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Q&A with … HMSG Librarian Anna Brooke, Part 1

Jody Mussoff, currently a Cataloger for the Libraries, worked with Librarian Anna Brooke from 1977-2001 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (HMSG) Library. Jody conducted this recent interview with Anna, tracing the history of the library and how it came with Joseph Hirshhorn's art collection to Washongton, D.C. The interview will be published in two parts, beginning today and concluding tomorrow.

Hirsh 035Anna Brooke

Q. How did you get the job as librarian for Mr. Hirshhorn?

A. I did not work for Mr. Hirshhorn. The job as librarian for the Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, was posted at the School of Library Service, Columbia University where I had been taking a class, “Information Systems” taught by Theodore C. Hines, Spring 1970. I had been the Librarian for the Office Products Division of IBM on Madison Avenue and 57th Street. When the Division moved their offices to New Jersey, I resigned because I wanted to stay in New York. I had developed an interest in art museums, so I was looking for an art library job.

Q. Where was the art collection, and where was the library?

A. Before the museum staff members moved to Washington D.C. in 1973, the art works were in different locations: in a Morgan Manhattan Warehouse on 510 West 21rd Street in New York, in our offices 135 East 65th Street, and at Mr. and Mrs. Hirshhorn’s house on Round Hill Road, Greenwich, Connecticut. The library books were in the offices at 135 East 65th Street, where we had two floors of a brownstone. My office was in the kitchen, next to the refrigerator and the sink. I was the first librarian and had no assistant. My job was to catalog the library and order new books. I ordered Library of Congress cards and typed the headings and labels. I purchased art books and serials from Wittenborn Art Books, Weyhe, Rizzoli and an occasional auction.

Hirsh 024

Q. Did you have much interaction with Mr. Hirshhorn or his family?

A. Not really. He had offices on Park Avenue. Every so often he would rush in to see Mr. Lerner, the Hirshhorn Museum Director. When he visited, he asked the young women on the staff how old we were and why we were not married. Except for Mr. Lerner and Mr. Sefekar, the Administrator, the employees on 65th Street were all young women.

Q. Any anecdotes?

A. The museum staff members were invited to lunch at his house in Greenwich one day. I had never seen a private sculpture garden; it was very large and impressive. We were served lunch on the terrace looking out on the gardens and the Alexander Calder sculpture in the distance, Mrs. Hirshhorn arrived in a tennis dress, as I remember; she was then, and still is, an energetic and very pretty woman.

Q. How large was the art collection?

A. 6,000 works of art

Q. How large was the original library and how many books did it consist of?

A. 4460 books and serials on 2/1/1972

Q. Did Hirshhorn give you instructions and/or a budget for the library?

A. The museum staff members all worked for the Smithsonian Institution from the date the legislation   passed to fund the Hirshhorn Museum in 1967; we were federal employees. Cynthia McCabe, one of the curators, was my boss and gave me federal money to buy books (supplies). The book Budget in FY73 was $5200. Cynthia suggested I take a class at the New School for Social Research on contemporary art. The class visited local artists’ studios, including those of Clement Meadmore and Seymour Lipton.

Q. Who used the books?

A. In New York the books were used by the director and the curators as they are now. The curators needed books to research the 1000 works from the collection that would be included in the Abrams book published for the opening of the museum in 1974.

Q. How long were you with the art collection before it came down to D.C.?

A. I began work in April 1971, we moved to Washington in June 1973.

Hirsh 009A view of the HMSG Library in Washington, D.C.

Q. What was the move like?

A. An adventure. Most of us were not happy to leave New York City, but we did not want to miss the opening party. Our new building on the corner of 7th Street and Independence Avenue was not finished in 1973, so our offices were moved next door into the Arts and Industry Building, where the Air and Space Museum was also housed. In the hall outside our offices there was an ascension balloon exhibition and very annoying music of the period that played all day. There were Quonset huts in the Haupt Garden for some of the airplanes. Most of the art books stayed in boxes until the new Hirshhorn Museum building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was completed.

Check out tomorrow's post with Part 2 pf Jody's interview with Anna, where she talks more about setting up the HMSG Library and the library as it is today.

—Anna Brooke & Jody Mussoff, photos by Sam Schubert


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