At home at the Four Arts Library

Cozy, comfortable, and the feeling of being at home. That’s what it’s like to walk into the Four Arts Library in Palm Beach, Florida. (I don’t have a library like this at home, but my ideal personal library space would feel like this one.)

There are hundreds of books in built-in shelves along the walls with paintings and sculptures in the spaces between them. Overstuffed sofas and armchairs are filled with readers who peer crankily over their books and newspapers at the hint of any noise. And, even the friendly rows of card catalogue drawers are in evidence, so familiar to library users not so long ago.

This state of anachronistic comfort exists because the library is part of a nonprofit organization called the Society of the Four Arts. It was founded in 1936 by prominent Palm Beach residents to encourage the appreciation of art, music, drama, and literature, and currently continues to provide exhibitions, concerts, lectures, films, and other cultural and educational experiences through its libraries, galleries, gardens, and performance spaces.

The Four Arts Library acts as the town library but is not publicly funded. Instead it is supported by the Society’s members through its dues and donations and, therefore, is not under any obligation to be at the cutting-edge of library technology. Thank heaven for that!

The Four Arts Library (also called the Gioconda and Joseph King Library)

Built by Maurice Fatio in 1936, the entrance to the library is decorated with murals painted by Albert Herter in 1939. They depict the four arts for which the organization was named. The library contains over 75,000 books, periodicals, and electronic resources and is famous for its extensive collection of art and architecture books. A separate children’s library is located on the second floor of the John E. Rovensky administration building.

The Four Arts Botanical Gardens

Part of the relaxing quality of the library includes the gardens that surround it. The botanical gardens were designed in 1938 as demonstration gardens to display the diversity of tropical plants suitable for landscaping in the South Florida climate. Over the years, they have been lovingly maintained by The Garden Club of Palm Beach and include a Chinese garden, rose garden, herb garden, fountains, ponds, pergolas, and a garden pavilion. Intermingled with the plants are busts and statues, as part of the Philip Hulitar Sculpture Gardens.