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Remarks and Introduction of the Artists

Brenda G. Corbin, Librarian

U.S. Naval Observatory


What a pleasure it has been working in this beautiful room day after day for over 23 years, and even more so now with the recent renovation. An even greater pleasure has been working with the staff of the Observatory, professionals in every sense of the word who carry out the scientific mission and research of the Observatory. After all, this is why the library was founded --- for the use of the staff of the Naval Observatory. It has also been my pleasure to meet and work with the many astronomers and historians of science from other institutions who use this magnificent collection.

As the library is under the guidance of the scientific director, I have been privileged to work with 3 gentlemen through these years who have given the library strong support, not only in a financial sense, but also in the philosophy of keeping this library at the forefront of astronomical libraries. These gentlemen are all here this evening: Dr. Kaj Strand who hired me as librarian many years ago, Dr. Gart Westerhout (with whom I happily worked for many years), and the current scientific director, Dr. Ken Johnston, who has managed to increase the library's budget even in times of shrinking budgets. (However...a reminder to Dr. Johnston, and I am sure my librarian colleagues here tonight would agree, a library's budget can never have too much money).

When we moved the entire library out of this room a year ago so the renovation could begin, little did we suspect the surprises awaiting us. As multitudnious layers of lead paint were removed from all surfaces, we found the ledge at waist level and bottom shelf of each stack around the room were actually stone, a beautiful grey-green slate which had been painted over many times. At that point, we decided to to try and recreate the original look of the room, including going back to the original paint colors of the 1890's. The fountain was replaced, using early photographs to try and recreate the look of the original fountain.

When the renovation was complete, it was decided to dedicate the library to the man who essentially founded the library, LT James Melville Gilliss (later Capt. Gilliss, but a LT when he did planning for the new Observatory so we still fondly remember him as LT Gilliss).

Using Department of Defense Legacy funds, we were able to have the frames of 2 portraits which already belonged to the library restored. On my left, Mr. George Saegmuller, who designed the mount for the Observatory's 12" telescope (this portrait was donated by Mr. Saegmuller's descendants). Next is Prof. Mordecai Yarnall, one of our 19th century astronomers whose portrait was also donated by descendants. The space to the far right is being reserved for Prof. Simon Newcomb, another of our leading 19th century astronomers. We are currently in negotiation with the National Portrait Gallery to borrow a portrait of Prof. Newcomb from their collection.

With the very strong support of our Superintendent, Capt. Foster, we were able to commission 2 new portraits, one of Asaph Hall (hanging to my right). Prof. Hall discovered the 2 moons of Mars in 1877, using the powerful 26" telescope which the Observatory acquired in 1873. I am pleased to introduce the artist of the Asaph Hall portrait, Mrs. Beverly Stautz.

And of course, we commissioned a portrait of James Melville Gilliss. I am very pleased to introduce the artist, Mrs. Jean Pilk.

And now, Admiral Tobin, Capt. Foster and Mrs. Pilk will preside over the unveiling of the Gilliss portrait and the dedication.

In addition to the portrait of Gilliss, we include here the portrait of Asaph Hall, which also hangs in the library.