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The Unexpected Portsmouth Art Gallery

 

 

 

library gilded eagle

 

An eclectic collection

 

The Portsmouth Public Library art collection is eclectic to say the least. It includes ceramics, prints, postcards, bookplates, sculptures, sketches, paintings, plaques, a few tools, and even a Chelsea tide clock. Many items found their way there before the opening of the Portsmouth Historical Society in 1920. 

 

 

Robert E. Rich was the first librarian from 1896 to 1908. Hannah Fernald followed from 1908 to 1945. But the biggest collector of all was certainly Dorothy Vaughan, who worked at the library for 53 years, taking the helm from 1945 to 1974.

 

 

You will find most of your displayed items at the top of the circular stairway. Look for pallid white busts of George Washington and New Hampshire's Civil War governor Ichabod Goodwin (whose house was moved from Islington Street to Strawbery Banke Museum). Inside the Special Collections Room are sculptures of Napoleon Bonaparte, Portsmouth lawyer and judge Jeremiah Mason, and Daniel Webster. A ferocious Chinese or Korean guardian lion, donor unknown, protects the desk of the reference librarian on duty. A photo of NH artist Lotti Jacobi hangs on the opposite wall.

 

 

Above a bank of well-attended computers, you'll find four framed portraits of 19th century figures. Significant among them is Rev. Nathan Parker, who brought Unitarianism to Portsmouth, and whose great brick mansion still stands near South Mill pond.

 

 

Most prominent is James T. Fields (1817-1881), who hangs just opposite the microfilm machines. Raised in the South End, this entrepreneurial genius moved to Boston at age 14. There he became a partner at Ticknor & Fields. There he published books by Whittier, Emerson, Thoreau, Stowe, Holmes, Hawthorne, Dickens, Thackery, Longfellow, and more. This painting is our best image of the young writer and editor who would later own and operate the Atlantic Monthly.  After Fields' death in 1881, his wife Annie, author Sarah Orne Jewett, and Celia Thaxter employed mediums, without success, to talk to him beyond the grave.

 

library scultures

 

CONTINUE PORTSMOUTH ART COLLECTION

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