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​Historic Knight Library: Art & Architecture

Guide to the art and architecture of the 1937 historic Knight Library, University of Oregon, Eugene.

Brownell Frasier was the principal designer of the Browsing Room.

ADELAIDE CHURCH

Adelaide Wrislely Church was born on March 26, 1882, in Troy, New York. She was the wife of Campbell Church, the stepson of Prince Lucien Campbell (PLC). Campbell Church’s mother was Susan Campbell Church, who became Susan Campbell Church Campbell when she married Prince Lucien Campbell not long after moving to Eugene. Adelaide Church died on August 1, 1937, a few months before the new library was formally dedicated. The next year, Campbell Church donated his mansion, called Treetops, to the university system and moved to California where he died in 1951. On Mother's Day, May 14, 1939, the Browsing Room was formally dedicated as the Adelaide Church Memorial Reading Room.

ADELAIDE CHURCH MEMORIAL READING ROOM

Brownell Frasier was the lead designer of the Browsing Room. An associate professor of interior design in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts (now the College of Design), Frasier planned every facet of the room.

"The Browsing Room is a modern functional room of beauty."
-- Brownell Frasier, Daily Emerald, May 20, 1939.

Browsing Room. Source: Oregana, 1940.

 Larger image

Browsing Room Rugs

Browsing Room Rugs

Three large wool rugs were designed by Brownell Frazier and hand-woven North China according to Frasier's exacting specifications.  The color scheme of the rugs matched the draperies; the originals were trimmed with fringe which is now gone.  The cost of the rugs was approximately $10,000 in 1937, a dollar amount that would be equivalent to $172,000 in 2017.  The receipt of the rugs was delayed by war between China and Japan, and then by problems with US Customs in Portland. The rugs were located for several years in the Special Collections reading room when the Browsing Room was altered to become offices or teaching spaces.

Browsing Room Furniture

Browsing Room Furniture

The Browsing Room furniture, designed for the most part by Brownell Frasier, featured some chairs with red leather and others with custom designed fabrics.  The furniture was designed for comfort with colors selected to match the draperies and rugs.  The original furniture is no longer extant.

Browsing Room Draperies

Browsing Room Draperies

Brownell Frasier designed the Browsing Room draperies with an Art Deco architectural design employing a dark red and green color scheme that matched the rugs and furnishings.  The draperies were woven for the room by Seeley-Scalamandre, New York. Disposition of the draperies is unknown.

Browsing Room Light Fixtures

Browsing Room Light Fixtures

The original ceiling fixtures designed by Frederick A. Baker, picture above, were removed in the early 1990s when Knight Library was expanded.  The floor lamps in the room as of March 2017 are original but lack the lampshades. Three lamps with large terra cotta bases created on campus were placed in the room in 1938, but they are no longer there. Image: Detail from 1939 Oregana photo.

 

Browsing Room Light Fixtures

Browsing Room Light Fixtures

The original ceiling fixtures designed by Frederick A. Baker were removed in the early 1990s when Knight Library was expanded.  The floor lamps in the room as of March 2017 are original but lack the lampshades. Three lamps with large terra cotta bases made on campus were made for the room, but they are no longer there.

Browsing Room Fireplaces

Browsing Room Fireplaces

Located originally near the fireplace were two Chinese coromandel lacquered screens. One of these is currently in the Paulson Reading Room. The word 'coromandel' denotes lacquered wood with intaglio or engraved designs named after the region on the Indian coast from where it was shipped.

Browsing Room Fireplaces

The Browsing Room fireplaces are faced by marble and bronze bands, surrounded by Kasota stone. The fireplace screens and andirons were designed by Brownell Frasier and manufactured by O. B. Dawson. Originally near the fireplace were two Chinese coromandel lacquered screens. (One of these is currently in the Paulson Reading Room.)  

Browsing Room Walls

The Browsing Room walls are covered with bleached, vertical grain white pine selected to match the Kasota stone fireplaces and provide a light, warm tone to the room. The walls were originally treated with a glaze and waxed. The UO Libraries Special Collections and University Archives houses the archives of the Western Pine Association.

Browsing Room Art Objects

The Browsing Room features art works by Phyllis Muirden Ryder (Pan and Diana), Neal Gardner (Kneeling Male Figure), Nellie G. Best (Kneeling Female Figure), a ceramic bowl by the Oregon Ceramic Studio, and wood carvings by Clarence Bates. Picture: Gardner's Kneeling Male Figure.

Browsing Room, 1941. Source:  Oregana 1942

What is commonly called the Browsing Room is officially named the Adelaide Church Memorial Reading RoomThe room, 90 feet long by 23 feet wide, was originally designed to have three unique spaces. According to the plans, the slightly larger central space was a Browsing Room which was flanked to the west by the Home Collection of Beautiful Books and to the right by the Choice Art Books. The concept of the "browsing room" was unique for an academic library of the time: It was designed to created a pleasant environment for recreational reading with a friendly warning that no studying was allowed.  A librarian, Ethel Sawyer, was hired to manage the recreational reading collection which was circulated to the several "house collections' located in the campus dorms, fraternities, and sororities. The room was dedicated to Mrs. Church, a long-time library supporter, on Mother's Day, May 14, 1939. The original purpose of the space did not last long as the spacious Browsing Room was considered a desirable space for public lectures and special events. 

Brownell Frasier was the lead designer of the room. An associate professor of interior design in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, Frasier planned every facet of the room, and designed the furniture, floor lamps, rugs, and drapery draperies. She identified and supervised the artists whose art was selected for the room. Irene (Mrs. George) Gerlinger chaired the committee to provide funds for the furnishings for the room which were provided by over 370 sources. The Browsing Room was not furnished as planned when the library opened in 1937 because many objects were custom-designed and specially manufactured.  As photographs attest, the original character of the room has substantially changed over the years as the room has been altered to accommodate different needs.

Desiring a space with the original function of the room, students succeeded in having a reproduction of the Browsing Room sited in the new Erb Memorial Union which opened in 1950. The EMU room currently houses the Mills International Student Center.  The Browsing Room was subsequently altered to house the School of Librarianship in 1967 and in 1974 smaller offices were created in the space. In the 1988-1991 renovation, the room was largely restored as an open space, although most of the original furnishings were no longer available.

Ethel Sawyer, the Browsing Room librarian, wrote the book, Books Are People: A Bookman's Credo (Portland, Or.: Berncliff Press, 1951).

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Kneeling Female Figure
Artist: Nellie G. Best
Browsing Room

SOURCES

"Browsing Room Claims Beauty, Uniqueness, Practicality, Rest." Oregon Daily Emerald, May 20, 1939, 3.

"Library Browsing Room Will Be Furnished Soon." Oregon Daily Emerald, March 30, 1938, 1. Article notes that tomato-colored leather chairs were being restuffed, other furniture to be added. Notes that delay in receipt of rugs is due to internal problems in China. Notes that wall decorations have not been determined, but that woodcarvings were being considered to hang over each fireplace.

Douglass, Matthew Hale. The University of Oregon Library Building, 1937.

Emerson, Kim. University of Oregon Library and Memorial Quadrangle, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, August 15, 1989.

Evans, Lew. "Art Work in New Library Product of Delicate Work by Grads and Professors." Oregon Daily Emerald, May 19, 1937.

"The Library," Ellis Lawrence Building Survey. v.2 (Eugene). Compiled by the Historic Preservation Program, School of Architecture and Allied Arts, University of Oregon ; project directors, Michael Shellenbarger, Kimberly Lakin. [Salem, Or.] : State Historic Preservation Office, [1989].

Wiley, Nan. "A Project in Sculpture: Four Races as Expressed in Small Sculpture." University of Oregon, 1936. This thesis describes sculpture planned for the Browsing Room.

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