New Athenaeum book celebrates 20 years, 40 artists

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

La Jolla’s oldest cultural institution, the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, had its modest beginnings in the 1890s, when six local women formed a Reading Club, which became a membership library after the generous donation of a corner cottage, land, books, and piano from a frequent visitor to La Jolla. The first president of the Library Association was Ellen Browning Scripps.

One of only 16 nonprofit membership libraries in the country, the Athenaeum now attracts more than 110,000 visitors a year. And the last 20 years have been really productive due to Erika Torri, who first came to the Athenaeum in 1989, and became its executive director in 1990. Under her guidance, the Athenaeum has flourished: she has overseen a major expansion of the facilities, a more lively art exhibition program, the creation of several popular jazz and chamber music concert series, and the acquisition of an impressive array of artists’ books. Not least of her achievements has been helping the library amass a permanent collection of some 150 works by regional artists.

“We’ve had 20 years of jazz, 20 years of chamber music, and 20 years of galas, and we celebrated each of those with a special event or publication,” Torri said. “Then I realized we had 20 years of collection in hand.”

That seemed to deserve a book of its own, so in January 2011, the work began.

“We looked at all the pieces we have by artists who exhibited in a solo show in the main gallery between 1990 and 2010, and we came up with exactly 40 artists and 40 pieces,” Torri said. “Most of them are San Diego artists, still alive and working today, though some, like Italo Scanga, Harry Sternberg, and Manny Farber are no longer with us.”

The artists range from Adam Belt to Zandra Rhodes, and include Joyce Cutler-Shaw, James Hubbell, Becky Cohen, and Roman de Salvo. Among them are a couple of art couples: Patricia Patterson and Manny Farber, Jean Lowe and Kim MacConnel.

The book contains photos of all the artists and their selected works, along with written descriptions by Athenaeum Arts Education Director Cornelia Feye. MCASD curator Lucia Sanroman contributed an introductory essay, and Torri added an introduction of her own. A brief history of the Athenaeum is also included, along with lists of the artists’ exhibitions and additional works in the library’s collection.

“Selections from the Permanent Collection — 1990-2010” took more than two years to complete, and the Athenaeum held a special preview celebration in its honor on March 8.

“Everyone in the book was invited — all the artists, the photographers, our staff and board members, all our living past presidents and directors, and the donors who underwrote the publication,” Torri said.

“We could not be prouder of the book,” she added. “We hope it continues our tradition of helping to establish San Diego as a cultural center with a rich and diverse artistic community.”

To order a copy, contact the Athenaeum at (858) 454-5872.