November 9, 2007
From twenty six pillars, everything
Two weeks ago I was in northern Minnesota—enjoying an incredible weekend built on books. It was a gathering of 14 women from several states who traveled to a lodge outside the small town of Malmo for a “reading retreat” organized by BookWomen, through the Minnesota Women’s Press . We settled in a circle of mismatched and mostly comfortable chairs in front of a soaring, and roaring, fireplace made of local rock for three days of discussions about the five books we’d read before arriving. We pondered how each advanced the theme for the weekend, “The Republic of the Imagination.”
And we ventured out for a drive on a brilliant blue morning to visit one of the Carnegie libraries, built early in the 20th century in Aiken. Glenda Martin, BookWomen retreat leader, knew that many people in Aiken had protested when a plan proposed tearing down the small, yellow-brick building for a parking lot. A handsome and considerably larger new library had been built several blocks away. But those who held “their” original library in esteem prevailed. Today’s it’s been remodeled according to national historical register regulations and is living a second life as an art center, named for Francis Lee Jacques who lived in Aiken early in his life and went on to a career as a nationally renowned painter of wildlife.
We went to pay homage. It was particularly appropriate that the current exhibit was on centered on words, a display of calligraphy. I admired many of the works, for the style and the skill. But the one that captured by imagination was a quote by Olof Lagercrantz who I have since found out was a 20th center Swedish writer, critic and literary scholar.
Here it is, the most wondrous definition of the alphabet I’ve ever come across: “Twenty six pillars of strength upon which our culture rests.”