Connected \\ August 16, 2019

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Creative Legacy

Salem’s native son Nathaniel Hawthorne has inspired artists for nearly 200 years — and not just writers. Modern-day artist Mindy Belloff tapped into his genius when she designed A Golden Thread: The Minotaur, a contemporary reinterpretation of Hawthorne’s short story The Minotaur, in his children’s book Tanglewood Tales.

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Mindy Belloff, A Golden Thread: The Minotaur, 2018. New York: Intima Press. Courtesy photo.


Offering a fresh perspective on the ancient Greek myth through a bold mix of typography and color, A Golden Thread is the centerpiece of PEM’s new exhibition, The Creative Legacy of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selections from the Phillips Library Collection. On view, beginning Sept. 28 are the works of illustrators and authors who are inspired by Hawthorne and continue to reinterpret his stories. This show also marks the first exhibition in a gallery dedicated to featuring changing exhibitions drawn from the collections of the Phillips Library.

Mindy Belloff, A Golden Thread: The Minotaur, 2018. New York: Intima Press. Courtesy photo.


Born in Salem in 1804, Hawthorne became a leading figure in American literature through the publication of A Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. He was a frequent visitor of the East India Marine Society, PEM’s founding institution. Today the Phillips Library collection includes over 3,000 volumes by the author.


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Nathaniel Hawthorne, undated photograph (detail), 1859–1870.


PEM Print Librarian Catherine Robertson first came across A Golden Thread while attending a conference. She met Belloff, an artist, designer and publisher, and was shown the volume complete with 100 original illustrations. She returned eager to tell her team about her discovery.

“Great stories are always retold,” says Robertson, exhibition co-curator. “And the reinterpretation of Greek myths has always inspired artists.”


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Mindy Belloff, A Golden Thread: The Minotaur, 2018. New York: Intima Press. Courtesy photo.


John Childs, PEM’s Chief of Collection Services and the Ann C. Pingree Director of the Phillips Library, says Hawthorne is a continual inspiration — describing him as a playful writer who frequently demonstrates a fickle sense of humor. He says the new exhibition encourages visitors to use stories from the past as a jumping-off point for new forms of expression.

“We have beautiful print collections of all kinds on view,” says Childs, the exhibition co-curator. “What you do with it is creatively your own.”

When pulling together Hawthorne-related works for the exhibition, Robertson found the author’s newspaper The Spectator particularly compelling. “Even as a teenager, he was interested in how his work would be packaged and designed for the reader,” she says.

By walking through the exhibition and viewing pages from A Golden Thread, Robertson hopes visitors gain a better insight into the extensive Hawthorne-related materials available at the Phillips Library. “This is just a little bit of what the library has to offer,” she says. “We hope we entice others to dive even deeper. They won’t be disappointed.”


The Phillips Library Reading Room is free and open to researchers of all ages and levels of interest in our collections. To learn more, visit pem.org/library.

306 Newburyport Turnpike, Rowley
Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10 am–4 pm, and Saturday, 9 am–1 pm
By appointment on Mondays and Fridays, 10 am–4 pm
Questions? Call 978-745-9500, ext. 3053, or email research@pem.org

A new PEM is launching this September — a new wing, new installations and a whole new museum experience. PEM Members get to see it all first. Join or renew on our Membership page to ensure you don't miss out! Follow along and share in the excitement using #newPEM.

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