DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Jul 31 2014

Museum of the Missing

by Hope L

mus2The introduction to Simon Houpt’s book Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft begins with the heartbreaking true story:

“It may be the most haunting work of art in the world.

It has no canvas, no oil paint, no artist’s signature.  Official appraisals would say it is worthless.  It is just a single carved wood frame, the color of burnished gold, hanging on an easel draped in heavy brown fabric.  Until one late winter night in 1990, that frame held The Concert, one of only thirty-six known works by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.  Like so many of Vermeer’s paintings, The Concert is famously enigmatic.  It quietly imposes itself on the viewer, insisting on contemplation.  And here, in the Dutch Room on the second floor of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, a wide-backed chair upholstered in light green Victorian fabric sits in front of the easel, courteously placed there so that a visitor might pause to reflect on the painting’s luminous beauty and the many secrets it holds.

But in 1990, when two thieves ransacked the museum during the city’s post-St. Patrick’s Day inebriated haze, plucking the Vermeer and twelve other treasures, including three Rembrandts and a Govaert Flinck from this same room, the greatest secret of The Concert became its location.  Now, if you go to the Gardner, you will see a heartbreaking tableau:  that chair staring up at the empty frame, as if in eternal contemplation of the loss.”

As noted on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum website, the stolen works include: “Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633),  A Lady and Gentleman in Black (1633) and a Self Portrait (1634), an etching on paper; Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660); and Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk (1638); and a Chinese vase or Ku, all taken from the Dutch Room on the second floor. Also stolen from the second floor were five works on paper by the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas and a finial from the top of a pole support for a Napoleonic silk flag, both from the Short Gallery. Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878–1880) was taken from the Blue Room on the first floor.”


The approximately $500 million worth of art stolen from the Gardner is still an open case, and there is a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the 13 pieces. The FBI maintains a dedicated webpage on the case.

The latter portion of Houpt’s book contains the Gallery of Missing Art, an assortment of artwork that has been stolen with a brief paragraph on each piece.  And of course, the color pictures of the stolen art are amazing.

There were two security guards on duty that night in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (they were unscathed). I’m so glad I wasn’t one of them–the thieves duped the guards by dressing up as city policemen, stating that they were there for a call.

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Aug 10 2011

National treasure

by Dea Anne M

August 10th marks the anniversary of the passage of the  Smithsonian Institution Act, an event which paved the way for the establishment of the immense and awe-inspiring collection of museums and research facilities that are collectively known as the Smithsonian Institution.

In the 1800’s, a British scientist named James Smithson stipulated in his will that should his nephew die without heirs, then the whole of the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States to create an “Establishment for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men.” Ironically enough, Smithson had never visited the United States.

Today, the Smithsonian Institution includes19 museums, the National Zoo, and nine research centers. Most of these are in D.C., but some are located in New York City, Virginia, and other places. The Institution is functionally and legally a body of the U.S. government and employs its own police force.

The institution has over 136 million items in its collection. Some of these include:

  • The Hope Diamond
  • A giant squid
  • The Wright Flyer
  • A Harley-Davidson XR-750
  • Kermit the Frog
  • Bee-Gees, Thundercats, and Flintstones lunch boxes
  • A 1955 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon
  • …and many more.

Even if you can’t make the trip to D.C., DCPL has resources to help you learn more about this precious national treasure.

For a general overview of the institution, try The Smithsonian: 150 years of adventure, discovery, and wonder by James Conaway, A Picture Tour of the Smithsonian, or Treasures of Smithsonian by Edwards Park.

For museum specific material try:

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: an autobiography edited by Michael J. Neufeld and Alex M. Spencer, The National Museum of Natural History by Philip Kopper, or America’s National Gallery of Art: a gift to the nation by Philip Kopper.

For kids, try S is for Smithsonian: America’s museum alphabet by Marie and Roland Smith or The Smithsonian Institution by Mary Collins.

And for your viewing pleasure, don’t miss Night at the Museum: Battle of  the Smithsonian starring Ben Stiller and Amy Adams.

By the way, James Smithson finally did come to this country. His remains are entombed in the Smithsonian Institution Building , otherwise known as “the Castle” (seen at the top of this post).


Oct 22 2010

AHC 4th Annual Booksale

by Jesse M

Want to get a jump on your Christmas shopping for book-loving friends and family this year? Then you may want to check out the Atlanta History Center’s 4th annual book sale this Saturday, October 23, from 9:00am-2:00pm. Held in the Kenan Research Center’s Draper Members Room, shoppers will be able to choose from a selection of over 2000 titles in subjects including American and world history, genealogy, biography, and fiction. While acquiring books at bargain prices shoppers are also helping the Research Center; proceeds from the sale support the mission of the archives and library in promoting the preservation, conservation, and care of the permanent collections. Once you finish shopping, make a day of it and check out some of the fascinating exhibitions at the Atlanta History Center. And don’t forget to keep your receipt! Proof of purchase from the sale entitles visitors to enjoy a $5 discount on admission (but only on that day, October 23). For more information on the sale, call 404-814-4049.

And the bargain shopping need not end there! Many DCPL branches host ongoing book sales where books, magazines, and other media can be procured at rock bottom prices, with proceeds from all purchases going to support your local library. Contact individual branches for pricing and other details. A full list of branches is available on our website.  You can also check out the many book sales held by the Friends of the Library, by checking this page.


Oct 6 2010

Museum love: from the odd to the sublime

by Dea Anne M

I love museums. Ever since a childhood visit to the  American Museum of Natural History during a family trip to New York City, I have remained fascinated with collections of all that is unusual and beautiful. I seek out museums wherever I travel.  These days, no visit to NYC is complete without a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but also fascinating is the Frick Collection housed in what was once the home of Henry Clay Frick, an American industrialist and art collector who enjoyed the dubious honor of being called “America’s most hated man.”  Back when I was making regular trips to Chicago, I always planned a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago where must sees, for me, are works by Joseph Cornell and the Thorne Minature Rooms. Of no less interest and excitement in the Windy City is the  Museum of Science and Industry where you can explore the interiors of a  U-505 submarine and a simulated coal mine. In D.C., one of our national treasures is the  Smithsonian Institution. The museum complex includes at least 10 museums on the Mall. All of them are free! Can I say that again? Free! Closer to home, there is the opulent and breathtaking Biltmore Estate (not free…but well worth the stiff admission). Here in Atlanta there is, of course, the High Museum of Art, but we can also enjoy such unique museums as the Apex Museum, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History , and the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

If you can think of an object, there probably exists a museum, somewhere, that celebrates it.

Shoes? Fit in a visit to the Bata Shoe Museum the next time you are visiting Toronto, Ontario.

Toilets? Try the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, India.

Barbed Wire? Be sure to check out the Devil’s Rope Barbed Wire Museum the next time you find yourself ranging through McLean, Texas.

Pez? Don’t miss the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia while popping in on someone in  Burlingame, California.

If you’d rather explore museums, and their collections, from the comfort of home check out these resources available from DCPL.

On DVD, look for:

Sculptures of the Louvre

Museum Masterpieces: the Louvre

For books, check out:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Howard Hibbard

American Museum of Natural History: 125 Years of Expedition and Discovery by Lyle Rexer and Rachel Klein

Art in the Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts by Charles Ryskamp

America’s Smithsonian: Celebrating 150 Years

Making the Mummies Dance:Inside the Metropolitan Museum of  Art by Thomas Hoving

The Museum Book: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections by Jan Mark

Finally, don’t forget:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. This is a book that could make you fall in love with museums all over again.  Not that I need help with that. One thing I know for certain…one of these days I’m going to get to Toronto and see those shoes!