Archive for March, 2009

Mariners, Meridians and Monsters

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “map?” The tattered road atlas stuffed under the seat of your car?  The large wall map in your dreaded high school history class?  Or perhaps more romantic images of one-legged pirates and treasure maps marked with a big red “X”?

A new exhibition at LSU Libraries Special Collections explores the many different kinds of maps that have been produced from ancient times to the present as well as the many different meanings they have had.  “Mariners, Meridians and Monsters: Exploring the History of Maps in Fact and Fiction,” will be on display in the upper gallery of LSU’s Hill Memorial Library beginning March 23 and running through August 15, 2009.

Highlights of the exhibition include Abraham Ortelius’ 1579 world atlas, Peter Heylin’s Cosmographie (1679), early maps of the Pacific and the poles, an 18th-century reproduction of the ancient Roman road map known as the Peutinger Table, archeological maps from Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, and even a map for the blind. There are also sections on humorous maps, maps in fiction and mythology, and bird’s-eye views.

The second half of the exhibition is devoted to maps of Louisiana. Included are Louis Hennepin’s 1683 map of North America (the first map to name Louisiana), important maps of the Mississippi River, an early Spanish plan of Baton Rouge, manuscript maps of local plantations, and a wide selection of other maps tracing the history of the Civil War, LSU, and tourism in Louisiana.

The library is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. When classes are in session, the library is open Tuesdays until 8 p.m.

For more information on the exhibition, contact Michael Taylor, assistant curator of books, at (225) 578-6547.

“The Peace maker as he really is”

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009


In 1919, shortly after the end of the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson traveled to France to participate in the Paris Peace Conference.  Here he helped decide the fate of Germany and her allies and oversaw the creation of the League of Nations (now the United Nations).  He also had his portrait painted by the Irish artist Sir William Orpen, one of Britain’s official war painters who, in addition to depicting life in the trenches, painted over one hundred portraits of politicians and military commanders.

Most of Orpen’s World War I portraits are now at the Imperial War Museum in London.  His portrait of Wilson hangs in the White House.   However, Orpen is known to have made several informal pen-and-ink sketches of his paintings, which he inscribed and sent to friends.   Two of these were recently discovered among a collection of uncataloged materials at the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections.

One is based on the White House’s official portrait of Wilson and was sent by Orpen to his friend Robin Legge, music critic for the London Daily Telegraph.  “My dear Robin,” Orpen wrote at the top of the drawing, “this is The Peace maker as he really is — tie and all, taken direct from the official portrait by Sir William Orpen KBE, RA, RI, otherwise known as Bloody Old Bill.”

Many of those who attended the peace conference regarded Wilson, an academic and a former college president, as cold and aloof.  A second sketch by Orpen, apparently an off-hand caricature not based on a more formal portrait, captures Wilson’s air of detachment.  Signed “Orps” (Sir William’s nickname), it too was sent to Robin Legge in 1919 from the offices of the British Delegation in Paris.

For more information on these drawings, please contact one of the special collections curators.

– Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books


History in Small Places

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009


In November 2006, Nancy Sharon Collins, a New Orleans stationer, rescued several cases of steel dies from a stationery shop that flooded during Hurricane Katrina.  Many of the dies date back to the early 1900s and are valuable not only from an artistic standpoint, but also as artifacts documenting the social history of New Orleans. 

Ms. Collins recently donated this  collection to the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections.  In recognition of her generous gift, a selection of dies, along with engraving tools and several specimens of stationery, are currently on display in the Hill Memorial Library lecture hall. 

“To me,” Ms. Collins writes, “each idiosyncratic letter, each imperfectly cut line on those preciously wrapped, funny, sugar-cube sized blocks scream a special language, a specific time and a now-familiar place called New Orleans…. If we think of these hand-engraved dies as discreet representatives of real individuals… we can imagine their stories and dream we know something about their lives.”

The exhibition will be on display through March 28, 2009.  For more information, contact the Special Collections information desk at (225) 578-6544.

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