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Grove Dictionary of Art

December 7, 2001

How does a small library acquire an $8,800 encyclopedia?

We could send out volunteers and steal it volume by volume from other libraries. Don’t laugh; it seems that some pusillanimous dastard [SIC: DASTARD] is trying to do this with our Anne Rice books.

If you see someone reading hardback Anne Rice novels with a library stamp but no dust jacket, don’t confront him. Such a person is likely to do anything, perhaps even steal your lunch or pinch your baby when you’re not looking. Yes, there are such people, even in Salida.

So, how did we acquire an $8,800 encyclopedia? We waited five years and paid $1,000. I’ve wanted us to have one of these for a while, but even discounted prices have been too dear.

Then, a few weeks ago, Dan came in and said, “You don’t have the Grove Dictionary of Art, do you?” It was question and answer all in one, with that kind of dejection and commiseration that says, I’m so sorry to make you say no.

But Dan said he had seen it in a Daedalus Books sale catalog for a few hundred bucks, which was still too much for him.

“No way,” I said, meaning the price.

“Maybe I’m wrong,” he hesitated.

“Even if it’s a thousand,” I said.

He was right; it was for sale. I was right; it was a thousand.

Now it is here — 34 volumes of timeless scholarship. If you’ve ever had occasion to use the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, you can consider this the art equivalent, with more pictures — color and black & white.

The Dictionary of Art is another fine, large, scholarly reference work that we’ve added recently among others that will remain useful and authoritative for decades, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, American National Biography, and Women in World History.

Dan was hoping to find information about Rodolphe Bresdin, a little-known French printmaker. The Dictionary of Art had an entire page about him, with a bibliography citing nine works.

I looked up “watercolour,” since I’ve seen a lot of watercolor paintings recently. The library showed the works of Kathy Mailander for two months, coincident with a show of Jan Thoreen Lewis’s watercolors at Bongo Billy’s Salida Cafe.

Kathy’s paintings just came down last weekend to make room for paintings by the Monday Morning Watercolor Group from Buena Vista.

The Dictionary of Art has a five-page article on watercolour and its history. The next entry caught my eye, too: a full page about watercolour societies. I had visited an exhibition by the Royal Watercolour Society in London and there got a sense of a history of conflict.

Oil painters had formed the Royal Academy in 1768 and watercolourists were kept at arm’s length as practitioners of a lowly art more akin to draughting. So, watercolour painters had to form their own societies to promote their art.

It is a simple — but by no means easy — medium. When I look at a fine watercolor painting, I am overwhelmed by the accomplishment, which requires a fairly complete idea of the painting before the first color is applied.

I looked up Andrew Wyeth, whom I thought of as a watercolor painter but whose most famous paintings are all tempera. This is also a water-based medium — a very old one — and requires even more painstaking attention than standard watercolors.

I must curb my enthusiasm here. Take a peek at the library’s new Dictionary of Art.

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