Jenn Pellecchia’s journey from discovery to community at the Athenaeum

Excerpts from an interview with Jenn Pellecchia, 13-year member

What drew you to become a member of the BA?

Jenn: I found out about it through Wikipedia.  I think I was looking at the page for John Adams or John Quincy Adams, that’s how I found out they were both members. I thought, there’s no way this still exists, but there was a link to the website, and I saw that it was a member library that anyone could join. I showed it to my husband and was like, we have to do this. 

What’s your favorite spot in the building?

Jenn: I love to browse the new books. It’s so nice to not have to be in a huge queue and reserve everything, just to be able to browse, like a bookstore, but not have to pay for anything. And when I actually need to get some work done I like to go to the basement, especially in the summer. It’s really nice and cool, and if I want to take a break, I can check out the art books. And the views are great down there. It’s a nice, quiet place.

What are you working on at the BA currently? What do you bring with you to work on? Do you work, or do more reading?

Jenn: I like to do both, work and read. This is a great place to try to get stuff done. I work from home, and my discipline there kind of varies, but I’m a bookbinder and a book conservator, so this is a great place just to be. 

How has the BA helped support your interests? Is there anything you’ve discovered here that you’d want to share? 

Jenn: I discovered book conservation as a career! Through a lot of the exhibitions I’ve learned about other bookbinders and book artists. It’s great that Special Collections is buying from current artists and has an interest in contemporary book artists and bookbinders. I’m discovering people all the time, and even older works from people I actually know or have heard of. 

And also it’s fun to have people you can talk about things with. You know, it’s great to just ask John [Buchtel, Athenaeum Director of Special Collections], “Are you shopping, what are you excited about, what have you acquired?” and then being able to make an appointment and go look at stuff. I’ve been able to do a lot of learning that way. 

What’s your favorite perk of being a member at the Athenaeum?

Jenn: I love the events. It’s nice that there’s such a range of people that the BA attracts, different ages, different careers, coming from different areas of the country and sometimes the world. There’s been so many fascinating people working here too. You can have a good conversation anytime you come to the building. 

I’ve never been to something that I thought wasn’t interesting. There’s always a level of quality, and there’s always something to learn, and the speakers do such a great job that any time you end up here for an event, you’re going to come away with something. It’s like, “I’m free, is there something happening?” And there usually is. I think being in a room full of people who are learning things together, you can’t really top it. 

If any, what fictional character or historical figure would you expect to find in the Athenaeum? 

Jenn: I know that Louisa May Alcott was a member, so I’d like to think of Jo March, or really anybody in the March family, having access to this. Not just Jo, but all of the sisters. Music for Beth, and art for Amy, and maybe some social events for Meg. It’s really easy to picture them fitting in here. I always like that this is a family place, too, so it makes me happy to think about the March family being able to visit as a group.  

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Clive Martin shares his love of the BA

Man with white hair reading a book while sitting in a comfy red leather chair.

Excerpts from an interview with Clive Martin, 10-year member and docent

What drew you to become a member of the BA?

Clive: I’ve been a member of the BA for 10 years. Before I retired, I used to work just down the road actually, and I would come in here on my lunchtimes and just look around.

Ten years ago, my Boston Globe subscription came with promotions including a reduced-price membership to the BA. I thought, “So anyone can join? I’ll try it!” I love libraries, I’ve always loved learning and reading and meeting like-minded people, so it was a no-brainer…I never looked back!

What are you working on at the BA currently?

Clive: It’s rare that I just get a chance to sit down and read! That’s what I always think of doing, but what I come here for is my docent tours, and my book groups, Dickens and Literary Conversations, and I’m also a member of Poetry, and all three of those are very active. It just keeps me very very busy.

How has the BA supported your interests? What have you discovered here?

Clive: Oh, what have I discovered?! …I mean, it stretches your mind and your intellect. The book talks, the concerts, the discussions, the book groups, and the friends you make. …and I love the collections.

I’ve learned a lot about cultural history, and how it’s presented. We [docents] must ensure our cultural history is presented honestly. For instance, the rehanging of the paintings here was so thoughtfully done. Now we tell a much fuller story, with the re-hanging, about our country’s art and history, including so much that’s been neglected or ignored.

What’s your favorite spot in the building?

Clive: Oh, I have a lot of favorite spots… Now you’re going to give away all my good secrets! My favorite place to sit and read is on the fourth-floor gallery. There’s a winged armchair. You get lost in it. I do like the art library. It’s fantastic. Great places to sit, surrounded by all the art books.

If you go to the gallery levels, you can find chairs no one knows about. It’s nice to sit down and get lost. The only person who will find you there is the security guard

What is your favorite perk of being a member of the BA?

Clive: There’s so many… If you boil it all away, it’s the people. There’s no lack of people to talk to, who are glad to engage in conversation– really good discussions with interesting people.

What fictional character or historical figure would you expect to find in the Athenaeum?

Clive: Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch. And her husband Rev. Edward Casaubon. I would not be at all surprised if I ran into them in here. Dorothea Brooke is full of the delight in learning and the love of literature, the love of philosophy, and the love of theology.

I would expect to find her reading on the 5th floor. And Rev. Casaubon would be studying the books in the King’s Chapel Library collection, turning the pages, and inhaling the accumulated dust that has built up since 1698 when they were shipped to Boston.

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