The book collection in the Epstein Archive have been sitting on a few shelves in the basement of the gallery for a number of years. A few researchers have studied these books, but it is only now that I have come to catalogue them and some real discoveries have come to light. The books themselves were taken out of the house that Kathleen Garman lived in until her death in 1979. The collection covers 4 generations of the Garman and Garman-Epstein families, dating back to Kathleen’s parents in Wednesbury, books belonging to Theodore Garman and to those given to Kathleen by her grandchildren, Anne and Annabel Freud.
Amongst the collection we have a large selection of Shakespeare, a 1st edition of Bleak House by Charles Dickens and one or two James Bond books for a bit of balance. The books themselves are fascinating as they reveal the reading habits of the family. However, what is really interesting are the inscriptions in many of the books – these little fragments of writing give a unique insight into the world of the family. I would like to share just a few examples of the discoveries that I’ve made today – things are appearing all the time, far too many to write about here, but 2 inscriptions that were found this morning are particularly interesting – not in any great revelatory way, just in their insight into normal life that they give us.
From Esther Garman to her mother Kathleen, inscribed in Dante’s La Divina Comedia.
This book was particularly unusual as it contains some pressed flowers, which are very fragile. We have no may of knowing if the flowers were part of the gift from Esther to her mother, or if they were added later, but this was a really nice find and the flowers are certainly very old indeed. It is always slightly special when we find something new relating to Esther, as Bob and Roberta Smith have taken such an interest in her and her story when creating works of art inspired by the archive. The exciting thing is that there is more information on her in this archive, waiting to be discovered.
From Ralph Gustafson and ‘Ian’ to Sally Ryan, inscribed in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
This is a particuarly great inscription as you can decipher a surprising amount of information from it. Sally Ryan was a friend of Kathleen Garman and she helped create the Garman Ryan Collection that the gallery houses. A few of the books in the archive were Sally’s that may have found their way into Kathleen’s bookshelves through Sally’s will. The above inscription reads:
“To Tammy Ryan
a rummy prize winner, from the defeated
October 22, 1938
Ralph is Ralph Gustafson, a poet and friend of Sally Ryan, Ian is unknown and Tammy was Sally’s nickname. Also included in the picture is a feather that was inside the book. What we can gather from this is that the book was a prize given to Sally after she had beaten Ralph and Ian at rummy, a card game. The time on the inscription suggests that it was written after an evening’s cards had ended, with Sally emerging victorious with her copy of Dostoyevsky as her prize. This book has made the remarkable trip from Silvermine, Connecticut, to Walsall and all because Sally Ryan was a good at cards.
A big few weeks for the Epstein Archive as we have been installing framed items from the archive in amongst the Garman Ryan Collcetion. We’ve done this to give the collection a bit more context and to embed the archive further into the gallery as a whole. In total, we have 10 items from the archive displayed alongside relevant works of art from the collection. What sparked this off was a fantastic little note in the archive from Sally Ryan to Kathleen Garman. Sally had just bought a Bonnard oil painting, La Seine a Vernon (The Seine at Vernon), and gave it to Kathleen as a gift, along with the hand delivered note that we still hold today. It was with this in mind that Jo Digger and myself sought out 9 more items from the archive that could complement the Garman Ryan Collection and we are really happy with the results.
So, from today – you’ll notice some cupboards on the walls on floors 1 and 2 of the gallery. The archive items are behind cupboard doors to give visitors a bit of the same feeling of discovery that I’ve had over the past 12 months. From a conservation point of view, the cupboards are great for protecting the material from light damage when they aren’t being viewed.
We also have a new introductory leaflet to the Garman Ryan Collection that reflects the inclusion of the Epstein Archive and shows the locations of all of the cupboards.
So, come along and let us know what you think…
Wow the archive gallery looks great. I am eager to see it in person.
It was wonderful last week to visit the Museum of Everything with Neil Lebeter and Jo Digger. We met James Brett the inspirational collector who made the Museum of Everything a reality. For those not in the know the Museum of Everything is an exhibition of what for want of a better term has been called ‘outsider art’. It’s been the smash hit of the autumn and it’s free. Its early days but I hope to collaborate with James on a project next year.
Later in the afternoon we visited the Wild Thing show at the Royal Academy. It was great to visit the show with Jo Digger who is so insightful about Epstein’s work. Jo went into a very detailed explanation of the drawings which lead up to the Rock Drill many of which suggest a kind of hybrid object involving all sorts of other elements including women and doves. After that Jo and Neil joined me at Beaconsfield, 22 Newport Street, where I have a show called This Artist is Deeply Dangerous.
I went to Chris Ofili’s show at Tate Britain last night. Ofili is an artist who is deeply interested in Art and culture that resides outside the mainstream. Ofili’s show is incredible. It made me think that in painting terms he is as powerful as Francis Bacon. He is way beyond any other painter around just now.
Followers of Museums and their Directors will note that Walsall’s Stephen Snoddy was pretty involved in Ofili’s early career.
10 years of the New Art Gallery Walsall is celebrated early next month with the exhibition ‘Party’. Neil and I will perform our play about Epstein using the puppet theatre and my band The Ken Ardley Playboys are going to play. Bring cotton wool for your ears. It’s good to reflect upon the importance of the Garman Ryan Collection and note that the whole New Art Gallery Walsall would never have existed but for the foresight of Kathleen Garman and her friend Sally Ryan and the gift of their collection to Walsall.