Among the finds was a sketch in a book in the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami, determined to be a drawing by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
Call it beginner’s luck.
Catherine Steele has only held the position of Senior Library Assistant in the Special Collections Department at the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami for three months.
Shortly into her term, Steele was working on a backlog of books to catalog when she came across a 1931 book by Macmillan reissued by The Literary Guild titled “Mexico City: A Study of Two Americas,” written by Stuart Chase.
As he opened the first page, his eyes fell on the sketch of a man wearing a large hat with a cactus and a blazing sun in the background. The signature on the sketch was Diego Rivera.
“I was in disbelief,” she said. “It took me a few seconds to look at the book but not absorb what I was seeing. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was holding something very special, precious.
Rivera was one of the most revered Mexican painters and muralists of the 20th century and the husband of famed artist Frida Kahlo.
The book was a hidden treasure.
Although Rivera is the book’s official illustrator and its 15 printed illustrations and color frontispiece adorn its pages, Steele had unearthed an original sketch made by Rivera on the first page.
“It’s completely unique,” said Linde Brocato, associate professor at the library and lead cataloger for the Jay I. Kislak Library and Collection of Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation.
The book also had an interesting provenance.
It belonged to Andy Warhol, the famous entertainer, and then was sold to Jay Jensen, a University of Miami alumnus and former actor who taught acting at Miami Beach Senior High School for many years. Jensen donated the book to the University.
“The sketch has been authenticated by the bookseller [Argosy Book Store Inc.], who probably sold the book to Jensen,” Brocato said. “They authenticated Rivera’s drawing, but we have no idea of its monetary value.”
It is believed that Rivera made the sketch at a book signing event and dedicated it to the book’s original owner, who is unknown.
“We don’t know how often Rivera signed books or how often he sketched,” Brocato noted. But it’s very likely that Rivera probably signed the book in the United States, she added. It was signed in 1933, and it is well known that Rivera made several trips to the United States between 1930 and 1940.
Several days after finding Rivera’s sketch, Steele hit another jackpot. This time it was a green cloth tome of “Leaves of Grass” signed by the author, American poet Walt Whitman, which was published in 1882.
The book contains two beautiful engraved black and white portraits of the author in its inside pages, one of which is initialed.
These treasures, and others held in the Special Collections, provide many opportunities for students and scholars to research and delve into areas of study such as art, history and literature, said Brocade. “This collection is heavily used for teaching and that’s why you want to have these kinds of books.”
There’s a particular excitement when a user comes across a book like Whitman’s and the one with Rivera’s sketch, Brocato explained. “Once you open it, there’s a physical engagement. It almost jumps out at you.
This feeling also washed over her when she opened another book that was overdue and hadn’t been categorized or scanned. A clown’s face stared at her from a photo book called ‘The Private World of Pablo Picasso’, published by Ridge Press in 1958. The face appears to have been drawn by Picasso and the inscription read ‘for Wally Tyler’ and was dated 12-7-58.
Tyler, an alumnus of the university who graduated in 1940, was a good friend of the photographer – David Douglas Duncan, also an alumnus – who took all the photos in the book and had settled in the south of France, according to Brocato .
Tyler donated the book to the University of Miami. Although the sketch has not been authenticated, it is highly likely to be a genuine sketch by Picasso, Brocato said.
Like many valuable artifacts in the collection, the three books are kept in a cooled safe for safekeeping, she said.
Visit https://www.library.miami.edu/specialcollections/ for more information on the University Libraries’ Special Collections.