Lenkiewicz: The Book Collector
Or, A Short Account of the Library of Robert Oskar Lenkiewicz (1941 – 2002).
For many people, Robert Lenkiewicz will be remembered for his paintings and the highly publicised ‘antics’ he performed, yet what many will not realise is that the paintings and antics were done to draw attention to specific ideas and themes rather than as attention seeking stunts. Lenkiewicz identified his painting projects as ‘sociological enquiry reports’ and each of these, on (amongst other subjects) death, vagrancy, sexual behaviour, and education, formed an interlocking pattern of enquiry upon the themes of desire and belief that Lenkiewicz described as having a physiological basis. There were 21 projects in all in the ‘Relationship Series,’ with the twentieth, that upon Addictive Behaviour, left unfinished at the time of Lenkiewicz’s death.
Underpinning each of the projects was a period of solid, academic research based upon books that Lenkiewicz acquired for his library. The library was the intellectual companion of the paintings, and any appreciation of Lenkiewicz’s art legacy must also take account of the library, though the latter remains a largely unknown quantity to most. Lenkiewicz began collecting books as a child, having a shelf in his bedroom holding his books on painting, horses and philosophy. Over the years his bibliomania was responsible for the massive expansion of the collection. If Lenkiewicz was to be believed, he owned anywhere between 250,000 to 700,000 books, all stored in various buildings around Plymouth, citing a house at Stoke and a warehouse at a mystery location, though the reality of this was very different, and by the time of his death the collection numbered no more than 25,000 books.
The following description will detail the layout of the library as it was before Lenkiewicz died in 2002, when it had reached its final and most complete form, before the process of disposal began in the wake of Lenkiewicz’s death.
The bulk of Lenkiewicz’s library was housed at his Studio on The Parade and came to occupy seven rooms there. Entering the Studio via The Parade, the visitor came upon an imposing door by the foot of the stairs in which was a small window, through this some view of the library beyond might be had. In fact the library occupied three rooms on the ground floor: the Art Biography Room, which visitors could see a part of opposite the door, the Art History Room, and the Occult Philosophy Room (frequently called the Metaphysics Room by Lenkiewicz), which both led off the central room, one to the north the other to the south.
The Art Biography Room, as its name suggests, contained biographies on painters and catalogues of their works, arranged in alphabetical order around the room. Art history and biography was a subject Lenkiewicz was especially knowledgeable about, and the holdings there were especially strong. There were probably about 3,000 books present. This room doubled as something of an office, and a table to one side of the room was piled high with his correspondence and notes. Before the upstairs of St. Saviour’s Library was completed, the room was also a kind of ‘reception room’ where Lenkiewicz received visitors and talked with them. The Art History Room to the North contained modern books on art history, and British and world history in general. The art history books were arranged thematically, the history books chronologically. In all about 1,500 – 2,000 volumes.
The Occult Philosophy Room contained the bulk of the antiquarian volumes in the library and was an especially strong collection. The room was split into three sections: dealing with the neo-platonic revival of the Renaissance and of occult philosophy and practice in general, including works by Lull, Paracelsus, Agrippa, Ficino, Bruno, Kircher, Boehme, Fludd and Dee; works dealing with alchemy and alchemical practise and symbolism, many of which were in manuscript; and Jewish Kabbalah and mystical thought, again including original manuscript material from the early modern period. Allied subjects of Freemasonry, twentieth-century occultism (including Aleister Crowley), and antiquarianism were also represented. In all probably 3,000 books. The books were complemented here by a range of artefacts, from Ethiopian magical charms to nineteenth century sigils.
Ascending the first set of stairs, the visitor was presented with sight of the Death Room, which contain the sections of Lenkiewicz’s library dealing with Death, on the north and west walls, and Fascism, on the south.
The death section of the library comprised approximately 800 volumes, dealing with old age and gerontology, palliative care of the dying, sociological and literary studies, melancholy and suicide, memorials, archaeological studies of funerary remains, together with various tracts - from the popular to the serious, on theories of the afterlife. There were a few antiquarian volumes in this section, however the bulk of the death section was made up of twentieth-century publications, some of them purchased from the libraries of notable practitioners in medicine, such as Dr. Maurice Natanson. The Fascism section mostly concentrated on Nazism, and the books focussed on the Second World War of 1939 - 1945, from the Nazi war apparatus to the personalities involved. The rise of neo-fascism was also chronicled here, together with slavery.
The Death Room also contained a glass topped display table containing the manuscript Mary Notebook, and the original notebook relating to the Old Age project. A glazed cabinet against the east wall contained a collection of Lenkiewicz’s manuscript Diary Notes volumes, which dated from the mid-1970s, along with a collection of his relationship notebooks, mostly from the late 1980s/early 1990s. As with the downstairs rooms, the Death Room also contained artefacts connected with the room’s theme, and a collection of skulls and other body parts, and Nazi memorabilia were kept here, together with the mummy of Diogenes, which was secreted within a compartment in the glazed cabinet.Library
Next to The Death Room, though entered separately, was what became known, from summer 2001 onwards, as The Witchcraft Room.
Lenkiewicz’s incomparable collection of antiquarian books relating to witchcraft and demonology was the finest such collection in private hands, certainly in Europe, if not the world. The books were ranged on the north and east walls, the north wall housing modern historiographic studies of witchcraft, the east the antiquarian volumes. The modern section contained recent scholarly expositions of the subject, together with more new age interpretations and sensationalist accounts, the antiquarian material covered the full experience of early modern witchcraft interpretations, and contained the writings of Scot, Ady, James I, Glanvill, Cooper, Webster, Molitor, Bovet, and Hutchinson, amongst others. There were at least a dozen editions of the Malleus Maleficarum, the notorious ‘Hammer of Witches,’ including the first edition in folio. There was also a section dealing with related preternatural phenomena such as vampires, ghosts and werewolves. In all the collection amounted to some 900 volumes. Opposite these, on the south and west walls, were the psychology books, about 800 in total, which covered the growth and range of the discipline, and where the likes of Freud and Jung were well represented.
A set of double doors lead through then into The Erotica Room, so named after the comprehensive collection of material relating to that theme, though very little was what might be described as pornographic. The erotic material mostly related to various twentieth century sociological and psychological studies into sex and sexuality, and the collection covered all types and experiences of sexual behaviour and desire. The collection sat alongside the section amassed concerning religion, which here mostly concerned various editions of the Bible, though tracts produced by various denominations were represented, most notably the Methodists. Finally, works on educational theory and practice were housed here, comprising standard reference works along with the works of Gurdjiev and the like. The room contained probably 2000 volumes.
The final set of stairs led up into the Studio proper, though a final room on the top floor contained Lenkiewicz’s Literature Room, containing modern works of literature and biographies of authors, all arranged alphabetically Amongst Lenkiewicz’s favourite authors, Oscar Wilde was well represented. The room also contained various library catalogues, including the British Library Catalogue, and various book sale catalogues and books about books. The room contained about 2000 volumes.
The St. Saviour’s Library on Lambhay Hill, over against the Citadel, contained, from summer 2001 onwards, Lenkiewicz’s philosophy library on two floors. The ground floor comprised the modern philosophy section – those books published after 1901, arranged by branches of philosophy, and the upper floor contained antiquarian philosophy books, arranged, for the most part, chronologically, from the pre-Socratics through until the end of the nineteenth century; these books were kept together with a miscellany of other antiquarian books, mostly relating to scientific and topographical fields of enquiry. In all St. Saviours contained about 6,000 books. The St. Saviour’s Library became the showcase collection, and it was here that visitors, especially those connected with funding opportunities, were brought first, owing to the aesthetic impact the library had (The Duke Humfrey Library at the Bodleian in Oxford was an obvious inspiration). The building also housed a range of artefacts, including material from ancient Egypt, Nazi concentration camps, medical material, and, most famously perhaps, the skeleton alleged to be that of Ursula Kemp, hanged in 1582 at St. Osyth in Essex and purchased by Lenkiewicz in 1999 from Cecil Williamson, the founder of the Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Jason Semmens © Jason Semmens, 2004.