The 2009 American Theological Library Association (ATLA) Annual Conference took place in the lovely and historical downtown St. Louis, Missouri this year. It was a dynamic and interesting conference in a dynamic and interesting city. The only complaints from most in attendance were that it was so hot and humid it felt like we were inside someone's mouth for five days--but with good views.
The view to the left is a photo I took of the Old Cathedral, which is situated across the street from the Millennium Hotel and just west of the famed St. Louis Arch designed by the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. A brief aside: in the Old Courthouse (there seems to be an "old" everything in this city!--Old Courthouse, Old Post Office, Old Train Station...) there are blueprints of submissions to the contest, which was designed to invigorate the downtown area and waterfront. The other submissions were so lackluster, bland, and lacking any creativity, it was shocking! Saarinen's design is not only superb, but still evokes a modern beauty and dimension of stunning creativity a half century later. The Old Cathedral (another "old" thing) is an interesting place. I'd gone down to the Cathedral at just before 1PM on the first day I was in town, after I'd walked around the central downtown part of the city, exploring in the wretched heat. It was quite cool inside, even chilled like a meat locker, but with stations of the cross. Further down the page, I'll talk about the Cathedral again, but for now I should point out the curiosity of the facade here: there are several "inscriptions" (in fact, they are not inscribed, but appear more to be cemented on) on the higher
relief portions of the facade in different languages (Latin, Hebrew). Most notably, front and center is the tetragrammaton "YHWH" in Hebrew letters!
St. Louis Public Library
Left Bank Books
Earth as Book?
Books in Churches
Missouri Botanical Garden
Soon after arrival at the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis, I ventured out into the steam of this old Mississippi port town. Not far from the hotel, just due north about two blocks, was the Old Court House. According to the St. Louis Front Page, which can be found at the following URL (http://www.slfp.com/OldCourthouse.html), there are great historical events tied up in this monument of legal architecture:
The courthouse was the scene of many rallies, speeches and several important trials, including the suit by Dred Scott for freedom from slavery and Suffragist Virginia Louisa Minor for the right to vote.
After checking out a tourist kiosk, I found only a few blocks north of the park behind the Old Courthouse a hamburger joint. Most surprising, though, besides the inexpensive cost of the food (Teutenburger, fries, and a drink for under $10), was a) there were people smoking inside the restaurant! and b) the place, called Tuetenberg's, is a family-owned eatery that has been in and around St. Louis for 198 years!--yes, nearly 200 years! I had no idea there was even a "St. Louis" in 1812. Simply shocking. They've modernized of course (except for the smoking). I mean, they're not in some old tavern with tricorn'd hats and muskets. But they are the same family. It must be eight generations or so. And there were several photos of family members up on the wall. The above photo is of an old Teutenberg menu.
The Old Post Office: St. Louis Public Library
After sating my hunger, I walked westward a few blocks, until I came to this majestic and lovely building, called "The Old Post Office." I ventured in to find (of course, to my great delight) that this building now housed several interesting museum and library spaces. Notably, there was the St. Louis Public Library (branch), seen here at left, with magnificently ornate creme caramel pillars, along with ample lighting and comfortable seating. There were display tables containing German language books about the early 20th century tornadoes (~1906) that struck St. Louis and caused havoc and damage in the entire region. In an adjacent room was a small museum of the US Customs Office, which was very interesting. The building also houses a branch of Webster University on a lower floor, and the St. Louis Business Journal. I'd taken a photo of the Business Journal offices, especially a lovely bookshelf containing runs of bound years of its publication, but the photo didn't come out well.
Inside of the branch library, there was something of interest that I wanted to point out. In the children's section of the library, there was this lovely floor mat and lounging area (seen at left). Kids can come into the library, get their books, and lay down on the mat and read. But what I'm not showing you here is the view that you see when you look up at the ceiling, which is a painting of some magical monster and cartoon character. They certainly try their best to make your reading environment pleasant and memorable.
Once I left the Old Post Office building, I walked a few blocks westward. I asked two men (dressed in bow-ties) and talking presumably about financial matters, if there were any bookstores in the area. And just my luck: only two blocks away there was a fine book shop--an independent book shop, in fact, called Left Bank Books. According to the Left Bank Books website (which also appears on the banner at left: www.left-bank.com):
Founded in 1969, Left Bank Books is an independently-owned bookstore offering a full-line of books and services in the greater metropolitan area of St. Louis.
Our flagship store is located at Euclid and McPherson in the historic Central West End neighborhood, situated among magnificent turn-of-the-century residences and some of the best restaurants and finest art galleries in the area.
Our second location opened in late 2008 in the heart of downtown St. Louis at 10th and Locust, where an exciting renaissance in urban living, working and tourism is underway.
Our mission has always been to offer an intelligent, culturally diverse selection of titles with a focus on politics, contemporary arts and literature, high-quality children’s books, African American interest, GLBT titles and more.
Left Bank Books regulars are a fiercely loyal group. At the suggestion of a couple of these fiercely loyal customers, Left Bank Books founded its membership organization, Friends-of-Left-Bank-Books-Literary-Society. By joining The Friends, you can support a local treasure and, in addition to helping to ensure our continued existence, you can also receive wonderful extras like a Friends discount, access to our wildly popular twice-yearly Friends-only sales, and invitations to private receptions with authors. Left Bank Books owners and workers are also a fiercely committed group.So there we have it. This photo to the left is at the newer branch downtown. If you're not able to open the "Friends of Left Bank Books Literary Society," you can find their site at this URL:
Earth as Text?
It was getting warmer, so it felt, just past noon. So I headed back toward the hotel. I had to go back anyhow, since I was set to go on a bus tour at 1:30 that would end up at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. So I needed to be punctual.
On the way, I encountered something. This fairly curious item caught my attention as I was crossing the street some half dozen blocks from the hotel. I retraced my steps and looked at it again, and thought of it as an example of "earth as text" or "earth as book," maybe even "pavement as book!" Well, it is some sort of imprint of text into the pavement, which looks moderately permanent (if that's not a paradox!) I'm not sure exactly what it says or what it is trying to report, but I wanted to share it with the reading public, and elicit comments perhaps on its idiosyncratic nature. I'm sure there is something profound to be said amid all the platitudes!
The Old Cathedral (St. Louis, King)
Before I arrived back at the hotel, I stopped by the Old Cathedral, which was only a block downhill from the Millennium Hotel. I took a photo of some books on pews in the front of the church, specifically "Missalettes." What a lovely sounding word: missalette. It's kind of toasty, with a blend of cumin butter and fresh peppermint greens. At least, that's what comes to mind when I hear the word. In the background is a statue of the historically iracible Jeanne d'Arc (which sounds better than "Joan of Arc"--a name conjuring more of a comely, approned Julia Child on the boat with Noah). As you can see, the inside of the Old Cathedral is a darling place, with a mixture of American colonial and neo-Francophilic artistry (I just made that up). Here's a fine website describing the history of the Old Cathedral:
Missouri Botanical Garden, Library, and Specimen Collections
The Missouri Botanical Garden Library can be found at the following links. The second one links directly to the special and rare books collections:
This is a phenomenal collection. At left is a photo of the reference and main reading room of the library. If you were to walk to the right in this room, you'd be in the area where book holdings are located. There is another area, where the millions of plant specimens are held, which I believe is on a lower level.
In the photo at left is one shelving unit of the specimens collections. According to our tour guide, who was also a botanical and horticultural librarian, there are nearly 7 million individual specimens classified and cataloged in this collection--second largest in size in the entire world, after Kew Gardens, London. This astounding collection is also very old, holding specimens that have been collected from as far back as the 18th century. So more than two centuries of specimen collecting can be found in these shelving units.
The rare books collection, seen at left and below, contained many intriguing items, most of which were printed between 1470 and 1800. Many of them focus on topics of plant history and related branches of historical knowledge in pre-Linnean taxonomy (focused on Carl Linneaus' Systema Naturae of 1735). A very interesting book was one which included a colored in drawing of the German Physician Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), after whom the flower and color fuchsia are named. Fuchs is often considered one of the triumvirate of men to found the study of botany (which included Hieronymous Bock and Otto Brunfels). As you may see from both the image above and below to the left, there were dozens of books on display in a darkened room with specialized lighting. In toto, though, there were thousands of books of varying content and specializations.
Below is an image of specimens on display, including coconuts and other items from Central America. Grasses and other samples are included in the lot, but most suprisingly, even shockingly, was a specimen below (closest in foreground), which had been collected, mounted, and described by none other than Charles Darwin! I was leaning on it, then out of great surprise, moved back and gave it some due respect...casting my spirited gaze over the signature "Charles Darwin" so clearly inscribed!
Henry Shaw (1800-89) was a philanthropist and founder of the famed Missouri Botanical Gardens. Through his generosity, genius, and forethought, he managed to set up a very complex, yet functional society, which is now celebrating its 150th year. After visiting the library of the Botanical Gardens above, I went to the gardens themselves, just a few blocks away. In the gardens one can visit Shaw's homes: both his city home, which had been moved at one point, block-by-block, from downtown to the present location in the gardens, and the country home.
We see an open book here to the left. Perhaps some ledger or diary or day book.
Today was the first full day of the ATLA conference. And our first major session was a speech given by Prof. Luther Smith, which was profound and outstanding: one of the best I've heard. In short, it was on the idea of "relevance," and I admitted later that I borrowed some of his key points in my own lecture that followed.
My paper was entitled "On the Hermeneutics of Books..." in short. And dealt with how seminary students perceive of books in their imaginations before they even approach them on shelves. For instance, I explored how students might think of books contextually in temporal and spatial locations and then asked them questions about how they approached books, whether they needed to interact with books physically or tactilely on library stacks, or if it was important to see books and theological libraries as integral to future libraries. I also compared hermeneutical approaches of Gadamer and other philosophers with the practical hermeneutical approaches of piano theorists from the 19th century, in order to explore the real idea of "approaching" and "encountering" the book-object as text and artifact. I think the paper was successful, as it was well attended and no one threw rotten tomatoes at me. Thank God I don't have any lycopersicum allergies! I'd have to rethink my whole idea of the perception of tomato hermeneutics.
In the hot afternoon of Friday, after I had finished my conference duties, I took a bike ride with my librarian-in-arms, Karl Stutzman, who is one of the librarians extraordinaire at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, in Elkhart, Indiana (which I had the great pleasure to visit back in April). Karl and I borrowed bikes from the hotel and cut our way through the fleshy and tumescent humidity (really!) to get a free tour at the Budweiser factory...and of course, to get our free beer samples at the end of the 50 minutes tours!
After the Catholic Church, we passed just a few blocks down the street the famed Trinity Lutheran Church. The website of the church describes it as:
Kids Stuff...Well, Sorta!
Library of the Missouri Historical Society
Covenant Seminary PCA
On Saturday, we took a bus out to Concordia Seminary (Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod). We attended the annual memorial service, visited the library, and attended sessions. I also did a little exploration in the neighborhood.
To the left is a photo (which didn't come out properly, because of too much flash!) of a Missouri Synod hymnal. I'm holding the hymnal in the newly constructed (within the last decade) chapel of the seminary. For those of you on the ELCA side of things, the hymnal didn't bite. I thought it would too. (But we learn!)
And in the entrance to the Concordia Library, there was a fine exhibit of icons and iconography. Here is one example of an icon (presumably the one and only JC in regal byzantine glory) holding "a book."
At left is the so-called "Bach Bible." It is actually one of a three volume Bible Commentary "compiled by the 17th-century theologian Abraham Calov and once in the library of JS Bach," (according to the Concordia Seminary website). If you look carefully at my grainy and dark photo, you can see marginalia on the left page of the Bible--these markings are in JS Bach's own hand! Ahhhh, simply delightful!
Bargain Basement Books:
In my explorations, I discovered that under one of the buildings at Concordia Seminary was a "basement thrift shop." Now those of you who know me, know that the "thrift shop" often yields the greatest surprises when it comes to books. See my blog entry on "Axiologies and Books" from a couple weeks ago. To the left is one of the shelving units holding the scores of "thrift books." I purchased two items: a history of the influenza outbreak of 1918 and one volume from a multi-volume biography of none other than our friend JS Bach, whose Bible I had seen not twenty minutes earlier!
About four blocks northeast from Concordia Seminary is the Missouri Historical Museum Library and Research Center. This remarkable library was once a synagogue, but was renovated into a library and research institute. You can find more information about it at the following link:
The research mission of the center can best be described by a statement on their webpage:
Below I took a photo of one of their card catalogs. What is interesting is that this card catalog represents ephemera and other miscellany only. It includes photos, newsclippings, and other hard to classify items.
After I left the library, I went to a nice little cafe near Concordia Park and Seminary, called Kaldi Cafe. I arranged my deliciously decadent whipped coffee drink among my book-catches of the day: my "influenza" book and the Bach biography.
At left are shelves of early editions of Calvin's collected works in the Tait Rare Book Collection.
The Buswell website describes the room as:
Also in one hidden room in the Buswell Library, was this delightful area--every library's got one! It was where processing takes place. Note the fabulous pipe system behind the books. Let's hope for no leaks! (Where else can we process these books!?) "Luv it" to quote the kids.
Hero of the Month: Master Archivist Extraordinaire!
Now this was a real treat and truly a highlight of the afternoon. On the tour of the Buswell Library, we had the opportunity to visit the "PCA Historical Center" and Archives and Manuscripts Repository on the lower level of Buswell. At left is our most gracious host and director of the center, the good Mr. Wayne Sparkman (who by the way is very photogenic, despite his protests!)
Need I say more? Only one thing: as this is a blog about "books and biblios," please do take notice of our dear friend Joanna DeYoung tossing a book-block (mid-air!) to a group of manly men theological librarians, who are attempting to give traction to this 42,000 ton bus. Good luck guys! You can do it! (Mid-air!--I can't believe I got that shot with an old fashioned film camera!)
DAY 5: (Sun.)--FATHER'S DAY
Happy Father's Day Harry S Truman! Truman was a reader...just ask David McCullough! Even though the sun was ablazin' this morning, this neon Truman brightened my morning not too far from the Old Post Office building.
Though it may be hard to see for you kind readers, I snapped a photo of this Church Book Store located inside of Christ Church Cathedral, not too far from the main building of the St. Louis Public Library, located about a two blocks west of this photo.
St. Louis Public Library
Though I didn't get a chance to actually go into the main library, I did come across it on my early Sunday morning bike ride. It was a fine sized building and had some great art exhibits displayed out front. The park to my left was abuzz with some local flaneurs smoking pipes that didn't quite smell right. Welcome to city livin'!
Some More Churches to the Northwest
I continued up to the district known as the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. As I saw some churches in the not too far distance, I headed over toward them with some curiosity. At the left I found the St. Stanislaus Polish Church and community center. The St. Louis neighborhoods website describes the church as follows:
Up the block on 20th Street, I found another church: Zion Lutheran Church. I gazed up at the fine architecture and then discovered that a clergy with his white starched collar was getting out of his car across the street. I asked him if this was his parish, and he said yes. We chatted a bit, and discovered his name to be Rev. Ruff--I think his first name was Roger. He told me the congregation was down to a handful of members, but he then invited me into breakfast, which I had to politely decline, as my flight back to Chicago was fast approaching. The same St. Louis Neighborhood website (which I list below) describes this church's history nicely:
"Zion Lutheran Church was an offshoot from the Immanuel Church, which built a school at 14th and Warren Streets in 1859. The first Zion Church was built at 15th and Warren in 1860, and the congregation moved to the present church at 21st and Benton Streets following its dedication in 1895. The impressive limestone structure in the German Gothic style was designed by Albert Knell at a cost of $83,725. Its auditorium seats 1400 and has an elaborate altar of Italian marble. The Zion school on Benton Street was begun in 1909 and enlarged in 1929."
see link: http://stlouis.missouri.org/neighborhoods/history/north/churches22.htm
One Last Old Remnant of Old North St. Louis
Below now, as I finally complete this entry on ATLA, which I hope you've enjoyed, I will leave you with a brief sketch of the neighborhood I drove through (Old North St. Louis). I know this is a bit of an anticlimactic visual, but I think by now you're as tired as I am. Hope you've enjoyed!