Archive Dive: To Harold

Archive Dive: To Harold

Letter from Albert Barnes

Last fall, Daniel Veber and his wife, Marilyn, visited the Archives in Merion. They brought with them a copy of The Art in Painting that they had purchased some years ago from a dealer in Chester County. It had been inscribed “To Harold” from Albert C. Barnes and also contained marginalia, which led them to believe that the book might have once belonged to Barnes.

Over the years, as we archivists organized and wrote guides to the Foundation’s historical documents, we became familiar with a number of the institution’s original (and rather eccentric) staff members. As soon as I saw the inscription, I knew that this edition had once belonged to Laurence Buermeyer. Barnes often devised nicknames for his friends and staff. He called his friend William Glackens “Butts,” artist Charles Demuth “Deems,” and he called Laurence Buermeyer “Harold” because he looked like the film actor and comedian Harold Lloyd.

Dr. Barnes first met Laurence Buermeyer in 1915 after hiring the young scholar to tutor him in philosophy. Barnes, along with his workers at the A.C. Barnes Company, read works by John Dewey, William James, and George Santayana in the company’s afternoon seminars. It was Buermeyer who encouraged Barnes to attend one of Dewey’s seminars at Columbia University in 1917.

After establishing the Barnes Foundation, Barnes began working on a book that would become the primary text used in its educational program. He again hired Buermeyer, but this time to help with the structure of the book and to write chapter drafts based on Barnes’s lecture notes. Once completed, Buermeyer made a very important suggestion to Barnes. He wrote, “I like ‘The Art in Painting’ better than ‘New Pictures from Old’ as a title. . . .” Apparently, so did Barnes. The Art in Painting was published just weeks before the Barnes Foundation’s official opening in 1925.

When our department’s esteemed former colleague, Adrienne Pruitt, processed the original drafts for The Art in Painting, she discovered that there were in fact two first editions, one published by the Foundation in 1925 and a second published by Harcourt, Brace & Company in 1926. She also compiled a folder of writing samples so that we might more easily identify the writers of various letters and notes found in the archival collections. Thanks to Adrienne, I was able to identify the marginalia in the Vebers’ book as Laurence Buermeyer’s handwriting. 

Although philosophy professor Thomas Munro taught the first Barnes Foundation classes in 1924, one offered through the University of Pennsylvania and the other at Columbia University, Dr. Barnes asked Laurence Buermeyer to provide further instruction to students visiting the art collection in Merion because he thought Buermeyer was best qualified intellectually to carry out the educational plan.

Daniel and Marilyn Veber’s copy of The Art in Painting is a “first” first edition published by the Barnes Foundation Press in 1925. It is inscribed by Dr. Barnes and has notes in the margins and on the endpapers written by Laurence Buermeyer. We believe it was the text he used while preparing to teach one of the very first classes in Merion’s Cret Gallery. Based on the information provided by the Barnes Foundation Archives, the Vebers’ book was appraised by Freeman’s for $800.

On April 4, 2014, Daniel and Marilyn Veber returned once again to the Archives, this time to sign a deed of gift. We are extremely grateful to them for donating their copy of The Art in Painting, a very special book that we will catalogue and preserve in our rare books collection.

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