Join us as we sit down and discuss around the library table. We will light a fire in the fireplace and share stories from our favorite collection. Grab your favorite piece of classic literature or bring a new story you are writing as we share with you all the life of an English Romantic and his collector.
This is what former Olson Graduate Research Assistant, and current Project Curator for Grinnell College, Laura Michelson captures in her exhibit, Around the Library Table, featured now in the Special Collections Reading Room.
“Luther Brewer featured his collection with friends in December 1920 and he was about 100 years away from the important years in Leigh Hunt’s life,” Michelson said. “It is important that 100 years from that we are focusing on their lives again and the impact they have had.”
Special Collections is home to the Luther Brewer-Leigh Hunt collection, which documents Romantic-era Hunt’s writings and life, his literary friends, and Brewer’s collecting of these material. This collection is challenging to search because it resides in multiple locations and has had many different organization systems placed upon it over the years. These challenges, however, is what opened Michelson’s curiosity into the collection.
Before she became Olson Graduate Research Assistant, Michelson worked as a graduate student employee with Special Collections. One of her projects was to update the manuscript inventory of the Brewer-Hunt collection, and this got her immersed into the collection and its history.
“Lindsay Moen gave me that project, and this project is what impacted my work and my interests now,” Michelson said.
When Michelson became the Olson Graduate Research Assistant, her research didn’t stop with her graduate student position. She continued to research and make sense of the Brewer-Hunt collection she was growing to love, and she wanted to share that love with rest of the library through an exhibit.
“I wanted more people to be excited about the collection, too,” Michelson shared. “It [the collection] is exceptional for what is has and because the framing of it is around a lesser-known name, a lot of people don’t know we have this English-Romantics collection at Iowa.”
A piece in the exhibit Michelson is particularly excited about is a piece of Hunt’s fireplace. The piece comes from one of Hunt’s houses and his London last address. Michelson states that Hunt wrote about his fireplace, mentioning that in the sunlight he could see the flecks of gold in the fireplace that he has never seen before. Now, you can see the flecks of gold in the same fireplace Hunt stood in front of.
“The piece of the fireplace is interesting to have because it grounds Leigh Hunt as a relatable person, and it is touching to have that piece in our reading room,” Michelson stated.
One day, Michelson would love to see the fireplace reconstructed and as a focal point in the reading room so we all can sit around the fireplace with Hunt again.
Besides the fireplace, Michelson loves the handwritten works from the authors like John Keats. These items add a different level to reading the published-typed versions because viewers can see the corrections and thought process behind these works, Michelson commented.
However, one of her favorite items didn’t come from the stacks. It came from her colleague, peer, and more importantly, her friend. Zoe Webb, former graduate student worker at Special Collections, designed the poster for the exhibit. Webb has listened to Michelson talk for many hours about Hunt and his friends, and she was able to bring these people to life as characters on the poster. The interpretation in the poster helps illustrate the exhibit’s story of the relationship between Leigh Hunt and Luther Brewer.
The exhibit is in the reading room through April 2021. If you are not able to view it in person, there will be an online exhibit coming this spring. Eager to look at the exhibit and can’t make it to campus? Listen to Michelson’s Bibliophiles lecture on her research into the Leigh Hunt collection and Luther Brewer.