The Robert Lenkiewicz Library is housed in St Saviour’s, a de-consecrated nineteenth century church which sits atop Lambhay Hill, overlooking the picturesque water-frontage of Plymouth’s historic Barbican. The church building, which still retains its functioning bell-tower, is on two floors: the ground floor containing a collection of approximately five thousand philosophy texts; the first floor containing almost three thousand art history and biography books. It is currently undergoing restoration and refurbishment, since falling into disuse after Robert’s untimely death in 2002.
At its height, in the late 1990s, Lenkiewicz’s private library numbered some twenty five thousand volumes, covering a range of subjects, from philosophy and theology, to psychology and sociology, and from art history and biography to aesthetics, literary criticism and historiography. These sat alongside a few unique collections devoted to witchcraft and the occult, sex and erotica, gerontology and death, and Nazism and Fascism. Some of the smaller holdings were kept in his studio on the Barbican Parade, whilst the bulk was shelved at St Saviour’s Church, in a splendidly opulent re-creation of the Bodleian’s Duke Humfrey library at Oxford University. It was here that he amassed a significant collection of antiquarian books and manuscripts, together with some authenticated notes and letters written by such distinguished philosophers as Kant, Leibniz and Locke. Sadly, virtually all of the antiquarian books, and most of these important curiosities and literary relics were sold or auctioned off in order to meet outstanding debts and sundry calls on the estate.
A prolific painter, an avowed bibliophile, and a self-taught intellectual, Lenkiewicz developed a fascination with, paradoxically, Nietzsche and Neoplatonism, alongside an equally paradoxical love of Russell’s and Wittgenstein’s inquiries into language and logic. But whatever else, the contents of his library provided him with the intellectual underpinning for his numerous painting ‘Projects’. His philosophical and sociological inquiries complemented his paintings, all of which were to be viewed as unified undertakings, and not simply as examples of well-executed portraiture.
The Lenkiewicz Foundation intends to try to fulfil, at least partly, Robert Lenkiewicz’s vision of creating a sustainable, educational legacy by opening up the library to students, scholars and interested parties, and by holding occasional lectures and seminars on those themes central to his life and work. Although much reduced, the library still retains its academic integrity in the disciplines of art history and philosophy, and remains a testament to a restless, creative and curious mind which constantly grappled with the deep questions of human existence: the perennial problems posed by morality, and the quirky nature of knowledge.
Perhaps this once-sacred building can instead become a place of secular pilgrimage, where one may be able to glimpse, albeit for a moment, an image of how mind, hand and eye can still struggle to make sense of the human condition.