It’s Not Snooping If It’s In A Museum.

Last week I went to the Morgan Library to see an exhibit called The Diary, Three Centuries of Private Lives. It was all about diaries, some of them 300 years old.

You can’t take photos in the exhibit, except for sneaking a shot under the radar of the security guards.


The exhibit was exciting in that it had some fine examples of the art of keeping a diary. From Henry David Thoreau:

From the wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne:

From Paul Horgan (1903 – 1994) who carried notebooks with him wherever he went to allow him to capture ideas at the moment they arose. “Some of the notes are productive,” he later explained, “developing organically in a wonderful way. Others die and you don’t know why. They all seem fascinating at the moment.”

And Elizabeth Morgan, who kept her homemade diaries from 1818 to 1843, noting the small domestic details of her daily life as a genteel spinster in New England.

But the exhibit was drearily “interpreted” by a curator who felt the need to categorize the diaries — under such lumpen rubrics as War Diaries, Road Diaries, Shared Diaries, Spiritual Diaries, 1960s [???] Diaries — and, when those categories broke down (from their own reductivity (sp?)), she tossed in facsimiles, in the form of reproductions or published books(which, to me, shattered the whole immediacy of looking at a diary, the unmediated un-edited first-hand report of a life).

And, for some (or not) reason, the diaries of Charlotte Bronte and  Albert Einstein were left floating on their own, about which our docent-of-the-day was able to state the stunningly obvious: “Charlotte’s handwriting is minuscule“, and “Any mathematician today can read the equations that Einstein jotted down in his journal.”

Dear Readers, I am a connoisseur of The Diary. And  I  have just the diary for you. Meet me here next week.


9 Comments, RSS

  1. JOAN

    After reading about the go cup artist, absolutely fascinating, I was puzzled when I read that your next stop was the exhibit of The DAIRY:Three Centuries of Private Lives. I thought: DAIRY? Must be a history of DAIRY farmers private lives? Oops, no! The exhibit is showing the DIARY…how I do love to read the letters and/or diaries of artists, writers, famous people, especially women. Handwritten ones are best. However, very few of those are available for circulation, so I can only opt for the second best…printed.

    I’m intrigued with old family letters that I have discovered in my family history research. Love the differences in penmanship through the decades. I recently read that Cursive penmanship is being dropped from school teaching. I learned the Palmer Method back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth…value that teaching to this day and never fail to get compliments on my script whenever I have the occassion to give a sample of my penmanship.

    I still keep up a hand written correspondence with a good friend in AK who is without internet access. I’ve kept all of her notes, letters, post cards during this time (5 yrs ongoing) because I believe that snail mail correspondence is quickly becoming passe and want my grandchildren to know that I participated in a special mode (old fashioned) of communication’.

    When is the last time you penned a letter or note to someone that included more than your signature?

  2. Absolutely LOVE the diaries, and also love the paper cups,m their strength in the installation is in their numbers, and the idea of them as so many blank canvases appeals to me. Us rural Mainers are envious of your days in the city…

  3. Sallyann

    I remember my first diary. It had one of those little locks to keep it private. (Not that the lock stopped those who wanted to pry.) I stopped writing in it as soon as I discovered I had private thoughts as long as I didn’t write them down.
    It was only after I married that I took it up again and by this time everyone called it journaling. I have been doing that for almost 50 years. About 20 years ago when we moved, I found my old journals and spent an afternoon reading a bit here and there in some of them.
    I found they could easily be called “lament journals” because it seemed they were filled with worries and sadness. I burned them and decided I needed to turn over a new leaf and a new style to what I wrote. I am sure they were good therapy at the time but not something I wanted to leave my grandchildren. LOL
    I still write but now I focus more on gratitude, simple pleasures, and creative ideas. I think that is beneficial to both me and anyone who may read them when I am gone.

  4. Rachel

    I have just returned from my second trip to the Anza Borrego Desert in 10 days. It is a long winding drive,over the mountains to the desert, but I did not have to do the driving. The change was amazing, last week at 2000 feet and well below there was snow in many places. Today not a flake, even on the distant peaks.

    What a joy to come home and read about your trip to the city, the paper cup artist, and the wonderful diary exhibit. I remember in the 1970s living in Central Penna and one of my neighbors, in her 80s at the time, mentioned that she had been rereading her father’s diary. No chance that she would have loaned it to me, but what a treasure she had.

    I did once get to read the diary a friend’s mother had kept, in about 1945, newly married and moved from Philadelphia and an art career to Idaho as the wife of a mining engineer and general camp factorum. It was also the diary of her pregnancy with my friend. I stayed up all night to read it.

  5. Jeannie

    I have my Gram’s diaries from the year I was born. She was busy and accomplished more in her morning than I do over three days! I am fascinated by Gwenyth’s art. How does she keep from smudging what she has painted while holding the cup? Flutterbies, so beautiful and I hope spring will show up soon so I can see the swallowtails. I loved Unbroken. Have a beautiful weekend.

  6. Deborah

    I use spiral notebooks for my diaries, and I’m always filled with hope & enthusiasm when I start a new one every month or two, but by the end of it, I always feel like it’s same ole, same ole boring me. Yet reading my grandmother’s diaries, filled with mundane details of her everyday life, I am smitten.

    Tonight I will write about hearing spring peepers for the first time this year, the earthquake in Japan, and learning that the French have a butterfly called “Robert The Devil”.

  7. Hi Vivian,

    I so enjoy seeing my project through your eyes and it is lovely to know that I am just on the opposite side of Midtown from the diary show at he Morgan Library. I will make a point of going to see it.

    I have done a lot of journal writing and the very sight of the handwritten words on the diaries you posted makes me want to draw. Drawing and writing are so close for me, hence the Hypergraphia title.

    My paper cups drawings are a kind of diary. There is a year of cups in the window. Each blank cup is a new page and each finished drawing has the date, beverage I drank, where and who I was with written on the bottom. I use waterproof India ink pens from Faber Castell which does not smudge at all as I work on the cups. Very satisfactory.

    Thank you for stopping by the show! It is up at 215 West 38th Street 7am – 5:30 pm until April 1st, and I am drawing in the window M – F from 11:30 am – 1:00 pm.

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