From now through Jan. 22, 2022, the New Bedford Art Museum is hosting an exhibit of the works of Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer who is known for both his pioneering work on animal locomotion and …
From now through Jan. 22, 2022, the New Bedford Art Museum is hosting an exhibit of the works of Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer who is known for both his pioneering work on animal locomotion and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the film strip. The plates in the exhibit — more than 30 of them — are part of the permanent collection of the New Bedford Free Library.
The City Gallery at the Museum, right across Pleasant Street from the Library, has become a second home for some of the Library’s holdings, as the two institutions collaborate on special exhibitions.
It’s an impressive collection; one you might expect to find in a city much larger than New Bedford. In fact, since 1852, the library has amassed an extensive collection of printed works, manuscripts, graphics, fine art, and objects used for research, exhibit, and educational purposes.
Much of the Library’s art collection is on public view at the Main Library. When special exhibitions have been mounted at the Art Museum’s City Gallery, they have been curated by Allie Copeland, the Library’s in-house Art Curator of the past 2 years.
Why Muybridge? “I chose it because we had just finished cataloguing and adding them to the system,” Copeland said. Inventorying the collection is an ongoing effort.
The images are part of Eadweard Muybridge's "Animal locomotion : An electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements, 1872-1885" which was published by the University of Pennsylvania in 1887. The eleven-volume set consisted of 781 plates printed by the Photogravure Company of New York; The New Bedford Library has about 75 plates in all.
“It came out great, I’m really happy with it,” said Copeland. “His work is just fascinating.”
When the Muybridge exhibit in the City Gallery comes down in January, the Library will be mounting another recently-catalogued piece from their collection — a large Japanese whaling scroll. Copeland has also partnered with the Museum on exhibits like another recent one featuring the work of Ruth Carter, a film and television costume designer who worked on projects from Black Panther, to Malcom X, Selma, and Do The Right Thing. “That’s a fantastic show as well,” said Copeland.
In addition to the Muybridge plates, the library holds hundreds of paintings and thousands of prints, many of which are on display in the main library. In addition to many works of local artists and portraits of prominent residents and whaling captains from 19th century New Bedford, the Library owns works by William Bradford, Bela Pratt, and 3 paintings by Hudson River School master Albert Bierstadt (the German-born painter was raised in New Bedford after his family emigrated here when he was one year old.)
The Library also owns a full set of Audubon’s Birds of America, all 432 plates — a justifiable source of pride to the museum. “Very few full sets survive today,” said Copeland. It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that there was a time, not so long ago, when institutions like the Library did not always realize the value of many of the items in their collection. According to Copeland, one longtime Library employee told her that he remembers the days when the Audubon collection was stored on the floor between the stacks, and he had to step over them to shelve books. Similarly, Copeland laments that they might have a more complete collection of Muybridge prints if not for the fact that initially, the collection was available for circulation.
In addition to caring for the older works, Copeland is also steering the collection in an effort to obtain more modern art that will better reflect the community of New Bedford today. About 90% of the collection is accessible, either on display or available to view in the art room, and all can be made available by appointment for researchers.
“We have a museum-quality collection, that’s always free to the public,” said Copeland.
For more information on the New Bedford Library art collection and exhibits at the New Bedford Art Museum, visit newbedfordart.org and www.newbedford-ma.gov/library/locations/main-library.