Folio Bistro opens June 25

Folio interior

Partnership with The Catered Affair launches street-level eatery to expand palates, the library and museum experience, and social connections to the Boston community.

Today, the Boston Athenaeum announced the opening of its new street-level bistro, Folio, launched in partnership with The Catered Affair. Folio will serve as the newest social hub in Boston, inviting all curious food lovers to enjoy made-to-order shareable plates, lively conversation, and impeccable service. The opening date is Tuesday, June 25, 2024.

Folio Bistro interior with tables set and a wallpaper with images of books imprinted in the background.
photos by @sambarracca

The opening of Folio marks the final installment in the Boston Athenaeum’s renovation and expansion intended to make the space more welcoming and inviting to the city of Boston. The restaurant is open to the public and offers visitors the enjoyment of the distinctive and unique setting of the Boston Athenaeum’s library, museum, and cultural center. The welcoming ambiance will be paired with European-inspired cuisine by Chef de Cuisine Peter Laspia, dozens of new and old-world wines, and craft cocktails – including a Boston Athenaeum branded signature cocktail, “Athena’s Ambrosia.”

“Folio represents an important moment for the Boston Athenaeum as we continue to open our doors to the city of Boston and invite everyone to connect with our community,” says Leah Rosovsky, Stanford Calderwood Director. “We hope our new restaurant will tempt members and visitors to join us at the Boston Athenaeum. Folio creates another way for everyone to experience our library and museum.”

Food on plates with full glasses of wine.

Located at the Boston Athenaeum with a street-level entrance at 14A Beacon St., Folio offers clever libations paired with sophisticated bites welcoming residents, visitors, tourists, and Athenaeum members to dine with friends, coworkers, and family. Steps from the Boston Common, Freedom Trail, Massachusetts Statehouse, and downtown Boston; Folio adds a passion for culinary brilliance and exquisite service to complement the Athenaeum’s appetite for literature, history, art, and social connection.

The bistro will be open:
• Tuesday – Thursday, 10 am – 8 pm
• Friday – Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm

“Modeled after the ambiance and service of European bistros, Folio provides distinct hospitality in unexpected ways,” said Ken Barrett-Sweet, Vice President of Catering at The Catered Affair. “Guests enjoy craft cocktails, a unique wine list, and made-to-order shareable plates. Folio will quickly become a favorite gathering spot for the curious.”

Folio is the latest collaboration between the Boston Athenaeum and The Catered Affair, a state-of-the-art culinary event caterer serving the New England region for 44 years. Previously, the organizations announced a partnership positioning TCA as the exclusive onsite cuisine provider for events held at the Athenaeum.

With the launch of Folio at the Boston Athenaeum, The Catered Affair brings the relentless passion for culinary brilliance and exquisite service to a restaurant atmosphere that complements the Athenaeum’s dedication to year-round opportunities for social connections through book clubs, author talks, concerts, exhibitions, and more.

For more information on Folio and full menu details visit the Folio website and follow @folioboston on Instagram.

Hayden exhibition photo and wordmark

Harriet Hayden Albums exhibition announced


First-ever major exhibition of the Harriet Hayden albums, displaying original photographs of notable Black Bostonian and national abolitionists

The exhibition opens March 20 and runs through June 22.

The exhibition centers on two photograph albums once owned by anti-slavery activist Harriet Hayden. Together, the albums contain 87 cartes-de-visite. The 2⅛ x 3½-inch portrait photographs portray many of Boston’s most prominent Black abolitionist figures – including suffragist Virginia Hewlett Douglass, lawyer Robert Morris, educator Elizabeth N. “Lizzie” Smith, and Dr. John V. DeGrasse – and include rare examples by makers like the Black landscape painter Edward Mitchell Bannister.

The exhibition centers on two photograph albums once owned by anti-slavery activist Harriet Hayden. Together, the albums contain 87 cartes-de-visite. The 2⅛ x 3½-inch portrait photographs portray many of Boston’s most prominent Black abolitionist figures – including suffragist Virginia Hewlett Douglass, lawyer Robert Morris, educator Elizabeth N. “Lizzie” Smith, and Dr. John V. DeGrasse – and include rare examples by makers like the Black landscape painter Edward Mitchell Bannister.

Framing Freedom offers a new lens to view the significance of Harriet and Lewis Hayden’s extensive social network and their influence in the social justice movements of their day. While her husband, Lewis Hayden, is better known for his public activism, these works encourage us to recognize the home-based activism and movement contributions of Harriet Hayden.

The exhibition features Harriet’s photograph albums alongside objects from the 19th century anti-slavery movement in Boston, including the only two known portraits of Harriet, displayed together for the first time.

This special exhibition is co-curated by Makeda Best, PhD, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Oakland Museum of California, a specialist in nineteenth-century photography, race, and gender, and Virginia Reynolds Badgett, PhD, former Assistant Curator at the Boston Athenaeum and scholar of American art and material culture.

“The Harriet Hayden Albums exhibition draws much-needed attention to Harriet Hayden’s role in Boston’s abolitionist movement, centering the Hayden home as a crucial site for the formation and execution of a societal crusade to which they devoted their lives,” says Makeda Best.

“By integrating Harriet’s cartes-de-visite with objects from the nineteenth-century anti-slavery movement in Boston, the exhibition offers a new contextual lens through which one can view the significance of the Haydens’ extensive social network and their historic home on Beacon Hill – located blocks from the Boston Athenaeum – to understand better their influence in the social justice movements of their day,” Best says.

In 1844, Harriet Hayden, her husband Lewis Hayden, and their son, Joseph, escaped slavery in Lexington, Kentucky. By 1849 they settled on the north slope of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, where Lewis opened a clothing store on Cambridge Street. It became the second largest establishment in Boston to be owned by a Black man. Their home at 66 Phillips Street served as a special place of refuge during the height of activity on the Underground Railroad, helping hundreds of self-emancipated sojourners on their journey to freedom in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

In the early 1860s, Harriet received two cartes-de-visite photograph albums as gifts from fellow Boston anti-slavery activists Robert Morris and Dr. Samuel Birmingham. Harriet Hayden’s carte-de-visite albums offer a unique window into a close-knit and well-organized Black activist community and present an opportunity to re-evaluate conventional understandings of the domestic sphere and Boston’s broader abolitionist presence.

“The legacy of Harriet Hayden deserves to be better known. The albums provide insight into an under-recognized history, revealing the interconnectedness of individuals’ identities in a crucial moment in American history,” said John Buchtel, the Boston Athenaeum’s Curator of Rare Books and Head of Special Collections. “The Boston Athenaeum’s Harriet Hayden Albums exhibition tells a fuller story of our national and regional abolitionist history, and how Boston’s past and present are linked.”

Additional exhibition features connect Harriet Hayden’s carte-de-visite albums to a societal and historic narrative arc that transports the viewer from the Beacon Hill neighborhood into both the public sphere and the Hayden home. Artifacts include photographs, prints, illustrated rare books, broadsides and ephemera, American paintings, decorative arts, and personal objects associated with key individuals and the exhibition’s themes of race, gender, representation, and community.

The exhibition reflects several years of ongoing work to conserve, digitize, and research the Harriet Hayden albums and bring them to a broader understanding of the importance of social networks and anti-slavery activism.

“I am deeply proud of the The Harriet Hayden Albums exhibition ,” said Leah Rosovsky, Stanford Calderwood Director at the Boston Athenaeum. “It builds on several past exhibitions that have explored how Boston’s Black community is connected to politics and culture. Harriet Hayden’s story, and the stories of all those in this exhibition, are important additions to a full understanding of Boston’s rich history.”

Framing Freedom: The Harriet Hayden Albums is generously supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, Cabot Family Charitable Trust, Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Mass Humanities, Mass Cultural Council, and Fiduciary Trust.

See details on the Framing Freedom: The Harriet Hayden Albums exhibition page


Exhibition of Berenice Abbott and Irene Schwachman photographs opens

Two side by side black and white photographs of Boston buildings.

First-ever joint presentation of Berenice Abbott and Irene Shwachman images, supplemented by contemporary Artists For Humanity Boston photos

The Boston Athenaeum’s newest exhibition opens August 28. Developing Boston: Berenice Abbott & Irene Shwachman Photograph a Changing City features the first joint presentation of work by the two pioneering photographers of the 1930s and 1960s as they captured a Boston in the midst of great change and redevelopment.

Abbott’s 1934 photos and Shwachman’s 1959-68 images capture many of the same locations 30 years apart, including the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, West End, Beacon Hill, and Adams Square (now Government Center), with some locations and buildings still recognizable today, others utterly transformed by redevelopment. They also include historical images of “New City Hall” and the Prudential Tower under construction in the 1960s. The exhibition will be open through the end of December and available with a first-floor admission ticket.

Leah Rosovsky, the Boston Athenaeum’s Stanford Calderwood Director, said, “For anyone who loves exploring the modern history of Boston and the evolution of photographic technique and composition, ‘Developing Boston’ promises to be a rich and inspiring experience. We are also so honored and excited to partner with and showcase the teen photographers of Artists For Humanity as we work to deepen the Athenaeum’s connections with people from all of Boston neighborhoods and present new perspectives on our city and its history.”

The photographers have notable personal connections, as well as differing approaches to photographing the city. Abbott approaches Boston from a distance, offering stoic views, oscillating between straightforward and oblique angles. Shwachman, a onetime student of Abbott’s who photographed alongside, and even worked for a time as Abbott’s darkroom printer, amended her teacher’s approach by photographing Boston through a personal, subjective lens to highlight the city’s dynamism.

“By examining the works of Abbott and Shwachman in conversation, Developing Boston explores how each photographer viewed, dissected, and preserved Boston as it evolved throughout the twentieth century. As Abbott employed her documentary practice to create clear sightlines between the past and present, Shwachman developed her practice to signal towards Boston’s uncertain future,” says Lauren Graves, Ph.D., assistant curator at the Boston Athenaeum. “The documentary approaches of both photographers, whose work has never previously been presented in a joint exhibition, shine together to present a side of Boston’s buildings and public spaces that would have otherwise been lost. We hope that this exhibition helps Bostonians and visitors alike to find their place in the city.”

Building on this documentary photography exhibition, the Boston Athenaeum has also partnered with Artists For Humanity to add to the exhibition a selection of contemporary images of Boston made over the last two years, bringing teenage AFH photographers and their visual take on Boston into conversation with the seminal works of Abbott and Shwachman.

“Boston Athenaeum was so invested in the teens’ vision—from start to finish,” said AFH’s Photography Director Mary Nguyen, “They trusted that the teens were the experts in representing their own city through their lenses. The teens felt empowered, embraced, and celebrated as artists, and as young people, by such a historic institution and a great partner.”

“This will be the first time having my artwork in an exhibition outside of AFH,” said AFH Teen Photographer, Victoria “Tori” Kutta. “Being able to tour a famous place like Boston Athenaeum, where thousands of people visit, and then exhibit my own photography there—it’s surreal!”

AFH’s Studio team is so proud of their artwork being added to the Athenaeum’s collections, continuing the photographic story of Boston started by Abbott and Schwachman.

More about Berenice Abbott and Irene Shwachman:

Berenice Abbott (1898 – 1991) was commissioned in 1934 by architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock to photograph American cities along the east coast, including Boston. She spent the next few decades continuing to photograph American cities, most notably, New York. When she returned to the Boston area in 1958, the Athenæum’s then-director, Walter Muir Whitehill, asked Abbott to reprint her 1934 Boston series to help the Athenaeum meet its goals of preserving imagery of the city’s past and collecting the work of contemporary artists.

Irene Shwachman (1915 – 1988) began her nine-year, self-directed project “The Boston Document” in 1959, during which she documented a Boston amid change, growth, progress, and decline. Shwachman considered “The Boston Document”, totaling over 3,500 negatives, her “contribution to America.” The collection captures the demolition of Boston’s West End neighborhood and other renewal projects. In 1962, the Boston Athenæum hosted an exhibition of “The Boston Document” and continued acquiring Shwachman’s work throughout the decade. The Boston Athenaeum today holds the largest collection of Shwachman photographs outside of her archive at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona.

In a 1972 letter, Shwachman wrote to Stephen Jackerie, the Worcester Art Museum’s Associate Photography Curator: “In the back of my mind I have always had a wish to have my prints shown with Berenice Abbott’s” – a dream that, 51 years later, is now coming true at the Athenaeum.

This exhibition, Developing Boston: Berenice Abbott and Irene Shwachman Photograph a Changing City, is generously funded by the Polly Thayer Starr Charitable Trust. The Mass Cultural Council supports the collaboration with Artists For Humanity.


Boston Festival Orchestra and Boston Athenæum to Offer  Unique Chamber Music Series

Boston Festival Orchestra and Boston Athenæum to Offer  Unique Chamber Music Series

Boston (January 19, 2023) – Deep in the pandemic, when the concert halls were shuttered, the Boston Festival Orchestra now and then used the Boston Athenæum as a practice space, and their music filled the building.  A friendship began, and from that, an artistic collaboration. 

Now, in an innovative multidisciplinary artistic collaboration, the Boston Festival Orchestra (BFO) and the Boston Athenæum have formed a partnership to reflect on special Athenæum exhibitions through the lens of chamber music.

With three 2023 chamber music concerts in the intimate setting of the Athenæum’s Henry Long Room, the BFO will perform compelling and relevant repertoire that blends the familiar with the unknown, according to BFO conductor Alyssa Wang. “The concerts will span many time periods, cultures and mediums, prodding us to ask questions such as: Who is art for? In what ways can we use art to connect with our heritage? In what ways can we use art to reconcile with the past?” she said.

 Each chamber music concert will reflect on a specific Athenæum exhibition:

  • February 9Materialia Lumina, the BFO pairs new and old works of classical music with stunning selections of artists’ books showcased in the Athenæum’s current gallery exhibition, Materialia Lumina / Luminous Books.  
  • April 8 – Performing previously hidden and game-changing voices in classical music, the BFO reflects on the ramifications of an exclusionary past and reconsiders the constructs of race, gender, and class. The music is inspired by Re-Reading Special Collections, a new Athenæum initiative to reinterpret and recontextualize works of art from its permanent collection. 
  • June 22A Place I Never Knew explores a series of photographs by local photographer Tira Khan., The BFO will use music to reflect bridges among Khan’s Indian, American, British heritages. 

Departing from tradition, the concerts will include opportunities for audience participation. Concert-goers will be able to walk through the featured exhibits and converse with artists during the receptions following the concerts. 

“For many audience members, these events may serve as the first introduction to the Boston Athenæum or the Boston Festival Orchestra,” said Boston Athenæum director Leah Rosovsky. “We hope that by mixing communities we strengthen the entire arts and culture community of Greater Boston.”

Concert Schedule

All three concerts are in the Henry Long Room at the Athenæum, 10 ½ Beacon St., Boston.

  • Thursday February 9 at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday April 8 at 3 p.m.
  • Thursday June 22 at 6 p.m.

The concerts are free to BFO subscribers, Athenæum members and the general public, but registration is required at: bostonathenaeum.org/events


Boston Athenæum Adds Rare Painting by Robert S. Duncanson to its Collections

Boston Athenæum Adds Rare Painting by Robert S. Duncanson to its Collections

On View Now, Alongside Duncanson on Loan from MFA

Boston, MA — (December 20, 2022) — The Boston Athenæum is pleased to announce that it has acquired a rare painting by the acclaimed nineteenth-century artist Robert S. Duncanson (1821-1872). Boatman Delivering Goods on the South Fork, Shenandoah River, Virginia, 1850s is the first work by Duncanson to enter the Athenæum’s Special Collections in the institution’s 215-year history.

Duncanson, who was born in upstate New York in 1821 to free Black parents, was a leading American landscape painter in the years before and after the American Civil War until his death in 1872 from dementia. He received international acclaim for his dynamic compositions and use of color; both characteristics are apparent in Boatman Delivering Goods, a Virginia landscape from the 1850s. At great risk to his personal safety and freedom as a Black man, Duncanson traveled throughout the South before the Civil War. Recent research has revealed the extent of these travels—through Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. Boatman Delivering Goods is an excellent example of Duncanson’s mature style and his sensitive depiction of southern landscapes. 

In Boatman Delivering Goods, Duncanson portrays a solitary boatman at the center of the painting. The boatman propels himself along the Shenandoah, his oars drawn back with inertia and poised to emerge from the water. The boatman is possibly transporting pig iron—a crude iron refined to create wrought iron and steel—produced by the blast furnaces throughout the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Research on the painting is ongoing.

“Robert Duncanson is an artist of long-standing interest to the Boston Athenæum,” said consulting art historian and former Athenaeum Assistant Curator Virginia Reynolds Badgett, PhD. “A painting by Duncanson was posthumously exhibited at the Athenæum in 1874. We are thrilled to add a stunning example of his work to our collections.” 

Boatman Delivering Goods is on view in the Long Room and is interpreted together with materials from the Athenæum’s extensive Special Collections.  It is hung alongside a Duncanson painting on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 

“It is wonderful to see these two Duncanson landscapes displayed together at the Athenaeum, one depicting the south and the other the north, each of them celebrating nature and alluding to industry at a critical moment in American history,” said Erica Hirshler, MFA’s Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings. “Both paintings demonstrate the artist’s talent and his critical role in our national story.”

The Boston Athenaeum has just completed a renovation and expansion of its landmark building in downtown Boston, creating new spaces to showcase its collection in addition to providing more places for reading, working and cultural events. “This is a tremendously exciting time for us,” said Athenaeum director Leah Rosovsky. “In addition to our revitalization project, we have also re-envisioned how our collection is presented and interpreted to reflect a more expansive view of American art and history. The Robert Duncanson painting is an important reflection of that process.” 


Boston Athenaeum Set to Complete Revitalization of its Landmark Building in the Heart of Boston

Red doors, entrance to the Boston Athenaeum

Adding new space creates significant opportunities for enhanced programming and future growth

The Boston Athenaeum is entering a new chapter.

After 16 months of construction to revitalize and expand its 1849 landmark building in the heart of Boston, the Athenaeum will re-open its iconic red doors to members and visitors on November 15.

The transformational changes not only enhance the classic beauty of the building but also add space for more programs and events, more varied art, more places for reading and research, more opportunities for connection, and, soon, a brand-new street level cafe.

“This is a tremendously exciting time for the Athenaeum,” said Timothy Diggins, president of the Boston Athenaeum.  “Our renovation and expansion preserve all of the best of the traditional Athenaeum experience, but open up spaces for listening to music, enjoying our huge art collection, reading, attending lectures, meeting with friends, or having a bite to eat. We invite everyone to come in and see how much we have to offer to the cultural and intellectual life of the city and New England.”

The Boston Athenaeum is a unique combination of library, museum, and cultural center. It is one of the country’s oldest and most distinguished independent libraries, with a circulating collection of over half a million books, from works published in the 1800s to the latest best sellers. Special collections include active research holdings of 100,000 rare books, maps and manuscripts, and 100,000 works of art, from paintings and sculpture to prints and photographs.

In addition to access to the library’s five galleried floors, members enjoy a year-round schedule of cultural programming, including author talks, gallery exhibitions, concerts, speakers, book clubs, and social gatherings.

“We are a member-supported organization that anyone can join,” said Leah Rosovsky, the Athenaeum’s Director.  “We welcome readers, writers, academics, researchers, historians and artists from all walks of life, united in their curiosity about literature, culture, art, ideas and the world. While the Athenaeum is steeped in strong traditions, our focus on sparking important conversations and the continuous acquisition of knowledge keep us firmly attuned to changing times.”

As the Athenaeum upgraded its landmark building, it also re-envisioned how its collection is presented and interpreted to reflect a more expansive view of American art and history. “We want to give our members and visitors deeper engagement with a wider range of work from our collection,” said John Buchtel, Curator of Rare Books and Head of Special Collections.  “That means bringing forth a diverse selection of artwork in a wider range of media, including more work by and of women and people of color, and looking at the works in our collections with fresh eyes.”

In 2021, the Athenaeum was awarded a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art to support the reinstallation of artwork in the Henry Long room on the first floor.  “Re-Reading Special Collections” will be on view when the Athenaeum re-opens on November 15.

Also, on view for the first time at the Athenaeum’s re-opening:

  • A newly commissioned mural by Ekua Holmes, a lifelong resident of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, visual artist and Caldecott Award winning children’s book illustrator, will be installed in the Children’s Library.   Her new collage will depict children of diverse backgrounds and create a welcoming dynamic and inclusive space for the Athenaeum’s youngest readers.
  • The opening exhibition in the newly located Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery will be Materialia Lumina/Luminous Books, which showcases a selection of outstanding contemporary artists’ books created by some of the world’s most accomplished makers over the past twenty-five years. The Athenaeum is one of three venues for this international exhibition, along with Stanford University Libraries and the Klingspor Museum in Offenbach, Germany.
  • The Athenaeum recently acquired a rare painting by the acclaimed nineteenth-century artist Robert S. Duncanson. Born in upstate New York in 1821 to free Black parents, Duncanson was a leading American landscape painter, regardless of race, in the years before and after the American Civil War.

In addition to renovations and enhancements at its long-time home at 10½ Beacon St., the Athenaeum also increased its footprint by approximately 12,000 square feet by expanding into an adjacent building at 14 Beacon St.  The architect for the revitalization project is Annum Architects, formerly Ann Beha Architects, a national leader in preservation, adaptive reuse and contemporary design for historic settings.  Ann Beha FAIA is the Design Principal.

“Architecture has always played a starring role at the Boston Athenaeum, a place as unique, inspiring and relevant today as it was a century ago,” said Beha. “We first immersed ourselves in the Athenaeum’s history and its evolution over many years. We wanted our design to celebrate that architectural journey and move it forward. This new chapter renews historic resources, adds welcoming spaces, integrates technology, and confirms that the Athenaeum is a place for everyone.

Planning for the renovation and expansion, the Athenaeum solicited its members’ voices, asking what improvements they most desired. As a result, the Athenaeum will have:

  • A new Children’s Library, reimagined to inspire the youngest readers, under six, and moved to provide better access for families.
  • A new Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery that’s more open, more inviting, better lit, and more conducive to experiencing the varied exhibitions and art from the collections.
  • A 40-seat street level café – the Athenaeum’s first — for members and visitors, to enliven the connection to the community. With an opening planned for winter 2023, the café will be operated by The Catered Affair, the Athenaeum’s exclusive event caterer.
  • The new Leventhal Room, a showcase space extending the Athenaeums first floor, with sweeping views over the Granary Burying Ground and comfortable places to read and talk.
  • A new Study Center to offer members, researchers, school field trips and special docent tours better engagement with the Athenaeum’s collections.
  • New “Living Rooms” on the fourth floor, inviting spaces for members, with unbeatable views of the Boston skyline.
  • A renovated lobby that is lighter, brighter and more welcoming.
  • More nooks and alcoves for reading, writing or quiet reflection.
  • Integrated technology throughout; web, Zoom, and IT connectivity and resources.

The Athenaeum will celebrate with a series of events including a special reception for members in January, 2023 and an open house for the entire community in April, 2023.

For a full calendar of events, to register for a tour or purchase a day pass, or to become a member, please visit:   bostonathenaeum.org


Founded in 1807, the Boston Athenaeum is a unique combination of library, museum and cultural center. The Athenaeum’s present home at 10 ½ Beacon St., designed by Edward Clarke Cabot, opened in 1849 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965. One of the country’s oldest and most distinguished independent libraries, the Athenaeum’s circulating collection includes over half a million books, from works published in the 1800s to the latest best sellers. Special collections include active research holdings of 100,000 rare books, maps and manuscripts, and 100,000 works of art, from paintings and sculpture to prints and photographs. Members, visitors and the community enjoy a year- round calendar of cultural programs – – book talks, exhibitions, concerts, speakers, social gatherings and other opportunities for connection. The Athenaeum is a member-supported not-for-profit institution that everyone is invited to join.   Bostonathenaeum.org

Contact:  Alex Boonstra