The New York Public Library will open a permanent exhibition of rotating treasures from its extensive research collections, supported by a generous $12 million gift from philanthropist Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE and The Polonsky Foundation.
The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures is expected to open in fall 2020 at the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. The free exhibition will reside in Gottesman Hall, a 6,400-square-foot exhibition space on the Library’s main floor.
The gift was announced at the Library’s Board of Trustees meeting this evening.
“All members of the public deserve to see and be inspired by The New York Public Library’s countless treasures, carefully preserved as part of the institution’s vast research collections for over a century,” said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx. “This extraordinary gift from Dr. Polonsky and The Polonsky Foundation will make this possible, and we are so grateful. This new exhibition will showcase our collections, highlight the importance of research libraries to audiences new and familiar, and hopefully excite a new generation of researchers.”
“I have long been impressed with the priceless treasures at this preeminent research library,” said Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE. “In keeping with The Polonsky Foundation’s mission to provide broad access to the riches of cultural heritage, we are honored by this opportunity to amplify the exposure of the many wonders in the New York Public Library’s collections and to make them available to the wider public.”’
The New York Public Library has over 46 million items in its research collections, including manuscript material, rare books, prints, photographs, film and recorded sound, objects, ephemera, and more. These items are accessible to the public for research purposes at four research libraries across the city: The Stephen A., the Library for the Performing Arts, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Science, Industry and Business Library.
While the Library has long designed exhibitions around these collections, the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures will be the first permanent exhibition that showcases the depth and breadth of the Library’s holdings. Specifics about the exhibition—including the list of items that will be included at opening—are still being determined.
Artifacts from the Library’s collections that could be considered for inclusion in the exhibition include:
- The Declaration of Independence written in Thomas Jefferson’s hand
- The original Bill of Rights
- Charles Dickens’s “prompt copies” featuring his handwritten notes as well as his desk, inkwell, and letter opener
- George Washington’s handwritten farewell address
- Manuscript material from Maya Angelou, T.S. Eliot, Jack Kerouac, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Herman Melville, Vladimir Nabokov, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote, and many others
- The Gutenberg Bible
- The original Winnie-The-Pooh and friends dolls
- A letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand documenting his discovery
- Photos from legendary photographers, including Diane Arbus, Lewis Hine, and Richard Avedon
- Original sheet music from Beethoven and Mozart
- Writings from Lou Reed
- Early dance footage of Baryshnikov, Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham, and others
- Dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s diary
- Frank Braun’s pen and ink drawings of The Wizard of Oz
- The World’s Fair collection
- A Sumerian cuneiform tablet, ca. 2300 BCE
The Polonsky Foundation has a long history of supporting The New York Public Library. The Foundation gave the Library two gifts totaling $1 million to digitize 127,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material, including the Thomas Addis Emmet Collection of American historical manuscripts and selected American literary manuscripts from Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others. That material can be accessed at archives.nypl.org and digitalcollections.nypl.org.
Dr. Polonsky also dedicated 12 chairs in the Library’s historic Rose Main Reading Room to great thinkers such as Plato, Homer, William Shakespeare, and Hillel.
See Also: A Few of Many Examples of Polonsky Funded Digitization Projects/Digital Resources