.All Trips / Art / Massachusetts / North America / Northeastern USA

Art, Architecture and Literature: A visit to Boston’s Public Library

06 Boston Public Library

Many people I know are fond of books, so visiting libraries during our travels is an obvious extension of this interest.  Some libraries are fairly dull, but others are far more than places where books and magazines are stored.  They are buildings of great architectural beauty.  And a few even have interesting art displays, enough to warrant their consideration as small “art museums”.  Such certainly is the case with the Boston Library, a place you can wander about for hours taking in all of its charms.  Of course, it’s all completely free.

The Boston Public Library system is the second largest in the United States and contains approximately 23 million items, including 1.7 million rare books and manuscripts.  Its annual circulation is just under 4 million items.

Today’s featured destination, the Boston Central Library, is located in Copley Square.  The central library consists of two conjoined structures, the McKim Building and Johnson Building.  The McKim Building is the oldest structure, while the Johnson Building is modern and currently the main lending library.  The Central Library has 930,000 square feet (86,000 m2) of space and houses most of the Library’s collection, some 21,000,000 items.

The entrance to the McKim library building is beautiful.  After walking through a short hall, there is a beautiful and grand staircase leading you to the second floor.  There are two majestic lion statues at the midpoint of your climb, surrounded by beautiful murals surround the second floor balcony and staircase known as the Chavannes Gallery.


Bates Hall, Boston Public Library

Bates Hall, Boston Public Library

The library has several beautiful reading rooms, including the Bates Room (above), as stereotypical an image of a library as any I can think of.  The place you want to spend most of your time exploring is the McKim building, which has among other delights this lovely courtyard, complete with its own clock.

What I loved most about this library was its art collection.  The Abbey Room, installed in 1901, features the work of Mr. Edwin Austin Abbey.  The gallery depicts fifteen scenes of Sir Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail.  The paintings are beautiful, although the lighting was subdued and the art hard to photograph with clarity.


One of the Sargent Gallery Murals, Boston Public Library

One of the Sargent Gallery Murals, Boston Public Library

The most famous art within the library is the Sargent Gallery Murals, one of which is depicted above.  They feature the work of famed America artist John Singer Sargent, the collection entitled, “The Triumph of Religion”.  The murals were installed between 1895 and 1919.  I spent spent at least a half  hour studying these brilliant panels — bright, intricate and beautiful!

There was even an old index card filing system that brought back fond memories of my childhood (and was one of our clues —  meant to lead you to the fact our building is a library).  There a number of smaller and interesting exhibits, including this display of Marionettes.  And so much more — far beyond the scope of this blog post.  I’d consider this one of the top spots to visit in Boston, a city rich in American history.

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