The architectural complex comprised of Brooklyn’s Central Public Library and the Brooklyn Museum is the epitome of a true cultural center in the eyes of Americans. Not only does it generate lots of interest, but also a sense of pride. One can visit these grandiose establishments either with the family or in solitude; one can spend a fun weekend there or even years writing a scholarly work. The unique Botanical Garden, adjacent to the cultural and historical complex, makes this Central Brooklyn area not only popular, but also highly prestigious.
Just as all great things always start out small, these world-famous cultural centers in Brooklyn started out with a small library in a wooden building. It was back in 1923, when Brooklyn was not yet an actual borough, but only a village outside of New York City. To this day, the library is a flourishing hearth of cultural life, communication, and learning. Brooklynites immediately began helping with the creation of their village “cultural hearth.” Interestingly, everything was cultivated, not only books, but also works of art, scientific exhibits, musical instruments, and furniture. Soon, the small library’s collection, which people called “All You Can Find In America,” outgrew its building. And then, General de Lafayette donated his spacious mansion to this library to store his rare book collections. By the way, the famous American poet Walt Whitman served there as one of the first librarians.
In the mid-19th century, the library merged with the Brooklyn Lyceum to form the Brooklyn Institute. This city building was commissioned to the new institution. The Music Academy and the School of Art developed under the Institute’s wing, were designated to not only teach talented children, but also adults. And since the main focus of the Institute was research, art exhibits were curated and unique departments were formed, such as: industrial, zoological, electrical studies, natural history, economics, housekeeping, politics, etc.
In 1890, Brooklyn had already become an independent city, producing such an ambitious project as the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. At the time it was the largest institute in the world! The country’s economy was on the rise, and such projects became viable. They were building the institute quickly, as they were trying to catch up with their next-door neighbor, Manhattan.
Architects Charles Mc Kim, William Mead and Stanford White designed the building. And while they were drafting the project for the world’s largest temple of arts and sciences, Brooklyn lost its independent city status and became part of “Greater New York,” which led to significant cuts in funding for the ambitious project. The building’s size had to be reduced four times, and a lot of decorative elements, both inside and outside, had to be removed.
Nonetheless, the Institute was inaugurated in 1897, and even in reduced size, it was quite impressive, totaling 52 thousand square meters. It was built in the style of Beaux Arts. The sculptor Daniel Chester French, who installed two sculptures by the entrance, designed the facade: “Brooklyn” and “Manhattan,” which used to be located by the Manhattan Bridge entrance. The Botanical Garden was adjoined to the building in 1910, which reinforced the Institute’s focus on natural sciences.
Collections at the Institute’s various departments were growing exponentially, which promoted each of the Institute’s departments’ increase in popularity and significance. A moment came when the Institute began to disintegrate, producing new institutes, schools, and museums. The first to break away and to form a separate museum was the industrial department, and the Academy of Music followed. Then the department of natural history moved to a branch of the Metropolitan Museum, taking its collection of the most precious items along with it. The Botanical Garden then seceded to form a separate organization.
What was left became known as the Brooklyn Museum, and very quickly occupied the entire enormous structure, which is the second largest building in the state of New York. Fine Arts was not a priority of the Institute’s development, therefore the Museum’s collections totaled only 17 works of art. However, since U.S. legislation has always been supportive of charity, the new museum very quickly assembled a large collection of all artistic types and movements. The most represented collection is Egyptian art, and the most famous exhibits are the terracotta “Lady Bird” of the Presynaptic period, and the fiancé figurine of a hippo from the Middle Kingdom. Art collectors helped create collections of art objects from the Pacific Islands, Africa, the Middle East, and, of course, Western Europe, which is represented mostly by impressionists: Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Delacroix, Courbet, Degas, and Sisley. The greatest pride of the Museum is its collection of American art. And the jewel of the collection is the portrait of the U.S. President John Adams, created by the artist and inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Morse.
The museum staff established a system of innovative educational exhibitions. The most memorable expositions are “Scythian Gold of Ukraine’s Mounds,” graphics by Winslow Homer, paintings by Lee Krasner, and the exhibition of works by young British artists called “Sensation!”
The building of the Brooklyn Central Library was built next to the Brooklyn Museum much later. Its construction began in 1938, and the library opened its doors to the public on February 1, 1941. However, the Brooklyn library network had been previously established in 1892, and the public library itself was commissioned in 1896. The American millionaire and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated 1.6 million dollars for its development.
Initially, architect Raymond Olmirral planned in 1912 four floors and a large canopy for the building in “Art Déco” style, but the Great Depression froze the construction for many years. The third floor was completed only in 1955, increasing the inner area two-fold. In 1997, the Brooklyn Library acquired the status of a cultural monument. The library collections hold millions of books, various items, and multimedia materials. Photo collections, maps, manuscripts, and memorabilia are held, including, for example a collection of objects that once belonged to the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. In 2009, the Brooklyn Library received the most visitors of all public libraries in the entire U.S. The year 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the Brooklyn Central Library.
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