Gallery Security Officer Lilian Woods has been working at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art since last December. That’s thirty-six weeks at 40 hours a week, which roughly (art school math) equals 1,440 hours on her feet–and when the galleries are not full of visitors, looking at art. Her favorite piece is Light of the Incarnation by Carl Gutherz. Smart choice for a Brooks’ employee: It was Gutherz who first committed the idea of an art museum in Memphis’ Overton Park to paper. In 1906, as a favor to Mrs. EA Neely, Gutherz sketched what would later become the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on the back of sheets of stationary. Later, when Bessie Vance Brooks endowed the project with start-up money in honor of her late husband Samuel Hamilton Brooks (Neely’s husband’s business partner, as it were) architect James Gamble Rogers based his design on this cocktail napkin-esque Gutherz sketch. Continue reading
One thing I have learned working in the museum profession for many years, dealing with so many amazing art objects, is that one idea always leads to another, one project always points the way to many more. And as it happens, the project I am working on right now, an exhibition showcasing the bookbinding of S. C. Toof & Co. came about in this same manner.
Over the past few years I had the opportunity to work on a catalog about the artist Carl Gutherz. While I was researching the period he spent in Memphis – the last half of the 19th century- I took a ridiculous amount notes as I reeled through stacks of microfilm, read through stacks of vertical files, and delved into countless online resources. (You never know what related information may come in handy, or prove helpful in the long run.)
When it was time to publish the Gutherz catalog last year, Toof Commercial Printing of Memphis was selected to print the monograph. Then it occurred to me that I remembered seeing the Toof name turn up in my research about the arts in Memphis during the 19th century, when Gutherz was coming and going from the city. Curious, I went back to my notes and found that yes, S. C. Toof & Co. had been in business shortly after the Civil War and that members of the Toof family had been involved with the Memphis Art League in the 1890s. And looking further in my vast stacks of notepads I found that the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, which included work by Carl Gutherz, had also shown examples of Toof & Co.’s exceptional skills at the art of bookbinding. The same and was true of the 1897 Nashville Centennial Exposition. Eventually the more I looked the more I found and I began to get that sense that thing were falling into place for a reason – you know, as if all the planets were aligned and things were meant to be. I had a strong feeling that Brooks should have an exhibition of Toof books in our Goodman Gallery – our gallery dedicated to art of the written word.
There is a happy ending. Not only was I privileged to see, first hand, many of the beautiful books bound by Toof and Co. , with intricate leather tooling, colored and gilt decorations that are housed in a private collection, but a selection of these outstanding books will be shown at Brooks this coming December! We are thrilled to be able to display these award winning books, produced at a time when some of the world’s finest and most creative bookbinding was done in right here in Memphis.