"Lady with Parasol Under the Cherry Trees", Kimbei School, c. 1880 Photograph (hand colored albumen print). On loan from Mary Basket Gallery

By: Laura A. Partridge

In its history, Cincinnati has managed to accumulate a number of hidden gems. The Lloyd Library is one of them. The Lloyd is a private library that was incorporated in the late 1800s, and is located at Plum and Court streets. The collection has lived in a few different spaces as it has grown, but the focal point of the collection has remained the same—the science and history of pharmacognosy (the study of medicines derived from natural substances), and medical botany. Kind of niche, yes? In fact, it occupies such a specific area of collecting, that there really isn’t another library like it in the country.

The Lloyd family moved to the Cincinnati area in 1853. The three sons—John Uri, Nelson Ashley and Curtis Gates Lloyd—made their careers in pharmacy. At that time, there were a number of ancillary groups of medical practitioners who ascribed to a specific brand of medicine. The Lloyd brothers were part of the “Eclectic” movement—an early extension of herbal medicine. In fact, John Uri Lloyd attended and later taught at the Eclectic Medical Institute right here in Cincinnati from 1878 to 1895.

Together, the brothers owned and ran Lloyd Brothers Pharmacy which was in operation until 1926, when the business was purchased from the estate. According to the library, the Lloyd brothers were “the most profitable and recognized manufactures of botanical medicines of the time.” The library collection started with just two volumes, but quickly grew with the brothers’ need for research, and now includes more than 200,000 volumes and a vast collection of archival material. The first structure dedicated to the collection was located at 309 Court Street. The current building was constructed later, in 1970.

In 2003, when Maggie Heran joined the Lloyd as Executive Director, the library launched its first exhibition around book art. The opening attracted an enormous crowd, and Heran saw the potential to build a new audience for the library outside of the scientific community. They now have a full exhibition program that aims to feature the work of outside artists alongside pieces from the library collection—like relevant papers, books or artwork. Their current exhibition, View: Ways of Seeing, honors the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to our nation’s capital. John Uri Lloyd made numerous trips to Japan, and was beloved there by those he knew. In the years following his death in 1936, Japan gifted 3,500 cherry trees to Cincinnati that were planted in Eden Park. These are the kinds of subtle intersections the library attempts to identify in order to merge the past with the present.

That’s what’s beautiful about this exhibition—that merging between past and present is so literal. The pieces from the library collection are in cases off the main lobby, and then you step into a new contemporary gallery space that features a site-specific installation by Alysia Fischer, and the work of several other contemporary artists who explore nature through sculpture, video and painting. The juxtaposition presents a really sharp contrast, but it plays into the idea that encompasses the exhibit itself—ways of seeing.

For me, the centerpiece of the exhibition is a set of three paintings by Setsuko LeCroix titled, Cherry Tree (2012). The model for the paintings was a cherry tree that LeCroix started from a seed nine years ago, and is growing in Cincinnati soil. LeCroix, who originated from Kyoto, trained under a master of Shinto ippitsu ho (capturing the spirit in one stroke) style of sumi-e, in Kobe. The goal of an artist working in the sumi-e style is to capture the essence of a subject, and that’s part of what makes these paintings so striking. LeCroix concentrates the branches of the tree into one area of each surface. They reach out from one corner, and perhaps they angle down, but the vast white space that surrounds the flowers and branches is like a fresh breath. Instinct leads the viewer to search for parts of the tree not painted on one surface, on one of the other two, but they’re all like that. They each feature only a small part of the tree. This is not unlike the feeling elicited by the cherry tree itself with its fleeting beauty.

Some of the other works in the exhibition help to tell the story of John Uri Lloyd in Japan. There are newspaper clippings, books, collectibles and ceramics. There is a complete published (1856) report of Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition to Japan in the mid-19th century, an illustrated Japanese book on medicine and healing written by a samurai in the eighteenth century, and many Japanese hand-colored illustrated books on cherry trees and other flowering plants. There is also a library Visitor’s Register on display that features the signature of one of the many Japanese scientists that the brothers worked with as far back as 1920.

When asked what visitors can expect when they visit this, or any of the Lloyd’s exhibits, Heran said, “I think people encounter a range of experiences at the Lloyd—they have a sense of discovering something unique and beautiful. The current exhibit, View: Ways of Seeing, is appropriately named because to view the Lloyd is to unearth cultural treasures that blend multiple ways of seeing not only what is here, but also what has been.”

View: Ways of Seeing is on display through August 3, 2012. The library is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

917 Plum Street, Cincinnati OH 45202 (513) 721-3707


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