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woodcut from William J. Rhees, An Account of the Smithsonian Institution...,
Smithsonian Institution , neg. 43804-H.
The large first floor hall remained unused until 1855, when the Metropolitan Mechanics' Institute, which had been established in 1852, requested permission to use the hall for their annual fair. The exhibition, which was held on February 8, 1855, provided manufacturers, mechanics, artists and inventors an opportunity to display their products. Henry, who served as President of the Institute until 1856, granted the use of the space, believing that it was a way of "favorably exhibiting the Smithsonian building to the public."
Joseph Henry intended, upon the closing of the Metropolitan Mechanics' Institute exhibition, to erect three tiers of cases to run the length of the room. This arrangement was never in fact constructed; however, the artist who engraved the woodcut used in the 1859 Guidebook evidently was instructed to depict the hall with a triple-tiered arrangement as if it actually existed. Problems with the practical application of this design doubtless prevented its execution.
Ultimately, load-bearing cases were designed to support a balcony, which provided space for additional cases. In preparation for the books of the library, which were installed in March of 1850, the perimeter of the room was fitted up with large cases. Prints illustrating the history of the art of engraving were displayed in the wing as part of the library.
In 1852 the Indian portraits and landscapes by John Mix Stanley were installed above the cases and in the apse. The Stanley collection remained on view in the West Wing only until the main building was completed; by 1855 the Indian portraits and scenes of Indian life had been relocated to the newly created second floor picture gallery. After the fire of 1865, the Marsh collection of prints were transferred to the Library of Congress for safe keeping.