My husband and I recently spent a few days in New York City, visiting our son. In addition to visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art (both of which I heartily recommend), we took a tour of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. What a wonderful experience! And free!
The tour was given by a vivacious, enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteer, who brought amazing history to life throughout the library. The building was constructed on the foundation of a reservoir, with the cornerstone laid in 1902.
Before you even enter the building, you are greeted by two iconic statues. The majestic lions, nicknamed Patience and Virtue, are made of a rose-colored marble. Once inside the front lobby, the gorgeous huge front windows are worth turning around to view.
The first room we visited was the Dewitt Wallace Periodical Room. According to the tour guide, DeWitt and Lila Bell Wallace spent many hours reading and cultivating articles from the Library’s collection before founding the Reader’s Digest Magazine in 1922. The Wallaces gave generously after becoming wealthy and The Wallace Foundation funded the restoration in 1983 of The Periodical Room that served as their informal editorial office. The ornate ceiling looks like wood but is actually plaster. The beautiful murals are described in detail on the library website.
Another highlight of the tour was the Gutenberg Bible on display upstairs. Johannes Gutenberg was the first European to use movable metal type in the production of books, a much faster system than handwriting or woodblock print. The New York Public Library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible, one of only about 180 produced, was donated by James Lenox, who was one of the co-founders of the library.
Surrounding the Gutenberg Bible is a set of four arched murals called The Story of the Recorded Word. These murals, created between 1938 to 1942, were part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The first mural shows Moses with the Ten Commandments, as depicted in Exodus of the Old Testament; in the second a monk from the Middle Ages copies a manuscript; the third mural shows Gutenberg with a proof of his Bible; and the fourth depicts Ottmar Mergenthaler at a linotype machine.
This is only a small portion of the artwork and information shown us during the tour. I would encourage you to visit yourself if you are able.