Reading between the lines

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Testing out the goods. Photo: JH.

Thursday, October 28, 2021. Mostly cloudy, yesterday in New York with temps around 59 – 60  and some light cold-ish winds, coming off the East River.

This past Monday, October 25th, Philanthropist Joan Davidson celebrated the 9th Alice Award, streamed from the Rare Book Room at the Strand Book Store. This is the fifth consecutive year that The Strand has hosted The Alice Award, which was established by Mrs. Davidson  in 2013 to honor her mother, Alice Manheim Kaplan, who loved and collected the illustrated book as a work of art in itself and an essential document of a civilized society.

The award is given annually to a richly illustrated book that makes a valuable contribution to its field and demonstrates high standards of production. The $25,000 prize is awarded to a book that represents excellence in all aspects of the work; idea, text, illustration, design and quality of production.


Joan Davidson at the 9th annual Alice Award.

This year’s winner is “Strata: William Smith’s Geological Maps, with Foreword by Robert Macfarlane. The University of Chicago Press Executive Editor Karen Merikangas Darling, Books Division, University of Chicago Press, accepted the award.

Books selected by the award jury for the Alice Short List also each receive $5,000. Which — to this writer — is an admirably kind gesture. The award is intended to buttress the kind-of-slow reading movement. It recognizes the lasting values of the well-made illustrated book, and the special sense of intimacy it brings with it. The subjects considered include the fine arts, and the natural and built environments, and related public issues.


Jock Reynolds, Chair of the Alice Jury and the former director of the Yale Art Gallery.
Nancy Bass Wyden.

Furthermore, which was founded in 1995 by Mrs. Davidson, is a unique form of philanthropic support for nonfiction publishing that has given grants to nearly 1,400 publication projects — for writing, for research, illustrations, editing, indexing, printing and binding — totaling over $7 million. In establishing the Alice, Furthermore celebrates the program’s history of honoring outstanding book publishing as well as furthering its goal to provide significant support for the continuing creation of timeless and beautiful books. Furthermore is a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund which was founded in 1945 by Jacob M. Kaplan.

I’ve personally observed Joan Davidson’s presence at public, usually charitable events for as long as I’ve been writing the Diary of the past three decades. She is a strikingly handsome woman with her snow white hair. Now having celebrated her 95th birthday, she remains elegant and comfortably distinguished in presence.

The message is simple, direct, and empathic. And smart. So in covering her highly respected presence I was curious as to whence it came. In other words, where did the J.M.Kaplan Fund that has obviously inspired the presence and devotion she exudes come from.


Jock Reynolds, Nancy Bass Wyden, Joan K. Davidson, and Elizabeth Howard toasting the winners.

Jacob Merrill Kaplan was born in Lowell, Mass. in 1891. He grew up poor, attended public schools, and peddled soap in the street to help his mother to feed the family. After finishing school he traveled to the sugar-producing countries in South America. Within a year he had learned enough to, at age 19, be organizing sugar planters. By the time he was in his 20s he was running molasses companies.

Alice Manheim Kaplan.

When he was 25, he went to work as president of the Oldetyme Molasses Company, and married Alice Manheim and started a family. By his 40s he was teaching the wisdom of cooperative production to grape growers and re-organizing and running Welch Grape Juice.

He was a man of the people. He loved the life of the city and was a great walker. Setting out every morning from his home on Park Avenue he ‘d walk to the Fund’s office on 34th and Madison, taking in the world around him. He knew the world he was looking after. When he was in his early 90s, he turned over the running of his fund to a new president, his daughter Joan, while keeping an active interest in its activities.

The range of his philanthropy was vast and wide  — from assisting composers and musicians to helping the New York Botanical Garden save a grove of virgin hemlock along the Bronx River Gorge. From providing to city parks, establishing a Mobilization for Youth program on what was then known as the Lower East Side, the Kaplan Fund helped rescue Carnegie Hall from the wrecker’s ball in the 1960s, as well as starting work on the South Sea Seaport.

Jacob Merrill Kaplan.

In its now 75 years of existence, the Kaplan Fund has provided  financially to a wide variety of projects in the people’s interests: to begin the Westbeth artists’ housing; the 42nd Local Development Corporation; the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs; the Eldrich Street synagogue; the Coalition for the Homeless; the Chips Center for women and children in Brooklyn; as well as nonprofit bookstores and new rehearsal and recital space at Carnegie Hall.

It helped channel Federal dollars into the bus and subway system; encourage programs to preserve and rebuild neighborhoods; reclaim the waterfront for recreation; foster greenmarkets and similar urban amenities, and help the helpless whether they were mistreated children, the elderly poor or victims of political persecution abroad.

Her father’s daughter. Long before the creation of Furthermore, Mrs. Davidson had been very active in all matters of the city and community. She is well-known for her innovative support of the environment, preservation, the arts, and civil liberties. In the past seventy years, her father’s Fund has focused its support in the areas of historic preservation, the built as well as the natural environment, human rights, and arts and culture. To date, the Fund has contributed 17,000 grants totaling over $246,000,000 to important causes around the world, many in our hometown of New York City.


Calling all bibliophiles. On October 7th, Peter Frankopan, the Oxford scholar and international best-selling author, delivered the inaugural Thalia Potamianos Annual Lecture at the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. This was the first of three lectures on the impact of Greek Culture, with next installments coming in Washington, D.C. March 16th and in New York City on May 10th, 2022.


Peter Frankopan delivering the inaugural Thalia Potamianos Lecture at the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

According to Dr. Frankopan: “The history of Greece is well-known and intensively studied. Very little attention is paid to how this history connects to other parts of the world, both at the time and in the two millennia since. For example, Greek tragedy has had an important impact on drama in Latin America in the modern era–something that strikes me as both unusual and interesting. The study of ancient Greek history was once frowned on but then blossomed in the Soviet Union. Ideas about ancient Greece had a really important impact in revolutionary America and in the United States ever since.”

The lectures are made possible by a generous ten-year commitment from Phokion Potamianos,

Testing out the goods. Photo: JH.

 who named them in memory of his grandmother, a distinguished Greek doctor, academic, and philanthropist.

“These lectures were created to honor the legacy and vision of two people I never knew, Thalia Potamianos and Joannes Gennadius. My grandmother, Thalia Dervou Potamianos, died three years before I was born.  Around the time she was fleeing Constantinople, Johannes Gennadius, a Greek  diplomat living in London, donated a library of some 25,000 titles to the American School of Classical Studies, including the first printed edition of  Homer, created in 1488. The principle that permeates the Gennadius legacy is the idea that Greeks are known by their education. His ex libris carried the dictum, “Get Books, Medicine For the Soul.” Then as now the Gennadius Library represents a unique resource for studying Greek culture,” said Mr. Potamianos.


Liz Anne Potamianos, Phokion Potamianos, and Peter Frankopan.

The evening before the lecture, Athens society gathered for dinner in the garden of the Gennadius Library. Guests including George Agouridis (Stavros Niarchos Foundation), Evita Arapoglou (Director of the Leventis Foundation), Ambassador Catherine Boura, Dr. Maria Georgopoulou (Director of the Gennadius), Mareva Grabowski (wife of the Greek Prime Minister), Fotini Livanos, the British Ambassador Matthew Lodge and his wife Alexia Lodge, Pavlos Mylonas (CEO, National Bank of Greece), Dr. Helen Philon (a distinguished scholar, daughter of the lecture’s namesake, mother of its patron) and her husband, Ambassador Alexander Philon, Greek Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos, Liz Anne and Phokion Potamianos, Yannis Stournaras (President of the National Bank of Greece), and The American Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt, to name only a handful.  All returned the following day for the lecture which was a standing room only event and livecast internationally.


Alexandra Mitsotakis and  Yannis Stournaras.
Peter Frankopan and British Ambassador Matthew Lodge.
Alicia Stallings and John Psaropoulos.
Ambassador Catherine Boura and Eleni Philon.
Alexander Philon and Peter Frankopan.
L. to r.: Chiona Xanthopoulou-Schwarz and Jennifer Niels; Liz Anne Potamianos and Liana Campo.
Anna McCabe, Tony L., and Dr. Maria Georgopoulou.
Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos, Pavlos Mylonas, and Evita Arapoglou.
George Agourdis and Peter Frankopan.
Mareva Grabowski and Ambassador Catherine Boura.
Mrs. Pyatt and Fotini Livanos.
Paschalis Kitromilides and Dr. Maria Georgopoulou.

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