Maygene and Steve Daniels

Campaign Spotlight: Returning the Great Hall to its Original Purpose

When the Folger Shakespeare Library first opened to the public, its distinct role as a monument to literature was immediately apparent when visitors could see that the neoclassical exterior was providing cover for the unique surprise inside – an immense Great Hall designed to evoke Tudor England, with oak paneling, ornamental floor tile, and high plaster ceilings. A 1932 Washington Post article about the building dedication noted in praise of the Great Hall that it is, “beyond question one of the finest rooms in the United States.”

Among the earliest supporters of The Wonder of Will, Capitol Hill residents Maygene and Steve Daniels say that one of their favorite characteristics of the Great Hall is how the exterior belies what is inside. With the original intentions of Emily and Henry Folger in mind, Maygene shares how much she loves that the Great Hall was built in such proximity to, “a world-renowned and beautiful reading room because the Folgers wanted it to be a gathering place for scholars to discuss their work with each other. What a gorgeous setting for collaboration on research and discovery!”

In more recent times, the Great Hall has served as the site of public exhibitions. Drawing largely from materials in the Folger collection, this has meant that the soaring windows of the Great Hall have had to remain covered to protect the items on display from harsh natural light. Through the support of The Wonder of Will and donors like Maygene and Steve, the capital project will create 6,000 square-feet of new exhibition space, thereby allowing the Great Hall to return to its original purpose.

“One of the most exciting features of this project is that we will be able to open up the beautiful Great Hall windows,” says Folger Director Michael Witmore. “We will return the room to its original intention as a social space, where people can talk and share their research, their impressions of the play they are viewing, and they can even enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in our new café area.” Early programmatic plans for the space include the notion of revisiting the intended purpose of the oak-paneled walls: to serve as a salon to display the Folger’s extensive and diverse collection of visual arts.

It is this restoration of the Great Hall, returning it to a place for gathering, reflection, and conversation, as originally envisioned by Emily and Henry Folger, that has inspired donors like Maygene and Steve to make a generous philanthropic commitment in support of the project. “As neighbors,” says Steve, “the Folger is such an exciting place to immerse ourselves in Shakespeare and his times. We are thrilled that the Great Hall will soon be able to welcome so many more people, and we are proud to be a part of the Folger’s future.”

Top photo: Elman Studio