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University Of Virginia Library To Exhibit Treasured Items From Collection Of Paul Mellon

March 12, 2001-- An exhibition of rare books, maps, manuscripts and other items on display through August 15 in the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library provides a view of America’s history through the eyes of a generous and devoted collector.

"Private Passions, Public Legacy: Paul Mellon’s Personal Library at the University of Virginia" presents highlights from the recently acquired collection of the noted American philanthropist. In the exhibit in the library’s McGregor Room, visitors can:

    • Discover the New World with Christopher Columbus in a letter he wrote describing what he found. Published in 1494, this rare edition of the Columbus letter includes four woodcuts by European artists attempting, for the first time, to depict the New World.
    • Hear the alarm in Thomas Jefferson’s voice in his famous "fire-bell in the night" letter. In this 1820 letter to John Holmes, former senator from Maine, Jefferson declares his concerns over the Missouri Compromise. He likens the nation’s slavery crisis to having "the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go." Five other letters by Jefferson are also on display.
    • See the American West through the hand-colored illustrations of artist-explorers George Catlin and Prince Maximilian of Wied, Germany, from the mid-1800s.
    • Experience first-hand the trial of abolitionist John Brown in the hand-written notes of presiding judge Richard Parker, who sentenced John Brown to hang.

The exhibit also has items relating to U.S. exploration and westward expansion, colonial and revolutionary Virginia, and the Civil War. Included are early maps of Virginia and North America, letters written by George Washington and James Madison, items relating to the Lewis and Clark expedition, and hand-colored portraits of Native Americans.

"Mr. Mellon loved his adopted state of Virginia and avidly collected maps, books, and manuscripts concerning the state," said Michael Plunkett, director of U.Va.’s Albert H. Small Special Collections Library and co-curator of the exhibition. "We are thrilled to show some of these treasures that have remained in Virginia thanks to Mr. Mellon’s generosity."

Following his death in February 1999, Paul Mellon’s collection of 1,700 rare books, manuscripts, maps, and atlases pertaining to Virginia and American history was divided among Yale University, the Virginia Historical Society, and the University of Virginia. From this bequest, the U.Va. Library received 447 items.

"Paul Mellon collected the authentic and the original with a passion," said co-curator Heather Moore, head of Public Services for Special Collections. "This exhibit is a wonderful opportunity to view one of the finest collections of Americana and Virginiana ever amassed by one individual."

An interactive Web site accompanies the exhibition and provides a three-dimensional view of some of the items. Visitors to the site, located at, can enlarge some of the items to see close-ups of their fine details.

Web visitors can also watch scrolling scenes on a "Myriopticon" depicting the Civil War. This computer version of a 19th-century toy contains a panorama of 22 Civil War scenes mounted on two rollers that can be turned by a key, causing the panorama to pass across a viewing hole.

The Mellon exhibition is on display in the U.Va. Library Special Collections Department in the McGregor Room Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Inquiries are advised for holiday and summer schedules. For more information, call (804) 924-4966.

Contact: Melissa Norris, (804) 924-4254

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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