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Reviving USU’s Hatch Room: ‘When you walk through the door you leave the modern world’

October 23rd, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Tyson Thorpe

LOGAN–Centuries seem to drift away in the basement of the Merrill-Cazier Library at USU. There is a distinctive room in the Special Collections and Archives of the library. It is a room set in a different time, filled with books and furniture older than the university itself. It is called the Hatch Memorial Library Room. Recent efforts by the Special Collections’ staff have restored some of the history to the room with the return of a unique collection of books to the shelves. The books sat on the Hatch Room shelves in the Merrill Library and are once more on the shelves in USU’s new library.

A visitor to Special Collections has a short distance across the quiet study room before they are able to travel through the ages with a single step. When a visitor approaches the door to the Hatch Room, a scarlet faldistorium, or medieval arm-chair, can be seen near the doorway. Its red velvet adds a splash of color to the earth-toned room. On closer inspection, a visitor can see that an elegant crest has been stitched into the front of the chair with brightly colored threads.

To either side of the faldistorium hangs a painting. On the right is a portrait of a young girl. She wears a white dress edged in chiffon, which emphasizes her vibrant youth. She holds a book in her hand, with a finger marking the page where she might have stopped while her image was immortalized on canvas. To the left of the chair hangs a portrait of an older woman, caught in her later years by the brush strokes of the painter. In contrast to the white clothes of the girl, the woman is wearing a darkly colored dress. But her white sleeves connect her portrait to that of the young girl and perhaps to her own youth.

In the room, light shines from a chandelier, reaching into the deep lines of a large wooden table where English kings may have dined and ruled. The large wooden legs of the table rest on black-and-white tiles, the flooring of the room. Beyond the end of the table, and across the room from the arm-chair and paintings, stands a large stone fireplace. The light from the chandelier casts dark shadows across the gray stone of the mantle and hearth. Two women, carved into the mantle, are embraced by leafed candle holders.

Bookshelves, carved with medieval shields across their tops, line the walls of the Hatch Room. They are filled with numerous books in shades of gray and brown. Some books are the works of poets or contain English law. Others are journals of famous British military men or histories of great European battles. Like the paintings in the room, the books are works of art. They were bound by hand with extreme care and skill and would receive a high price tag on Antiques Roadshow.

The room and its contents were donated by L. Boyd and Anne McQuarrie Hatch. They both came from Utah, Hatch from Logan and his wife from St. George. According to a Brief History of the Hatch Memorial Library Room provided by Special Collections, the couple met in Salt Lake City in 1917 and they married in Logan a year later. During their international travels and their time living in New York City, the Hatches purchased many books, pieces of artwork and furniture. During the 1940s the Hatches donated some of their collected items to USU, which was called the Utah State Agricultural College, or USAC, at that time. In 1952, the Hatches proposed to create a room at the school’s Merrill Library where the many items they had previously donated could be viewed and used. The USAC provided the funds for the room’s creation, and the Hatches donated many more items to create a room where, as USAC President Henry Aldous Dixon wrote, “The student of today and tomorrow may come to work in the intimacy of artistic beauty.”

According to Ann Buttars, curator of Western and Mormon Americana and a 40-year staff member in Special Collections, the room was originally a children’s library. When an art gallery was added to the Merrill Library, the books donated by the Hatches were placed on the shelves and the Hatch Room came to house other rare books. In the early 1980s the room began to house books published in Great Britain. The room was also used for small graduate classes in history and English, allowing students to learn in an atmosphere dealing with their subjects.

In the 1970s a library Christmas party was held in the Hatch Room, Buttars said. The fireplace in the Hatch Room was connected to an actual chimney during its time in the Merrill Library. For the party, the library staff wanted to start a fire to add a glowing ambiance to the festivities. Soon after the fire was started, the room filled with black smoke, sending its coughing occupants out the door in search of clean air. Years later Buttars was told that a Special Collections staff member had closed the flue in order to move the Christmas party out of the Hatch Room.

Buttars also said that while the Hatch Room was in the Merrill Library, a 17th century Flemish tapestry hung from the vaulted ceiling. However, the tapestry can no longer be found in the room because in the room’s new location in the basement of the Merrill-Cazier Library, the ceilings are too low to display the ancient work of art. A third painting, entitled Portrait of a Gentleman, is also absent from the walls of the Hatch Room. According to the brief history, the portrait “is currently awaiting full conservation treatment.”

The books donated by the Hatches for the room have also been missing from the shelves since the move to the new library. Extra books from another collection were placed in the Hatch Room last year in an attempt to fill the shelves.

Brad Cole, Special Collections department head, said that the extra books were put in the room because the library staff did not like the shelves being empty. The staff debated on whether the expensive Hatch books should be put in such a public place.

According to Brad Hansen, a student worker involved in the return of the Hatch books to the Hatch room, the dean of the library wanted the books in the room. He wanted the room to feel as it would have in the Merrill Library. Hansen summarized the dean’s sentiments: “Why have a bunch of cool stuff that nobody can see?”

The dean commissioned the installation of a door to the Hatch Room that would provide an extra level of security to the room. Once the door was installed the Special Collections’ staff worked to bring the Hatch books back to the shelves. Their return helps to make the room come alive with history once more.

Buttars said that the books donated by the Hatches were returned to the room because the Special Collections staff wanted to bring more of a purpose to the room.

Hansen said that having the books on the shelves takes a visitor back in time. “When you walk through the door you leave the modern world,” he said.

Visitors to the Hatch Room can now view the books in their original setting without having to travel 50 years back in time. The books add a musty smell to the room, furthering its ancient feel. With the Hatch books back on the shelves, many students at USU can see, as the Student Life once reported, “for the first time, the rare books which are to be kept in the Hatch library.”

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