The Bancroft Library at 100: A Celebration 1906 - 2006 (February 11 - December 3, 2006)

Berkeley, CA, December 22, 2005 - The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is proud to present The Bancroft Library at 100: A Celebration 1906 – 2006, an exhibition marking the centennial of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. The Bancroft Library at 100 features more than 200 objects spanning 2,000 years, and showcases many of the rare and exceptional items that form the core of the library's collection. These seldom-exhibited manuscripts, paintings, and photographs touch on events of great importance and significance, whether relating to the history of California and the Bay Area, the origins of Western literature, or ancient civilizations. The exhibition will be on view from February 11 through December 3, 2006.

The Bancroft Library was formed when the University of California acquired the collection of more than 60,000 rare manuscripts, books, and pamphlets belonging to publisher and historian Hubert Howe Bancroft. Bancroft (1832 – 1918) began his career as a bookseller in San Francisco in 1852, and later established a business which grew to become the largest book and stationery business west of Chicago. His collection of Western and Latin Americana was housed on Valencia Street in San Francisco, and was the only library of any note in the city that was not destroyed in the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire. The purchase of the library signaled the establishment of the University as a research institution. Today the Bancroft Library's collection has grown to almost 55 million items (600,000 bound volumes, 3.5 million pictorial items, and an astonishing 50 million manuscripts) and has become one of the most widely used research collections of its kind in the United States.

The Bancroft Library at 100: A Celebration 1906 – 2006 provides a glimpse into the origins and expansive breadth and depth of the Bancroft Library's collection. The exhibition features a few of the many rare and remarkable jewels in the collection, arranged around themes that reflect particular strengths of the Library's holdings, including Exploration and Natural History, Spanish Colonial Settlement, Political Encounters, Landscape and Environmentalism, and History of Science and Technology.

Part of the exhibition, which will be rotated during its eleven-month presentation, will highlight important items relating to California history. Many of the objects on view, such as the Wimmer Nugget, have great historical significance. Found in the American River near Coloma in 1848, the Wimmer Nugget sparked the California Gold Rush, which led in turn to the transformation of San Francisco from a sleepy settlement into a thriving city and port. Also on display is the diary belonging to Patrick Breen, a survivor of the Donner Party, perhaps the most famous tragedy in the history of America's western migration. In 1846 the Donner Party, which comprised eighty-one men, women, and children, set out from Illinois on a 2,000-mile trek to California. In October the group became trapped in the Sierras by early winter storms; by the time rescue parties reached them the following January, nearly half of the party had died, and many of the survivors had resorted to eating the remains of the deceased. Breen, traveling with his family, kept the only known diary written during the ordeal.

Among the other import items of Americana in the exhibition are the unpublished notebooks and first photograph taken of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Other important historical or cultural figures represented in the exhibition include President Thomas Jefferson, Hudson River School artist Albert Bierstadt, anthropologist A. Louis Kroeber, cartoonist and UC Berkeley alumnus Rube Goldberg, and photographer Dorothea Lange. Her images, such as I Am an American, document the evacuation of Japanese and Japanese Americans from California, Oregon, and Washington in 1942. Although they were commissioned by the War Relocation Authority, Lange's photographs nonetheless manage to convey a sense of outrage.

Also on view are papers, manuscripts, and photographs relating to figures from the Bay Area's literary scene, including Allen Ginsberg, Larry Keenan, and Eldridge Cleaver. Other literary works in the exhibition illustrate the breadth of the Bancroft collection, including what is perhaps the most important first edition in all of English literature-William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, published in London in 1623, seven years after the bard's death. The Bancroft Library at 100 also includes a volume of work by the greatest dramatist of the Spanish Golden Age, Lope de Vega, a rare volume of the complete works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and a copy of Cicero's Discourse on Old Age, printed in 1744 by Benjamin Franklin.

In a section on Building the Bay Area, visitors will see documents, photographs, and paintings that trace the physical, cultural, and social history of San Francisco and the Bay Area from the mid-nineteenth to the beginning of the twenty-first century. This section includes photographs and documents donated to the Library by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, an 1877 panorama of San Francisco by Eadweard Muybridge, Arnold Genthe's photographs of San Francisco immediately after the 1906 earthquake, and James Wong Howe's photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown from the mid-1940s.

Among the ancient treasures in the exhibition is the exceedingly rare and beautiful Codex Fernández Leal, an Aztec pictographic scroll produced in the mid-sixteenth century that measures almost twenty feet long. The scroll was written for colonial authorities after the Spanish conquest of what is now Oaxaca, Mexico, and illustrates the rights and privileges of Cuicatec families that had been established through historic wars, marriages, and sacred rituals. The oldest objects on view come from the Library's collection of Tebtunis papyri, or scrolls, which were uncovered during an archaeological expedition funded for UC Berkeley by Phoebe Apperson Hearst in 1899. The papyri date from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (ca. 300 B.C. – 300 A.D.) and are mostly written in Greek, with some Demotic (native Egyptian) and Latin texts. As a group the Tebtunis papyri represent a major collection of early documents, and include fragments of works by Homer and Sophocles, both of which are on display, as well as legal and economic documents.

The Bancroft Library at 100: A Celebration 1906 – 2006 will remain on view through December 3, 2006. During this time the library's permanent home on the UC Berkeley campus will undergo a general upgrade and seismic renovation. The exhibition was curated by Jack von Euw, Curator of the Bancroft Library Pictorial Collection.

Public Programs
Bancroft Centennial Symposium
Friday, February 10, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, February 11, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Museum Theater and PFA Theater
Admission Free
Historians, scientists, writers, independent scholars, curators, and fine printers come together in this two-day symposium to celebrate the centennial of The Bancroft Library. Panel topics will include early California voyages and explorations, ancient Egypt, perceptions of California, local literary history, biotechnology, the environment, the Gold Rush, social protest, Mark Twain, and other subjects encompassed by The Bancroft's collections.

Curator's Talk: Anthony Bliss on The Bancroft at 100: A Celebration 1906 -- 2006
Saturday, February 11, 12 noon -- 1 p.m.
Gallery 4
As the first in an ongoing series of talks about objects in the Bancroft centennial exhibition, Anthony Bliss, curator of rare books and literary manuscripts at The Bancroft, offers a personal and informal tour of the exhibition for museum visitors.

Curator's Talk: Jack von Euw
Thursday, April 20, 5:30 p.m.
Gallery 4
Continuing the museum's series of talks about materials in the Bancroft centennial exhibition, Jack von Euw, curator of pictorial collections at The Bancroft, will talk about how materials we often regard as purely visual can also be extremely valuable primary research materials.

Credit Line

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Additional support is provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Bernard Osher Foundation, Packard Humanities Institute, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Columbia Foundation, the Christensen Fund, the William H. Donner Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Gap Inc., other private foundations and corporations, and our individual donors and members. Major endowment support has been provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and by George Gund III.

Gap Inc. is proud to support First Impressions: Free First Thursdays at BAM/PFA. For more information about Free First Thursday gallery tours and screenings visit our website at

University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Located at 2626 Bancroft Way, just below College Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus.

Gallery and Museum Store Hours:
Wednesday and Friday to Sunday, 11 to 5; Thursday 11 to 7. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

General admission is $8; admission for seniors, disabled persons, non-UC Berkeley students, and young adults (13 – 17) is $5; admission for BAM/PFA members, UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty, and children under 12 is free; admission for group tours is $3 per person (to arrange a group tour, call [510] 642-5188). Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.

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Posted by admin on December 22, 2005