Cape Ann Museum CAM Connects
The collection, containing over 4,000 volumes, documents the reading and knowledge-building practices of Gloucester-based and renowned poet Charles Olson’ Center.

May 2, 2022

(left) Charles Olson, c. 1960s (right) Olson’s apartment at 28 Fort Square, Gloucester, MA, January 11, 1970s. Photographs by Charlie Lowe for the Gloucester Daily Times. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

The Cape Ann Museum Acquires the Ralph Maud/Charles Olson Library

The Cape Ann Museum (CAM) is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Ralph Maud/Charles Olson Library from the Gloucester Writers Center. 

The collection, containing over 4,000 volumes, documents the reading and knowledge-building practices of Gloucester-based and renowned poet Charles Olson as well as the scholarly method of book collecting and bibliography by scholar and book collector Ralph Maud. The Maud/Olson Library will be housed in the Janet & William Ellery James Center at the Cape Ann Museum Green.

Charles Olson (1910-1970) is one of the major poets of the 20th century. Born in Worcester, MA, Olson spent summers in Gloucester beginning at an early age. The poet would later describe it as the city that raised him and as the summer-time refuge he turned to as an adult for poetic inspiration. Throughout his life, and during his time at Black Mountain College, Olson had a profound influence on countless contemporary poets.

Ralph Maud (1928-2014) was a friend of Charles Olson, a leading authority on Olson’s life and work, and professor of English at Simon Fraser University. Maud’s interest in the sources that informed Olson’s poetry led to collecting a copy of every book that Olson owned, read, or referred to. His book Olson’s Reading is a key text in Olson studies.

Outside this collection's strength in highlighting Olson's works and process, the Ralph Maud/Charles Olson Library tells us much about the literary history of Cape Ann over the past few centuries. With Olson's passion for his adopted hometown, many of the volumes pertain to the history of Gloucester and Cape Ann. Researchers will also be drawn to rare magazines and periodicals pertaining to the counterculture of the 1960s and works by numerous authors who visited, spent time in, and were inspired by the region.

André Spears, co-founder of the Gloucester Writers Center and Director of the Maud/Olson Library says, “Not only did poet Charles Olson make Gloucester the center of his life’s work in The Maximus Poems, but more significantly he worked to put Gloucester at the center of the World. To this spectacular end, he referred to many books, and it is thanks to the collective accomplishment of a distinguished body of scholars—Ralph Maud foremost among them—that Olson’s books have been connected with increasing insight to his ‘mappemunde.’ What makes Ralph Maud’s replica of Olson’s library completely unique is that it stands not only as a resource for readers interested in the poet’s art, but also as a mimetic work of art that celebrates the historic bond between Poetry and Scholarship. As such, it could not have found a more perfect home than the Cape Ann Museum.”

The Maud/Olson Library will find itself with familiar company at CAM as its Library & Archives’ holdings are already rich with literary figures. Chief among them is the sister library of Gloucester-based American author and poet Vincent Ferrini. Gifted to the Museum during his lifetime and acquired after his passing in 2007, Ferrini’s Library contains more than 3,500 volumes. In addition to the Ferrini Library and accompanying archival collection, the Museum is the proud repository for the papers of Gloucester-born authors and journalists, Peter Anastas, Joseph Garland, and Barbara Erkkila, as well as the vast archive of artist, children’s author, and leader of the Folly Cove Designers, Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios.

This acquisition is part of the Museum’s initiative to add 150 significant works of art and archival items to the collections to mark its 150th anniversary in 2025. 

“With all these rich literary archives already in its possession, bringing the Maud/Olson Library to CAM was a logical step in the collection’s journey,” said Trenton Carls, the Museum’s Head Librarian and Archivist. “We hold the papers and publications of so many great authors who were inspired by, were drawn to, and were friends with Olson, it struck me as a shame that we did not have more on this central figure. Now with this expansive collection, we can better tell the story not only of Olson, but also all those individuals within Olson’s orbit.”

Oliver Barker, Cape Ann Museum Director, said: “With the addition of the Maud/Olson Library, and in partnership with the Gloucester Writers Center, the Museum reaffirms its role as a center for literary research and scholarship. The Museum is grateful to the Gloucester Writers Center for their stewardship of this unique collection since 2014 and for generously thinking the Museum’s Library & Archives as its next home.”

The Museum would like to extend its sincere thanks to the Gloucester Writers Center for this generous donation as well as to the enthusiastic team of volunteers last week that made the physical transfer of this collection to the James Center possible.