July 14, 2005

Go West, Young Man!

I skipped out of work early last night to go up with a friend to a very spiffy little club called the Grolier Club. The Grolier is a bibliophile club. You have to be actively engaged in the book collecting or book dealing world to be a member. They have an astonishing collection and the best library in the country for research on books and book collecting. The club has a beautiful little brownstone in the lower 60's on the East Side. No dining facilities, but you can't have everything, I suppose.

I went, though, not to see the clubhouse but to see an exhibit of manuscripts, maps and artifacts relating to the American West. It was pretty damn cool. Highlights included: a strand from the original Morse telegraph wire; Peter Stuyvesant's signature; Lewis and Clark signatures and letters; Brigham Young letter describing the original trek West; and, the playing cards used by Frank James, Jesse's brother. Here's the text of the hand out:

Rich in natural resources, cultures, legends and opportunities, the American West has made dreamers of generations of Americans. On view at the Grolier Club from May 11 through July 30, 2005, the exhibition The Western Pursuit of the American Dream chronicles the vast historical panorama of the American West through the outstanding holdings of collector Kenneth W. Rendell. Nearly 150 objects document this national adventure through the actual words and artifacts of explorers, travelers, warriors, gold seekers, merchants, outlaws-dreamers all-who shaped the American frontier.

The Western Pursuit begins with the Spanish in Mexico and ends with filmmakers in Hollywood. It chronicles the dream of freedom and opportunity in the West and how it inspired adventures, trade, and legends, exploring the history of the fur trade, cartography, industry, artistry, and Western tourism. The Rendell collection includes fascinating letters, diaries and first-hand descriptions, as well as intriguing western artifacts collected over decades. Rarely-seen volumes such as a first edition of the History of the Expedition…of Captains Lewis and Clark, and personal accounts by explorers, traders, trappers, and travelers provide an intimate glimpse of the West. Its history is also conveyed through remarkable artifacts such as a gold pan used by forty-niners, letters of Davy Crockett and Wild Bill Hickok, Pony Express envelopes, and Frank James' playing cards. As Mr. Rendell has pointed out, "These remnants of the past express, as no historian can, the realities, anxieties, and hope of a new life that the West represented. This sense of hope was not exclusive to the people who actually went there, but was also felt by those who merely fantasized about escaping to the frontier."

The trek by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Corps of Discovery is one of America's legendary adventures. Silver peace medals like those used by Lewis and Clark to gain the trust of Indian leaders are on view. An extraordinarily rare, first-edition map of Lewis and Clark's journey, which portrayed far more territory than anticipated and further fueled the lure of the West, is an exhibition highlight.

In the 1840s, the era of Manifest Destiny, Americans were consumed with dreams of settling the West. This period is recalled through a fascinating selection of guidebooks used by travelers to cross the continent. Publications like The Route Across the Rocky Mountains (1846) and A New History of Oregon and California (1847) present a first-hand look at the great overland migration. Miners soon followed and the story of the California gold rush is told through evocative early photographs of miners, panning equipment, travel guides, gold nuggets, and a rare letter by John A. Sutter---all evoking the dream of striking it rich in places where the streets were purportedly paved in gold.

Others found ways to earn a living in the West. Soon after the Civil War, industrialization spread with the transcontinental railroad. Within two years of its completion in 1869, passengers and freight could cross the continent in a matter of days. Stereograph images from events like the Golden Spike Ceremony, and the idealized prints of railroad travel by Currier and Ives fueled enthusiasm for many to pursue opportunity in the West.

The exhibition also reveals the tensions between the romance and the realities of the West, as Davy Crockett stories and tales of cowboys often portrayed an idealized view. Even lore of the infamous outlaw Jesse James depicts a complex character that was both admired and loathed in his day, while the legendary Pony Express is shown to have been a short-lived venture that operated for only 18 months. Similarly, the widespread public fascination in the 19th century with Native American culture and artifacts, even as the U.S. government worked to eradicate traditional Indian communities, is examined.

The Western Pursuit concludes with a look at how the history of the West was further codified in the twentieth century by Hollywood film studios. "It is important to remember that the people presented in this exhibition were dreamers," said Mr. Rendell. "In fact, the American West still inspires modern-day dreams in industry, education, and business. This is the story of the pursuit of dreams. You could say it is the story of human nature itself."

We capped the evening off with private drinks in the lounge and conversation. It was delightful. Boy did it make me miss living in the City.

I just missed my 7:10 train home so I had to console myself with a glass of Champagne with a friend at a restaurant bar in the PanAm (not called that anymore but I intend to keep calling it that) Building. And to top it all off, the 28 year old bartender, a delightful young woman who is an excellent judge of men, flirted with me. A lot.

Some nights just make the day totally worthwhile.

Posted by Random Penseur at July 14, 2005 03:11 PM | TrackBack

So glad to hear you had an enjoyable, flirtatious evening. Good for you.

Posted by: Wicked H at July 14, 2005 06:26 PM

How cool! I have missed doing a lot of stuff like that. Mostly because I was in Lexington so long and there's not much there. But, nothing beats the culture that's found in NYC. I'm sure it was a lovely evening. And, ;-) on the flirting. There's nothing like that either!

Posted by: Linda at July 16, 2005 10:20 AM
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