liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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When Elitism Is Good, It's Very, Very Good Indeed

Many, many thanks to silent_ic_river for linking me to this article about Jay S. Walker, founder of and founder of Walker Digital.

Actually, the Wired article isn't about him so much. It's actually about his private library.

It may come as no surprise that, according to the Wired article, Walker's house was built specifically to house his private library. It probably wouldn't shock you to know that Walker's wife sits on the board of directors for their town's library association.

Below is one of the overviews of the library. And yes, that really is Sputnik, the real Sputnik, in the foreground.

Photo from Wired, "Browse the Artifacts of Geek History in Jay Walker's Library". Photo by Andrew Moore

Here's a quote from that article:

Walker shuns the sort of bibliomania that covets first editions for their own sake — many of the volumes that decorate the library's walls are leather-bound Franklin Press reprints. What gets him excited are things that changed the way people think, like Robert Hooke's Micrographia. Published in 1665, it was the first book to contain illustrations made possible by the microscope. He's also drawn to objects that embody a revelatory (or just plain weird) train of thought. "I get offered things that collectors don't," he says. "Nobody else would want a book on dwarfs, with pages beautifully hand-painted in silver and gold, but for me that makes perfect sense."

What excites him even more is using his treasures to make mind-expanding connections. He loves juxtapositions, like placing a 16th-century map that combines experience and guesswork—"the first one showing North and South America," he says—next to a modern map carried by astronauts to the moon. "If this is what can happen in 500 years, nothing is impossible."


Here's another picture, this one of the seating area in Walker's private library.

Photo from Wired, "Browse the Artifacts of Geek History in Jay Walker's Library". Photo by Andrew Moore

It's nice to know that the traditional eccentric cultural elitist still lurks in the corners of New England. Our landscape is littered with the legacies of such people, and we are all the richer for it.

Under the cuts are two more pictorial examples of the good kind of elitism that have benefited people in Massachusetts over the past century or two.

The Higgins Armory Museum is the largest private collection of historical arms and armor. And it all started because one rich industrialist had a passion for the stuff. Programs include everything from "how to make armor" classes to "how to use medieval weaponry." Below is a photo of the "combat wing" of the museum.

Photo from the Higgins Armory Web site.

You sort of have to see it to believe the reality of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The whole museum is a monument to what happens when eccentric people get lots and lots of money. For a start, they can make it part of the will that their house full o' treasure can never, ever be re-arranged after they die and if you do, you lose the house to Harvard University (which really, really wants it). Oh, and all people named "Isabella" can visit the museum for free in perpetuity.

The photo below is just from the courtyard and doesn't even begin to do the place justice. The house itself is quite literally an all-day affair just to see it. To absorb it would take several visits more.

Photo from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Web site.

So, remember, when certain parties take slaps against "elitism" (whatever the hell that means), included in those shots is good elitism, the kind of elitism that educates, informs, transmits information, refines mental acuity, raises the tone of discourse, and makes subjects and materials that would normally be out of reach accessible to those who wish to learn more.

I rather think it's very important point to remember. It's especially important to remember whenever people people get on their "jus' reg'lar folks" high horse so they can bash all elitists, uncaring whether the elitists in question are selfish snobs (the bad kind of elitist) or rich eccentrics excited about a subject and want to leave a legacy behind them for future generations (the good kind of elitist).

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