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Born in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, Charles Ryskamp began at an early age to show a large interest in two of the subjects that we would continue to work with for most of his life: libraries and art. As a child he made his own small library in his home, and he began attending art auctions at the age of 13.
In 1950 he earned his bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, and in 1951 received his master's degree from Yale. In 1956 he received a doctorate from Yale, and he also at some time did postgraduate study at Cambridge. In 1955 he began teaching at Princton as an instructor, and in 1969 he became a full professor. At this time he was already curator of American and English literature at the University library. The same year he attained full professor rank, Ryskamp was appointed director of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. He continued on as a charismatic and able director of that famous library until, in 1987, he became director of the Frick Collection in New York. He retired in 1996.
Academically he is best known for his studies on William Cowper (1731-1800).