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Celebrating 125: Remembering the Westfeldt Art Library

From 1952 until the mid 1980s, New Orleans Public Library cardholders could check out framed art prints to bring home for weeks at a time.

Originally housed at Milton H. Latter Memorial Library, the Westfeldt Art Library was established with funds donated by Martha Gasquet Westfeld, a local civic leader, book store owner, and art enthusiast. Westfeldt also donated a large collection of ceramics – some dating back to 200 BC –– which were on display at Latter Library, but not in circulation.

The collection initially featured 34 large-scale prints of works by iconic artists like Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Maurice Utrillo, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Grant Wood, Winslow Homer, and more.

Charles F. Buck, Jr. – the then chairman of the New Orleans Public Library Board — said an art lending service had been a years-long goal that would “serve one of the outstanding needs” of the system.

Ahead of the collection’s launch, Westfeldt said she was “happy to have the opportunity of contributing to the art movement in New Orleans,” according to newspaper archives.

“A public library offers a unique opportunity of passing along the culture of the past to the people of today and tomorrow,” she continued.

As the years went on, the collection grew and the service proved to be very popular, librarian Marilyn Woodward told the New Orleans Item in February 1956.

“Sometimes you have to wait several months to get the picture you want, because there are so many people waiting in front of you for the picture,” she said.

When the new Main Library building opened on Loyola Avenue in 1958, the Westfeldt Art Library and the LaHache Music Library were both transferred to the newly minted Art and Music Department.

Linda Schambach recalls using the collection frequently as a child.

“My father was a voracious reader and I spent many Saturdays with him at the Library,” Schambach said. “About once a month, we would go to where the art was kept, and after a lot of tough decisions, we would pick about 6 pictures. I remember that most of them were framed. We brought them home along with our books, and my dad would hang them up.”

Thanks to the service, Schambach said their home featured “a constantly revolving” decor, which she said brought her much joy and fulfillment.

The Westfeldt Art Collection was a premiere feature of the Art and Music Department until the Library closed the department in 1985.

While NOPL no longer offers art lending services, there are many art books, resources, and even classes available through the Library.

This article is part of the Library’s 125th Anniversary celebration. Do you have a story that captures 125 years of transforming lives, enriching history, and preserving history? Email us at impact@nolalibrary.org.

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