I’ve always loved books. I love the act of getting lost inside a story, the feeling of not wanting to put a book down even when you can’t keep your eyes open and the careful calculation of savoring a chapter at a time to make it last longer. I read historical fiction and chick lit and books about the brain and travel essays on the subway, on airplanes, on beaches, in bed. And as much as I appreciate the convenience of my Kindle, there’s something about a real book. That’s why I adore wandering through bookstores and libraries, choosing potential reads based purely on imagery or the title on the spine. Being able to flick different paper types through your fingers, differentiating the smell of a freshly-printed book versus the lived-in papery scent of a used book, flipping through to look at photos or to see how a first sentence grabs me.
I tell you all of this mostly because it is crazy to think that it took me a whole two years of living in New York City to go to the Morgan Library and Museum. A MUSEUM FULL OF BOOKS. My friend Liz raved about it to me and included it in her best of Literary New York, I used to work on the next block, I’m always searching for new things to do in New York City–and yet. And maybe I’m telling you all of this to try and persuade you not to wait as long as me if you’re a booklover–because it is magical.
The Morgan Library began as the private library of financier JP Morgan as he collected illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints–like an original Gutenberg Bible! He built this gorgeous building near his home to house all of his treasures–and honestly, I think the architecture of place (think gorgeously painted ceilings, intricate crown moldings, “leather-bound books and the smell of rich mahogany”) is just as stunning as his collection.
Even though I was completely enthralled just sitting in the library–I honestly just sat and breathed in all of the rich mahogany smells and stared at the ceiling and thought about all the richness of literature in history–the museum has done an awesome job of making the Morgan Library more than just the actual library itself.
I definitely recommend going into the basement–there’s a great little timeline that tells more about who Morgan was, what he did, what he collected. I loved learning that Morgan’s head librarian was a black woman who ended up becoming the first director of the museum (tempted to read this story of her life next). Either way, the timeline gives good snippets of background and context for the library above.
One of my favorite parts of my visit was the current exhibit (no photos were allowed): Handmade: Artists’ Holiday Cards from the Archives of American Art. It was all of these awesomely unique handmade holiday cards created by artists over the years. There’s also a restaurant–I didn’t eat, but I think it’d be such a fun place to grab lunch with a friend. When the weather gets better, I want to go back and sit in the courtyard! Even the colored glass itself is an exhibition–A Certain Slant of Light–which I thought was really interesting. From the Morgan website: “Finch plans to cover or hang the panes of glass in groupings by month with each having a palette that corresponds to the time of the year. For example, November would be “harvesting” and the colors of the month will be based on the colors of the harvest. The installation also calls for what the artist is identifying as “red-letter days.” Marking secular holidays the artist considers significant—such as Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday on January 4—red-colored glass would align with the sun’s arc across Gilbert Court at noon on these days. The precise measurements required to create the installation at the Morgan are a hallmark of Finch’s work. At the same time, his installations emphasize movement and change, capturing fleeting moments of sublime beauty.” Isn’t that awesome?The original entrance to the Morgan Library on 36th Street: isn’t that grand? Have you ever visited the Morgan Library? What’s your favorite photo of the museum?
p.s. if you liked the Morgan, I bet you’d like a Museum Hack Tour at the Met too!