- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

Henry and Emily Folger had a passion for playwright William Shakespeare. "It was part of their love affair," says Donald Farren, guest curator at Folger Shakespeare Library in Southeast, which is presenting "A Shared Passion: Henry Clay Folger Jr. and Emily Jordan Folger as Collectors." The free exhibit opens Wednesday and runs through Oct. 26.

Part of the 70th anniversary celebration of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the show features about 200 items from the founders' collection. The Folgers' collection contained many things related to Shakespeare, such as books, manuscripts, paintings and art objects.

"They had a very broad definition of what they collected," Mr. Farren says. "They were interested in the context of the items. For instance, they bought plays of [Christopher] Marlowe, Shakespeare's contemporary."

The Folgers were married in 1881. Folger died in 1930 and his wife in 1936.

Other objects in the exhibit include Shakespeare folios, which are the four earliest complete editions of Shakespeare's plays. The Folgers also purchased quartos, which are small publications of specific plays. This show includes the only existing copy of the 1594 quarto of "Titus Andronicus." It was discovered in 1904, wrapped in a pair of 18th-century lottery tickets, in the home of a Swedish postal clerk.

Along with Shakespeare's primary documents, the couple collected the sources that he used in his writings, such as "A Discovery of the Barmudas" by Silvester Jourdain, which was a source for "The Tempest." They also purchased an illustrated manuscript of "De Arte Amandi" by Ovid, which was a reference for Shakespeare's poems "Venus" and "Adonis."

"The Folgers were serious-minded people," Mr. Farren says. "They believed they needed to fulfill a higher purpose in life. They were able to combine their interests in literature with a purpose they felt they needed to live out. Their motivation was more toward building a research library for the future."

Erin Blake, curator of art at the Folger Shakespeare Library, says the scholarly materials at the museum include more than the written word. There are five paintings on display, including portraits of the Folgers, "Macbeth Consulting the Vision of the Armed Head" by Henry Fuseli, "The Immortal Light of Genius" by Thomas Nast and "Felton Portrait of Shakespeare" by an unknown author.

The exhibition also includes a piece of gold jewelry in the shape of a snake that was worn by actress Helena Modjeska, who played Cleopatra in the late 19th century. It is made from braided gold, diamonds and green garnets.

One of the most interesting art objects in the collection is an engraving from 1719 by George Vertue, which is a portrait of Shakespeare. The copper plate from which it was made is on display next to the print, Ms. Blake says.

"It's not often people can come to a gallery and see the finished print and the plate it was made from," she says.

Rachel Doggett, Andrew W. Mellon curator of books and exhibitions at the Folger Shakespeare Library, says she finds the Folgers' correspondence materials fascinating. The show includes letters and bills from the auctions and dealers when the couple bought the items.

"You see them dickering over price, asking questions," she says. "It comes out in the exhibition that it was a partnership. They worked very closely together building the collection."

Henry Folger's adoration of Shakespeare began through the influence of transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Essays," in which Emerson described Shakespeare as a moral exemplar for the nation. Emily Folger also was enthusiastic about the playwright and earned a master's degree in Shakespearean literature from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Werner Gundersheimer, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, says the exhibit offers an interesting way to track the fortunes of a successful American businessman. Henry Folger, who was president and chairman of the board of Standard Oil Co. of New York, spent his life's earnings building the greatest collection of Shakespeare-related items in the world. As his means increased, the quality of the collection increased. The couple's devotion to Shakespeare even extends to the hereafter, Mr. Gundersheimer says.

"Their ashes are deposited behind a brass plaque in the main reading room," he says. "It is inscribed: 'To the glory of William Shakespeare and the greater glory of God.'"

WHAT: "A Shared Passion: Henry Clay Folger Jr. and Emily Jordan Folger as Collectors"

WHERE: Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays


PHONE: 202/544-7077

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