Happiness abounds at the Beinecke Library’s special exhibitions showcasing gardens and bird watching

They say you can’t buy happiness, but visitors will find it in abundance in Happiness: The Writer in the Garden, the Beinecke Library’s latest special exhibition, on view May 5 – August 12, with companion exhibition, Bird-Watching. Beinecke exhibitions are always free and open to the public.

“Like a wandering vine, the subject of garden-making winds through the shelves of books and boxes of archives in the collection of the Beinecke Library,” notes exhibition organizer Timothy Young, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts.

Young says that as he selected materials for the building-wide show, he noticed that one state of mind appeared over and again: happiness: “Writers of all dispositions seem to agree that the work of shaping the natural world into manageable plots brings particularly rewarding forms of joy and satisfaction.”

Many parts of the library’s collections are represented in the exhibition – from 17th century printed books to contemporary archives. The writers, artists, creators, and collectors exhibited include Edith Wharton, Francis Bacon, Vita Sackville-West, Joseph Spence, Alexander Pope, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Langston Hughes, Beatrix Farrand, Thomas Hill, Robert Dash, William Carlos Williams, Adrienne Rich, Joseph Spence, Diana Balmori, Czeslaw Milosz, Susan Howe, Leonard Baskin, and Rupert Barneby and Dwight Ripley.

Birds and birdwatchers also soar through the archives, inspiring the companion exhibition, Bird-Watching. “In games and children’s literature, personal notes and intimate correspondence, birds and their lives on the wing captivate the imagination,” says organizer Nancy Kuhl, Curator of Poetry in the Yale Collection of American Literature.
“Conjuring the observer in the field, the image of the bird watcher may seem far removed from libraries like the Beinecke. Although they may seem quite different at first glance, bird watching and archival research have a good deal in common,” Kuhl says. “Like both ornithologist and amateur enthusiast, the archival scholar may be keenly focused on minute details, seeing and evaluating minor variation in seemingly similar things; she is patient—she sits quietly (sometimes for long stretches) waiting for something special to appear in a familiar place; she carefully records her findings in detailed—sometimes idiosyncratic—lists and descriptive narratives; she is, by turns, solitary in her contemplation and engaged in lively discourse with those who share her interests.”
Bird-Watching documents the real lives of birds—their forms, their songs, their behavior—in word and image; the exhibition honors, too, the birds of fantasy and wild imagination. Writers, artists, creators, and collectors in the exhibition include Mo Willems, John James Audubon, Jonathan Williams, William Carlos Williams, John Digby, Karl Priebe, Carl Van Vechten, and Stein and Toklas.

Visitors are encouraged to bring their best bird watching skills to the Beinecke Library for this exhibition, Young emphasizes: “Nancy and I discovered that a pigeon had landed at the library … and he dreamt of being an Audubon bird of America. Librarians like it when dreams come true, so visitors should keep their eyes alert both on the ground floor and upstairs on the mezzanine.”

“The Beinecke Library seeks always to be a place of illumination and inspiration, where scholars and researchers, as well as the casual visitor, encounter the past in the present for the future,” according to Kuhl. “Awe and delight are regular features of the work that happens here. We hope this spring and summer exhibition will delight visitors and lead them to explore our collections even more.”

As part of the delight, the Beinecke Library has created a special area for the “reader in the garden” to accompany Happiness: The Writer in the Garden. Visitors will find a special garden, chairs, and little library alongside life-size reproductions of photographs of Stein, Toklas, and others installed outdoors, immediately adjacent to the south side of the library’s ground floor glass wall.

“Our hope is that visitors will wander through the exhibition, learn about gardens and birds, and consider relaxing and reading a while in our garden,” Young says. “The library’s founders wanted it to be ‘an inspiration to all who enter’ and this summer we hope it will be an inspiration and delight, inside and out, and a particularly happy place for visitors, whether they have been here countless times or are enjoying the Beinecke Library for the first time.”

For more information and details about the Beinecke Library’s hours and for more detailed information on the special exhibitions and related special events, please visit the library’s website here:


Michael Morand


Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
121 Wall Street | New Haven, CT 06511
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Monday 10 am - 7 pm
Tuesday-Thursday 9 am - 7 pm
Friday 9 am - 5 pm
Saturday (Exhibitions only) 12 pm - 5 pm
Sunday (Exhibitions only) 12 pm - 4 pm

Holiday Schedule and Closed Collections Schedule