The Newark Museum and SLA are both celebrating centennials in 2009. At the center of both institutions was John Cotton Dana, a quite busy man 100 years ago, as he was (a) the founding president of SLA (as many SLA members know), (b) the founding director of the Newark Museum, and (c) continuing as director of the Newark Public Library.
Librarian William A. Peniston at the Newark Museum has asked NJSLA to promote the following event:
Renowned art historian Carol Duncan will speak on pioneering librarian and museum director John Cotton Dana at the Newark Museum on Wednesday, April 22 at 2 p.m. An afternoon tea and book signing will follow. (The event is free; the book retails for $40.)
Carol Duncan is professor emeritus of art history at Ramapo College in New Jersey. An expert in the history of museums in the United States, she is author of numerous books and articles. Her most recent work is entitled "How to Have A Museum With Brains": John Cotton Dana and the Making of A Democratic Culture in America (Periscope, 2009).
In this critical study, Duncan examines the work of John Cotton Dana, best known as the director of the Newark Public Library from 1902 to 1929 and of the Newark Museum from 1909 to 1929. She is particularly interested in the tension between Dana "the democratic idealist who fought the powerful upper class of his city" and Dana "[the] ideologue who advanced upper-class agendas." Dana himself was "convinced that he could serve the cultural interests of all classes without compromise" -- a conviction that Duncan questions.
In the course of eight chapters, Duncan discusses the young Dana as a man "struggling to throw off a detested New England upbringing and remake himself as a free-thinking intellectual;" the professional Dana whose modernization and democratization program reshaped American public libraries; and the established Dana who "endeavored to create a progressive museum [as] an equivalent to his reformed library." Much of her book is devoted to his career as the director of The Newark Museum, where he "staged exhibitions ... that challenged conventional distinctions between art, craft and industrial design" and where he was "determined to establish the museum as a force within the new consumer economy."
This book is a welcomed addition to the scholarship on John Cotton Dana and The Newark Museum. Unlike earlier biographies, which have been celebratory in tone, this one situates the man in his times and adds significantly to the existing studies of the Progressive Era. It should make the man and his institutions better known to a wider audience and it should encourage all thinking individuals to reflect seriously on the role of libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions in the democratic world of today.
The Newark Museum is pleased to have Professor Carol Duncan speak to its diverse constituencies about the innovative work of its founding director during its centennial celebrations. And we invite you and your colleagues to attend this important event.
William A. Peniston, Ph.D.
The Newark Museum
49 Washington Street
Newark, NJ 07102
Office: (973) 596-6625
Fax: (973) 642-0459
Photo: John Cotton Dana, ca. 1910.
Credit (and link to download): Library of Congress (Bain News Service collection) via Flickr.
No known restrictions on publication.