Photographs and artifacts of Huell Howser’s life found in the basement archive. Photo by Brittany Toombs
A Nobel Prize, artwork dating back to the 15th century, a collection of war missives, and more: the art and artifacts on display at the Leatherby Libraries may come as a surprise to visitors simply in search of a quiet place to study.
Though many students are aware of the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library located on the fourth floor, there are countless other exhibits, artifacts, and museum-quality art on display that students may be unaware is right under their nose.
The museum-style collection, California’s Gold, located in the library’s basement features artifacts and educational pieces about Huell Howser’s television show. Photo by Brittany Toombs
Library Development Coordinator Essraa Nawar explained that the libraries attain art and artifacts a few different ways. Permanent art is either purchased in honor of naming a space in the library or donated by Chapman’s Board of Trustees or community members.
For rotating and nonpermanent exhibits, Nawar says community members, faculty, or students approach the library and suggest ideas to the Arts, Exhibits and Events Committee, a group of twelve library staff members. The committee meets, discusses the potential exhibit, and in most cases, moves forward with developing a new collection.
“We base (our) decision on the fact that we want to inspire students beyond the classroom,” Nawar said. “We want to introduce concepts and ideas and open their minds both visually and intellectually to topics they might not be introduced to otherwise. It compliments research and teaching but also opens their perspectives to other things.”
What exactly is on display throughout the four stories and nine library departments at Chapman?
When asked to choose her favorite piece on display at the library, Dean of Leatherby Libraries Charlene Baldwin said, “it’s like asking me who is my favorite child.”
Baldwin, dean of the libraries for over eighteen years, says one of the libraries’ most treasured works of art is the first piece of art the library received, a gift from President Jim Doti and his wife, Professor Lynn Doti.
The piece, Paul Gauguin’s “la Orana Maria”, is a zincograph, a piece of art created by printing on zinc plates. The piece was donated in memory of Roch Edward Doti, the Doti’s first child who passed away. The zincograph is on display by the circulation desk.
A display from The Center for American War Letters’ current exhibition, “My One and Only”, which commemorates soldiers’ love letters in honor of Valentines’ Day. Photo by Brittany Toombs
“The things in the library that are, in general, my favorites are things that are not only beautiful and aesthetic but tell a story and incite some imagination on the part of students,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin says she is also very proud of the stories the library has told by adding themes to the bookable study rooms throughout the library.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to try to use our funding to tell stories about important parts of our world,” Baldwin said.
The Sikh Story Room, study room 208, includes a replica of the Golden Temple, a Sikh holy site, and a turban display. The displays in the Sikh Story room and other themed study rooms are meant to demystify people’s understanding of the world’s religions, according to Baldwin.
As for Assistant Librarian Cotton Coslett’s favorite piece, he points to Chuck Jones’ “The Master’s Series” collection, featuring art by the animator most known for his work on Looney Tunes creating Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and others. The collection showcases his infamous characters in the style of classical paintings.
“It’s interesting because you see Jones painted Bugs Bunny in the style of Dali, or Daffy Duck as a Rembrandt,” Coslett said. “We think of him as drawing these two-dimensional characters, and he was amazing at it, and very funny, but it doesn’t necessary require any classical ability.”
Some of the oldest pieces of art in the Leatherby Libraries is the fourth floor’s collection of Russian icons. Photo by Brittany Toombs
According to Baldwin, the oldest complete work in the Leatherby Libraries is a first edition copy of Liber Chronicarum [Nuremberg Chronicle] by Hartman Schedel, which is essentially the history of the world dating back to 1493. It was one of the first books ever published using movable press type. The book includes 1,800 wood-cut illustrations, with double-page maps of the world as the authors knew it.
Aside from Liber Chronicarum, some of the oldest pieces in the libraries include Bible leaves that date back to the tenth century and Russian Icons of the Saints created sometime after the state converted to Christianity in 988, according to Baldwin.
Housed on the second-floor lobby are 200-year-old African Granary ladders from a Dogon village in Mali, each hewn from a single tree trunk. The ladders were used by Dogon villagers to access roof food storage.
“There’s not many trees left in the Sahara, so they’re very rare,” Baldwin said.
Piece of the original Hollywood sign donated as a part of Huell Howser’s personal “found art” collection. Photo by Brittany Toombs
Also on the second floor is the Doti-Struppa Mountaineering Alcove, which commemorates the ascent of the Chapman Pennant to the top of the Seven Summits by President Jim Doti and other members of the Chapman community. The display includes a rare engraving of the five known summits in 1864 and climbing equipment artifacts.
The second floor also features two prestigious medals: a Nobel Peace Prize and a National Medal of Science.
Vernon L. Smith’s Nobel Prize in economics was donated to Chapman in 2007 when Chapman’s Economic Science Institute was founded. Smith’s medal is on display along with a personal collection of books, posters, and papers. Smith holds the Argyros Chair in Finance and Economics at Chapman.
Hidden in the basement
Many students are not aware that the plethora of art and artifacts Leatherby Libraries has to offer actually begins in the basement. California’s Gold Exhibit and Huell Howser Archives is a miniature museum featuring artifacts from Howser’s life, career, and personal collection, as well as text, images, and interactive features for visitors to browse.
Howser was a Californian television personality most known for hosting, producing, and writing California’s Gold, a human interest show exploring hidden facets of the state. He was a collector of industrial pieces he called “found art”.
200-year-old African Granary ladders from a Dogon village in Mali located found on the second floor lobby. Photo by Brittany Toombs
“The Huell Howser Archive is a primary source not only for people to learn about California, but to learn about how one person’s passion translated to a career,” Baldwin said.
Howser’s art collection, which was donated to Chapman in 2011, spreads outside of the display room into the hallways of the basement level and stairwell. One of Coslett’s favorite pieces from the collection is hidden in the basement’s elevator lobby.
“We get a lot of visitors for Huell Howser because it’s a big draw for local people,” Coslett said. “I always tell them to take the elevator down because when the doors open you see this big piece of white metal—it’s actually a piece of the original Hollywood sign.”
The piece was saved from when the Hollywood sign was switched from original vanity lights to iridescent paint in 1978. Howser acquired the piece and donated it to Chapman soon after.
Also found in the basement is The Center for American War Letters, which houses over 90,000 letters from every American conflict. The center’s current exhibit, titled “My One and Only”, honors Valentine’s Day. The exhibit showcases a collection of American soldiers’ love letters ranging from the Civil War to the Iraq War.
Value of indirect, visual learning
Nawar says the library’s installations contribute to an environment of indirect learning that offsets the laser-focus students have in classrooms.
“When you come to the library, you want to look at something that inspires you or relaxes you,” Nawar said. “It allows students to learn visually without the stress of being graded. It’s an indirect form of learning. It’s not a topic for you to be graded on, it’s a topic for you to explore.”
A collection of Huell Howser’s “found art” located at the base of the stairwell in the Leatherby Libraries’ basement. Photo by Brittany Toombs
Coslett agrees, noting that the library’s collections lend an air of authenticity and academia.
“This isn’t just a collection of books,” Coslett said. “This isn’t a dusty old room full of things you don’t use anymore. It’s a living, breathing place with collections and museum-quality art. It’s easy enough to not notice it, but being in that environment, you’re almost learning by accident.”
Though the pieces on display may be sometimes overlooked, Nawar says their impact on the learning environment is significant.
“What if tomorrow we took all of the art out of the libraries and the walls were plain?” Nawar said. “You would notice the difference, no matter what.”