On chairs and terraces

06 Oct 22 /

Author: Edgardo Civallero, former librarian and archivist at CDF

There they were. Two white chairs. Foldable. Of plastic. Leaning, both, against the wall in a corner of the museum of the Station.

In all honesty, they were two objects whose simplicity, their lack of any possible secrets and interesting stories, were so obvious to me that I never even bothered to touch them. In fact, I confess that at some point in the recent past I assumed that they did not even belong to us: that they were items that we were taking care of for someone else. "Gathering dirt", as we would say in my homeland.

Until the time came to put some order in the messy museum space and, when I moved them, already determined to get rid of them for good, I discovered that they had tags attached to their backs. Tags that read "Library – E. Knight."

We weren't keeping them for anyone: they were ours. Inventoried by an "E. Knight", who could not be other than Elizabeth.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Stiles Knight worked as a librarian and archivist at the CDF back in 2010-2011, and then did a short period of overtime in 2013. Unlike past colleagues, I know her name and her face because we keep a photo-tribute of her in our library: Elizabeth could not win the battle against cancer, which took her in 2017. And, again differentiating herself from other past colleagues, because she left detailed reports of her work, texts with dreams and projects, and a good number of tasks completed. In fact, if we have a moderately structured historical archive at the CDF today, it is thanks to her. After Gayle Davis, she was the person whose work has most influenced my current reality as the person in charge of this area at ​​the Charles Darwin Station.

One of the documents of Elizabeth's management that survived and that came into my hands is a reorganization plan for the building that today occupies the Library, Archive and Museum area. It should be remembered that this building was one of the first to be built at the Station, in 1960. When the institution was inaugurated in 1964, it was the director's house. Only at the end of the 1970s, with the construction of the current director's house, the space was assigned to the library and the natural history collections. What I mean by this is that the construction is historical, patrimonial if you will, and should not be altered, nor its structure changed. Elizabeth's plan, curiously, respected that historical integrity, reallocating the spaces inside...

...and adding a wooden terrace on the outside, facing the sea. Can you imagine it? Because I've been doing it since the day I took over the Station library. Finding, months after that moment, a project from one of my predecessors that included an almost verbatim description of my own vision was almost surreal.

That was the "E. Knight" that appeared on the two white chairs forgotten in a corner of the Museum. I assumed that during Elizabeth's organization of artifacts, collections, and spaces during her work on the islands, an inventory was made, and that during that inventory those chairs appeared and were labeled with her name. And that's it. End of the story.

It was my library partner, who has been in the position for more than a decade and personally knew all the characters who have walked the Station in that time, who got me out of my mistake. No, it was not the end of the story.

It turns out that those chairs originally belonged to Gabriel López, the director of the Station back in 2009-2010. He and his wife bought them to be able to sit in the garden of their house (the director's current house, located a few meters from La Ratonera beach) and enjoy the sun and the clouds, and the sea breeze, and the visit of the finches and the walk of the many sea iguanas that live around the place. When they moved out of the islands, they left the white plastic implements in the library...

...so that, when it expanded its structure with a terrace, the chairs could be used by visitors to read outdoors.

This is how I found out that the idea of expanding the library structure with a terrace (and adapting the interior) had not been Elizabeth Knight's, but it was an earlier project. Much earlier, actually, as some internal documents from the archive ended up telling me.

Whoever came up with the original idea, and whenever that project is going to materialize, we already have two deckchairs, white and made of plastic, waiting to receive those readers who want to sit down and leaf through a book with their faces to the sea, under the blue or gray Galapagos sky.

Two chairs that have been waiting patiently for a destiny that, perhaps, will never arrive.

Andres Cruz

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