Reading Room

So, if you follow any of my other blogs, you know I am working on some projects in Indonesia.


The other day, I ventured out into the cold and spent a couple of hours in the Cornell Rare Book and Manuscript Reading Room, and looked through the archives of Claire Holt.


Claire Holt is a writer, Indonesian scholar, art historian, and woman I admire tremendously.  She wrote a fantastic and influential book on Indonesian art, Art in Indonesia:  Continuities and Change.

After a very diverse and eclectic career, Holt finished her work at Cornell, as a member of the Cornell Modern Indonesia Project.


I am working to organize an exhibition of contemporary art photography from Java, and periodically over the past few years, I’ve gone to Claire Holt’s work for both information and inspiration.


Cornell houses a lot of Holt’s research materials – notes, letters, photographs, notebooks, lectures, and other materials that all coalesced into her great book.


This exhibition I am organizing will include some of Holt’s photographs, so I went to Cornell in hopes of finding more of her pictures, more ideas for this exhibition.

photo back

I was a bit disappointed in the photographs I found.  Most of her photographs and albums are held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (Holt was an early advocate for the developing a dance research archive in New York, which really helped spawn this particular branch of the library system in NYC).


So I didn’t find the photographs I was looking for, but nonetheless found lots of interesting things.  Letters exchanged between friends and colleagues (my favorites were the letters exchanged with Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet, largely about reproduction rights for paintings from his collection), reviews and acknowledgements of her book, lectures from her time in NYC and at Cornell, and notebooks and albums she kept in the field while working in Indonesia.


It’s amazing the glimpse you can get into a life with such ephemera.  I feel a connection and affinity with Claire Holt, and that is largely been from engaging these types of objects and history.


So I didn’t find the photographs I was looking for, in regards to organizing this exhibition, but I found something else, inspiration, and a great connection with the work and ideas of a woman whose life has meant a great deal to me.


As I walked home, I thought about that famous novel by A.S. Byatt, Possession.


Possession tells the story of two modern academics, and the research they conduct on the lives of poets from Victorian England.  I was struck by the idea – maybe even the reality – of relationships we can build that transcend the boundaries of time.  And even how these types of relationships can give us a better understanding of our time and relationships today.




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