November 18, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 6

Major Exhibition on G. B. Shaw Opens at Burns

The first-ever public exhibition of material from the John J. Burns Library's internationally renowned George Bernard Shaw Collection opens today for a five-month run.

Titled "Mr. Shaw's Time Is Filled Up for Months to Come," the exclusive exhibit, which is free and open to the public, is one of the largest showings to take place at Burns Library, occupying all display areas on the building's main floor.

The exhibit is comprised of a striking array of items, including priceless original manuscripts, first editions and signed books, letters, photographs, programs, playbills and paintings. All are drawn from the archive which the Sunday Times called "one of the world's most important collections" of material related to the Anglo-Irish comic dramatist George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature and regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of the modern era for such works as "Major Barbara," "Pygmalion" and "Saint Joan."

"This is considered by many to have been the finest Shaw collection in private hands," said Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill. "It catapults our holdings into a place among the major Shaw collections in the world," he said, and represents a significant addition to the BC Irish Collection, already considered to be the premier, most comprehensive repository of Irish research materials in the United States.

The exhibit's title reflects "the busy and very long life of George Bernard Shaw," said principal exhibit curator David Horn, who heads the library's archives and manuscripts department. "He facilitated replies to his many correspondents by using pre-printed post cards, and the title is a quotation from one of them. We hope the exhibit will be busy - will attract many visitors - in the months it is on display."

Acquired in 2002, the Burns Library's Samuel N. Freedman George Bernard Shaw Collection contains more than 3,400 items amassed from the 1950s to the end of the 20th century by private collector Samuel Freedman, a rare books and manuscripts dealer. The acquisitiona was made possible by the library's Brian P. Burns Endowed Acquisitions Fund.

The collection encompasses approximately 3,000 books and other printed items, including many pamphlets written by Shaw on all the controversial subjects of his day: education, war and peace, socialism, every aspect of economics, relations between England and Ireland, and the like, according to Horn.

Shaw was a socialist, a pacifist and a vegetarian, Horn notes, and his opinions on these and other subjects are expressed at length in the collection. Hundreds of clippings also reflect his views in letters to newspapers and his replies to other letters.

The collection holds more than 400 other items, among them portraits, photographs, programs, posters, letters and notes. In particular, a large number of playbills reveal the extensive and varied productions of Shaw's major and minor plays as well as offer insight into the playwright himself.

For example, a "Back to Methuselah" program on display is for a performance by the Arts Theatre Club in London in 1947. "Shaw used his plays to expound on his many social and economic theories," said Horn, "and this play reflects his views on the perfectibility of man - if a person could live long enough.

More information on the Burns Library is available at online.

-Patricia Delaney

top of page