.) Frick Art Reference Library: Library collections. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Great Libraries of the World. (n.d.) About: Welcome. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

12. Pet Cemeteries: Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

13. Frick Collection. (n.d.). Frick Art Reference Library: General information. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

14. FRESCO. About FRESCO. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

15. Williams, K. (2007). Helen Clay Frick’s Italian room: Yesterday and today. Members’ Magazine, pp. 16-17.

16. Frick Collection. (n.d.). Tour the Frick Collection: The Gardens. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from

17. The Frick Collection Booklet Brochure. (Summer 2011).

18. The Frick Collection Pamphlet. (n.d.).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

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ACRL/NY Events and Jobs: Save the Date! ACRL/NY Annual Symposium - The Global Librarian: Information without Borders - December 2, 2011

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Save the date! Mark your calendars! You don’t want to miss the 2011 ACRL/NY Annual Symposium!
When: Friday, December 2, 2011
Title: “The Global Librarian: Information without Borders”
"Academic librarians serve increasingly diverse populations, across a variety of platforms at home and around the world. As higher education becomes more global – and mobile – physical distance is no longer a barrier to teaching and learning. Through innovative use of progressive technologies, academic librarians are mastering the skills needed to navigate this expanding environment. At this symposium, we will see how information is not bound by physical borders – nor is the global librarian."


The William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus Conference Center

Baruch College, CUNY

55 Lexington Avenue (at 24th Street) Room 14-220 (14th floor)

New York, NY

Stay tuned for upcoming details and registration information!"

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

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