Rare Books on Display


On Thursday, September 20th, the Friends of the Stevenson Library held a special opening and reception: an exhibit of 22 books from Alvin Patrick’s collection of approximately 5,000 rare or first edition books written by African Americans. Mr. Patrick titled the exhibition Faces of the Struggle: Frontispiece Portraits in African American Literature (1834 to 1949). It includes portraits of some of the greatest civil rights activists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Frontispiece of Phyllis Wheatley: B.B. Thatcher: Memoir of Phyllis Thatcher: a Native American and a Slave (Boston: George W. Light,1834)
Alvin Patrick

The Collector

Alvin Patrick is a veritable force of nature. He exudes energy, intellectual curiosity, and a natural affinity for connecting with people. He is a graduate and now a trustee of Marist College, and other Marist trustees were drawn to the event. He is also an award-winning journalist and executive producer for CBS News’ Race and Culture Unit. A number of his colleagues traveled from Manhattan to salute his achievement.

In Attendance

Bard College President Leon Botstein was present as was Tom Wolf, professor of art history and visual culture at Bard. Professor Wolf, a longtime friend of Patrick’s, was instrumental in making this event happen. Patrick included a rare art book in the exhibit as a tribute to Wolf.

Dean of the College Deirdre d'Albertis, with Professor Tom Wolf.
Library Director Betsy Cawley and Alvin Patrick

How it Started

Library Director Betsy Cawley introduced Patrick to say a few words about himself. Patrick explained that he had been collecting books all his life, but began collecting rare, first edition books around 1997. That was when the Norton Anthology of African American Literature was published, and that spurred his interest to see such literature in its original form.

What's on Exhibit

The books that Patrick has included are autobiographies, biographies, poetry, and commentaries, featuring portraits of well-known Americans as well as lesser-known individuals. “All,” says Patrick, “are key persons in the struggle for dignity and civil rights in America.”

Matthew Henson, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (Frederick A. Stokes Co, 1912)


Patrick gave a heartfelt shout-out to the library’s Assistant Visual Curator, Visual Resource Center, Debra Klein and to College Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Helene Tieger for designing and organizing the exhibit.

The exhibit is well worth the walk over to the Stevenson Library. It remains on view on the first and second floors until October 30th.