January 23rd, 2011

art

Art on Sunday: Human Understanding

Edwin Blashfield (1848–1936)
Human Understanding, completed 1897
Oil on plaster
Human Understanding with hawk
Main Reading Room, Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress, Washington

This mural can be found in the Lantern of the of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, located above the Main Reading Room. The partially clothed woman in the center represents human knowledge; the cherubs on either side are there to protect her from the hawk. Wait, what?

Human Understanding with hawk (detail)

That's not part of the painting; it's an actual Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), which somehow found its way into the Library last week. At last report, it was still there, hanging out in the upper reaches of the Main Reading Room despite efforts by the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia to catch it. Luckily for the hawk (and the patrons, I suppose), the Main Reading Room is enormously huge, so it has plenty of room to spread its wings without having to come anywhere near any of the humans. The LoC Blog has information about the situation and more photographs of the hawk here. And librarians being librarians, they also provided links to a number of websites with further information about Cooper's Hawks.

All of this reminds me that back when I worked at the bookstore, we had the Raptor Conservancy come to the store for our big Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows release party. They brought several rescued owls to the store and gave presentations throughout the evening about them. They were a big hit with the customers, and as I recall they made a bunch of money in donations that evening, so it worked out well for all of us.