Few understand that the sale of Binney & Smith Crayola crayons, these staples of so many childhoods, helped fund one of many largest bodily donations of artwork within the historical past of Houghton Library’s Harvard Theatre Assortment (HTC). The 1986 bequest of 10,000 dance prints from Edwin Binney, third, ’46, Ph.D. ’61, who grew to become the HTC’s honorary curator of ballet, contributed considerably to its turning into one of many largest and most outstanding performing-arts collections on this planet.
The Binney household fortunes started with an English immigrant, Joseph Walker Binney, founding father of a chemical plant that specialised within the purple oxide pigment used to color barns. His son Edwin Binney Sr. and a cousin, C. Harold Smith, co-founded Binney & Smith, creating the primary dustless white blackboard chalk in 1902 and producing the primary field of Crayola crayons in 1903. That portmanteau title combines craie (French for “chalk”) and ola (for “oily/oleaginous”).
Ed (because the third-generation Edwin Binney referred to as himself) misplaced his father a month earlier than he turned 4, and his paternal grandfather when he was 9. The boy’s mom and grandmother doted on him, ensured he was broadly traveled, and uncovered him to the world’s greatest artwork. He started his first assortment—trolley switch tickets—in Portland, Oregon, when he was 5. At Harvard, he concentrated in French, graduating in 1948 after coming back from wartime military service. He stayed on for his doctorate, and in 1965 printed his dissertation, Les Ballets de Théophile Gautier, illustrated with prints from his burgeoning assortment.
Picture courtesy of the Harvard Theatre Assortment
After educating French for six years at Harvard and failing to obtain tenure, he launched totally into pursuing his passions for researching and amassing artwork, organizing displays, and publishing catalogs. An adventurous polymath with an urge for food for escargots, journey, and household historical past, he centered on pre-twentieth-century theatrical dance prints, emphasizing the romantic ballet; nineteenth-century French graphic artists, together with Eugène Delacroix and Odilon Redon; Persian, Turkish, and Indian miniatures; and, lastly, American quilts.
A plethora of epithets exists to explain the obsession with buying materials objects. Non-collectors typically view the exercise as a type of insanity, using phrases similar to bibliomania or stampomania. (In distinction, sellers invariably painting the phenomenon as a wholesome habit.) For the scholarly minded, nevertheless, amassing is way more than a pastime. It results in the proliferation of data and connections: to fellow students and curators, and to establishments that additionally enjoyment of and foster specialised collections. The San Diego Museum of Artwork—which inherited Binney’s assortment of 1,453 Persian, Ottoman, and historical Indian work—even supplied him with an workplace, affectionately termed “Binney’s Basement Baghdad.”
What’s much less typically understood is the origin of such a ardour. For some, amassing supplies a solution to counter a loss, providing consolation within the capability to own one thing that may be studied, catalogued, and treasured. However amassing may also assist fill gaps in scholarship, and within the Nineteen Sixties, Binney’s amassing—he referred to as it a “bug”—seems an appendage to his curiosity in French nineteenth-century cultural research.
His curiosity particularly in theatrical dance, although, stemmed from his research with ballerina and dance trainer Alicia Langford, who grew to become his spouse and “with out whom,” he wrote, “for me, there by no means would have been ballet.” He managed her dance studio for years, and famous in his thirty-fifth reunion report that he was “Nonetheless educating (and taking) ballet courses….” Just a few years later, regardless of affected by a terminal sickness, he organized a ultimate exhibit and produced a catalog for the HTC, Eager for the Perfect: Pictures of Marie Taglioni within the Romantic Ballet: A Centenary Exhibition. That effort paid tribute to the ballerina he felt “evoked completely the emotional and mental temper of her occasions, the age of Romanticism.” He adopted it, within the yr earlier than he died, by publishing the lushly illustrated Glories of the Romantic Ballet, that includes 109 of his favourite dance prints.
Household ties underlay his ultimate ardour as effectively: a signed and dated quilt crafted by his great-great-grandmother impressed the joint assortment he constructed together with his daughter. Collectively they organized a five-year touring exhibition of their holdings underneath the auspices of the Smithsonian Establishment Touring Exhibition Service and ready its catalog, Homage to Amanda: Two Hundred Years of American Quilts from the Assortment of Edwin Binney, third & Gail Binney-Winslow.
As a scholar, Binney pioneered a cultural-studies strategy to bop historical past, arguing that “the way forward for examine for the entire arts lies in synthesis moderately than compartmentalization.” To that finish he wrote two monographs that stay normal reference works: A Century of Austro-German Dance Prints 1790-1890 and Sixty Years of Italian Dance Prints, 1815-1875, every contextualizing dance prints by way of the lens of European politics, artwork, spectator-response concept, and efficiency historical past. He emphasised as effectively that every print was additionally conceived as “a tribute to the performer” and “the spectators’ memento.” In each space, his scholarship knowledgeable his amassing, and his collections knowledgeable his scholarship. So that his life’s work may profit humanity, Binney compiled one catalog after one other after which, as a collector turned philanthropist, made the main donations that shared his passions with the world.