Guest Post: Amy Kilkenny on Equine Bookplates
1980 – Amy & I were thrown together as freshmen by the college housing department.
1988 – Amy was the maid of honor at my wedding.
2014 – Amy’s daughter will graduate from our alma mater. This fact freaks me out on a regular basis. The fact that her graduation coincides with our 30th is a tidbit I do not care to contemplate. Welcome Amy:
Katherine was one of the first people I met the day I arrived on our college campus. My memory of our first interaction involves her sitting on the upper bunk in our freshman dorm room, literally springing into action as she jumps from the bed to the floor to help my dad and me carry in a station wagon load of stuff. You learn a lot about a person by the items they choose to bring into an extremely cramped dorm room; one look at the riding boots beside Katherine’s bed and collection of paperback books on her desk and made it obvious that two of her favorite hobbies (only later would I learn they border on obsessions) are riding and reading.
So, more recently, when Katherine asked if I would like to post a piece on her blog, my first thought was to appeal to these long-standing loves. Since I currently work as a librarian, I also desired to use this opportunity to highlight the amazing resources housed in libraries. For the past few years, I have volunteered for the Auerbach Art Library of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT. The art museum library has numerous special collections, but I chose to search the Hettie Gray Baker Collection of bookplates to look for images of horses to share with blog readers.
Customarily pasted just inside a book’s front cover, a bookplate indicates ownership. In addition, bookplates allow book owners to express their personalities, family histories, or outlook on reading and libraries. Therefore, I approached this project as an opportunity to provide a brief, but hopefully illuminating and entertaining, glimpse into bookplate owners’ attitudes towards horses and their relationship to literature and libraries.
Hettie Gray Baker began amassing her bookplate collection in the early 1920s, only to donate a large portion of her holdings to the art library of the Wadsworth Atheneum a few years later. The bookplates Ms. Baker collected reflected her interest in early film stars, authors, artists, libraries, clubs, societies, and noted Hartford residents. Over the years, the Auerbach Art Library has added to Hettie Gray Baker’s original donation; today, the collection holds more than 2,000 bookplates. Although I was able to look through a small portion of the collection, I found five examples I thought blog readers might enjoy:
Four of the five examples include horses in medieval-type settings. Here, the horse lowers its head as he carries his rider into a world dominated and defined by both sunlight and the promise of an elaborate castle. Presumably the bookplate patron was the Edward Watrous Nash (1846-1905) who served as president of the American Smelting & Refining Company. Mr. Nash was described as “a keen observer who read broadly, thought deeply, and, possess[ed] a retentive memory.” Wakeley, Arthur Cooper. 1917. Omaha: the Gate city, and Douglas County, Nebraska. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., Vol. 2, p. 72.
A second bookplate reveals a somewhat similar image of a horse carrying a rider with a castle in the background. However in this depiction, medieval knights appear to be travelling away from the protection of the castle into a wooded world of adventure; the previous image can be interpreted as a depiction of a rider arriving at a fortress. Both bookplates portray worlds of possibility and stories to come, especially relevant here as this bookplate was created for the children’s department of the Newark Public Library.
A third bookplate continues with the armored medieval knights theme to depict a jousting scene. The horses wear minimal armor as the knight on the right appears ready to vanquish his opponent. Although this bookplate is relatively unusual in the Auerbach collection for its coloring, I have not been able to positively identify a J. G. McKinna who might have commissioned this plate prior to the 1920s.
The swirl of the rider’s flag draws attention to the knight and horse depicted on a bookplate for Percy Neville Barnett. The horse’s head pushes beyond the frame of the image in a show of bridled energy and power. It is possible that the bookplate’s patron was the Percy Neville Barnett (1881-1953) who authored numerous books on Australian bookplates, woodcut bookplates, and Japanese prints.
The final bookplate remains an image of intrigue. Bookplate artist George W. Plank created this piece for Alexandrine McEwen (1876 – 1955). Although some information about Ms. McEwen has been located, most notably that she was a founding member of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and owned a ranch in Arizona, questions about the bookplate and its imagery remain. Are the circles that surround the horse’s head bubbles? It almost appears that the horse is in a bubble itself. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!
When I started this project, I thought I would find bookplate depictions of bookplate owners’ horses or farms. My brief search of the Hettie Gray Baker Collection did not yield any such results, but I do hope you have enjoyed viewing these fun and fascinating examples of horses in bookplate art!
The images are courtesy of the Auerbach Art Library of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT.
The Bookplate Society: An international society of collectors, bibliophiles, artist and others dedicated to promoting bookplate study.