With the Central Library remodel, one of our city’s best kept secrets got a excellent sprucing up – but is no less secret. The John Wilson room.

Now it’s not a real secret. There is a stairway, a door, a new elegant web site. There’s a schedule, and a discreet librarian standing guard. If you can find it, go.

The collection began with John Wilson, a Portland book collector, turn of the century who turned his stacks over to what would later become our public library. The curator gives six themes to the collection, but it seems to be texts which have been designated as valuable for a variety of reasons. There are books on roses, books for children, Gwyneth Gamble Booth’s shelves of D. H. Lawrence, a nice first edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, a very beautiful Audubon with his hand-pulled engravings (which used to be laid out for all to see on the first floor in a special display – probably not good for the book tho), a Feldenheimer clock (Edith Feldenheimer was one of our first great arts patrons, died 1984), & quite a few other gems.

Don’t expect to waltz in and peruse with dirty fingers.

See the MCL intro web page + the featured works page for more details.

How the hell does anything interesting end up in this sort of place, this city, behind glass, with a guard standing by, near but far, ours but still not ours? Hmm. Each of the 10,000, I imagine, has a provenance: the author’s text, a place it was made, a place it was bought, the biography of the buyer, the travels it took, the shelves where it rested, the decision to donate, it’s new home.

The collection doesn’t represent Oregon culture, rather talismans of language and thought and the thousands of winding paths as they were brought to Portland.

Two small paintings, both By Charles Erskine Scott Wood, are most interesting. There is also a bronze bust of Wood, which shows him handsome and captivating.

According to a PAM web page, CES Wood and Childe Hassan would set their easels side by side out in the Oregon plains and together created impressionist paintings of sky and the sea of grasses.

A century ago, this was one of the dark places. Wood must have felt very alone in provincial Portland. Though he had friends and lovers, and was an enterprising spirit, his task too often was to rise above. We still feel a brain drain as our best and brightest leave the state for education and opportunity. So did Wood, but he returned and stayed and was satisfied.

Clearly Wood was influenced by Hassam, and perhaps in his travels saw Pissarro and other French painters. These two paintings are proud messages to stayers; they say, this air, these clouds, wide grass, white light, paint on canvas, the place does not matter, beauty maintains out of context, out of theory, out of fashion, out in the wild darkness of Oregon.

Note to youth: learn to correspond with peers elsewhere.