The permanent exhibition will feature 130 new historic items from the Library’s archives with increased access for students and multilingual guides
The exhibition has received over 350,000 visits since opening last fall
The New York Public Library is commemorating the first anniversary of its permanent exhibition, The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures, with a rotation of 130 new historic items. Since opening last fall, the exhibition has received over 350,000 in-person visits, and will now also feature increased access for students and the addition of new multilingual audio guides and print materials. Timed, free tickets to the exhibition—held in Gottesman Hall, the restored and renovated exhibition space on the main floor of the 42nd Street library, are available to reserve online.
Now on display to the public, the items joining the Library’s iconic Treasures include:
- A signed, first edition copy of Passing by Nella Larsen; published in 1929.
- An 1802 portrait of General Toussaint Louverture (ca. 1743–1803), leader of the Haitian Revolution; in an age before photography when produced images often played on racist stereotypes, this portrait is notable for its depiction of L’Ouverture as a dignified and powerful statesman.
- Early prints from Katsushika Hokusai, artist of The Great Wave; including Contest of Genroku Poems on Seashells and A Set of Horses: A Talisman.
- A selection of manuscript pages from The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot; including revisions made by his wife, Vivian Eliot, and Ezra Pound, friend and a fellow poet. Alongside the manuscript is a letter from Virginia Woolf written to her friend David Garnett, which recounts hearing Eliot read his poem to a group in 1922.
- A miniature, early 19th-century Qur’an, produced in Turkey and shaped like a leaf with serrated edges, an allusion to the sacred Tuba tree.
The exhibition will also mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses written by James Joyce. The exhibition’s Written Word section will incorporate archival materials from James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and other notable writers of the time, such as:
- Two first editions of Ulysses—including one inscribed from Joyce to friend and fellow novelist, James Stephens—first published on February 2, 1922, to coincide with James Joyce’s 40th birthday; only 1,000 copies were printed.
- A 1923 letter from Eliot to Virginia Woolf thanking her for publishing The Waste Land and apologizing for the typos he overlooked in the proofs of the book.
- A 1928 photograph of James Joyce by Berenice Abbott taken in Paris.
The Library is introducing a new audio guide available in Mandarin narrated by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao through a partnership with Bloomberg Connect. Visitors to the exhibition can also access additional audio tours in several languages on their smartphones: an English version narrated by playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, a Spanish version hosted by journalist Daniel Alarcón, and an accessible version with audio descriptions.
The Library has also begun scheduling tours with schools and educators, providing students with the opportunity to engage and interact with history. Serving as an introduction to The New York Public Library’s research collections, students will learn some of the Library’s history, as well as how collections are acquired, accessed and preserved. Through the Polonsky Exhibition, students will understand the breadth of the Library’s collections from its research centers and the significant access to information that libraries provide.
For 2nd through 12th grade classes, an educator will facilitate field trips in the Polonsky Exhibition of the Library’s Treasures. Trips are available Monday through Thursday, from 9 AM to 1 PM. Additionally, a field trip to the Polonsky Exhibition can be planned in coordination with a visit to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library. To get started planning a field trip, patrons may fill out this form, and can email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The exhibition has been made possible with a generous $12 million gift from philanthropist Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE. Dr. Polonsky has a long history of supporting The New York Public Library, giving two gifts totaling $1 million to digitize 127,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material, including the Thomas Addis Emmet Collection of American historical manuscripts and selected American literary manuscripts from Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others. That material can be accessed at archives.nypl.org and digitalcollections.nypl.org.
“I am delighted that the Exhibition has attracted so many visitors to The New York Public Library in its first year, and applaud the steps taken by the Library to make these inspiring treasures even more accessible, particularly to young people,” said Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE.
Spanning over 4,000 years of history, the exhibition draws exclusively from the Library’s research collections, which contain over 45 million objects including rare books, manuscripts, photographs, prints, maps, ephemera, audio and moving image, and more, collected over the institution’s 126 years and accessible at the Library’s research centers: the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Library for the Performing Arts, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Additional highlights of the exhibition—curated by a team of research library staff led by Declan Kiely, the Library’s Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions—include:
- Manuscript page of Maya Angelou’s poem I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
- Charles Dickens’s writing desk, chair, and paper knife (the handle of which is made from the paw of his beloved, deceased cat Bob), and his personal copy of David Copperfield with his handwritten notes for public readings
- The Hunt-Lenox Globe—one of the earliest surviving terrestrial globes, one of only two known Renaissance-era maps or globes to bear the motto Hic Sunt Dracones (“Here be dragons”), and one of the earliest cartographic depictions of the Americas
- The stuffed animals that belonged to the real-life Christopher Robin and inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh stories
About The New York Public Library
For over 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With over 90 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library receives approximately 16 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.