Heaven on Earth
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Events go beyond the more predictable academic subjects. In addition to the occasional tree-trimming and sun-drenched pageant, the Clark has hosted conferences on such off-the-beaten-track subjects as "Furniture, Society and Self in the 18th Century," "The Masonic Legacy as Myth and Reality" and "Deformity, Monstrosity and Gender, 1600-1800." Samore loves each and every one of them. "Some of the most unassuming, erudite people I've ever met in my life 'participate in the conferences"," she says.
Much of the pleasure of spending time at the Clark can be attributed to the main building and to the grounds that surround it. Head Librarian Bruce Whiteman says the library, designed by architect Robert Farquhar, was built in "an eclectic style." The reading rooms were modeled after European museums and palaces that Clark fancied. The arched ceiling of the vestibule bears allegorical paintings by noted American painter Allyn Cox, who is best known for murals lining the halls of the U.S. Capitol. He also painted the murals in the Clark's drawing room, scenes from Dryden's All for Love and its inspiration, Antony and Cleopatra.
"It's a gorgeous atmosphere," says computer consultant Richard Dolan of the drawing room, where he attends Sunday afternoon chamber-music concerts. He goes to every Clark concert he can -- they're so popular, tickets are distributed by lottery -- and sits as close as he can, enjoying the opportunity to follow the score with the musicians. "When you're that close, you see what they see, and you are part of the music much more fully," says Dolan, who as a young man wavered between art and science, eventually choosing physics over his clarinet.
Dolan also attends as many conferences as he can get to, and he jokes that only Peter Reill, the director of the Center for 17th- and 18th-Century Studies, has eaten more reception food than he has. The library is for him "a place of mental paradise."
One of the appealing things for civilians is the idea that they can pretend, for a while, to be the scholar, the academic, the expert that they might have been if they'd taken a slightly different path. Dolan calls his experiences there "the best of academic life." Wechsler points out that Keats was trained as a physician. "Thank God he decided to become a poet! Imagine if Keats had been forced by his family to continue in medicine. What a tragedy that would have been!" Recalling the adage that one always returns to one's first love, Wechsler says that, if he had it to do all over again, he may have become a language professor.
And then there's Robert Holloway.
A film and television production designer, Holloway sits in the south reading room of the Clark, leans over the imposing dark wood table and runs a hand through his silvery hair as he confides: "One of the greatest sorrows of my life is that I don't have a degree."