The year 2019 marks the 120th birthday of Belden Noble Memorial Library. It is named for the successful 19th-century businessman who was the husband of Adeline Noble, a talented artist who was the power behind the library she founded in 1899 as “Essex Free Library at Greystone Cottage.”
The library has a long history of welcoming people young and old to sample the books and activities offered there. Until now, however, visitors to the library have only seen a small blurry, faded photograph of a portrait of Mrs. Noble, which hangs between shelves in the library’s fiction section. But now, a nearly full-size digital canvas reproduction of the stunning oil-on-canvas original will be unveiled in the upstairs Reading Room during the Library’s 120th Birthday Celebration on Saturday, July 27.
The search for the real portrait began a few years ago, when Essex resident Monica Rumsey, a volunteer and board member at the library, wondered who this ghostly figure was. After some online research, she discovered that the portrait, painted in 1903 by François Flameng, a noted society artist based in Paris, is now in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Flameng specialized in portraits of royalty, including two Russian princesses and England’s Queen Alexandra, queen consort of Edward VII. From there, the spark of curiosity led to further research into how and why Mrs. Noble’s portrait hung in the Library rather than a portrait of her husband, Belden Noble. After two years and hundreds of hours researching books and articles about the Noble family and the library’s history, the idea of a History Wall came into being.
The new History Wall, to be unveiled this month, includes Noble family portraits, a flyer dated 1875 promoting a “programme of dramatic exercises…for benefit of library” (proof that the library is older than we thought), a sepia photograph of the library’s interior circa 1905, two antique revolving bookshelves that would have held the library’s original books, and a near-full-size reproduction of Flameng’s portrait of Adeline Noble.
All are welcome to attend the 120th Birthday Celebration for Belden Noble Memorial Library on Saturday, July 27, from 2 to 4 pm. Light refreshments will be served.