Archives of American Art

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Archives of American Art
Smithsonian Institution - Archives of American Art logo.svg
Location map Washington, D.C. central.png
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Location in Washington, D.C.
Established 1954
Coordinates 38°53′52″N77°01′22″W / 38.897851°N 77.022689°W / 38.897851; -77.022689
Type Archives
Visitors 1,498 (2009)
Director Kate Haw
Public transit access WMATA Metro Logo.svg              Gallery Place – Chinatown

The Archives of American Art is the largest collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States. More than 20 million items of original material [1] are housed in the Archives' research centers in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, first President of the United States and Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city is also one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States and thus also in the state of New York. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.


As a research center within the Smithsonian Institution, the Archives houses materials related to a variety of American visual art and artists. All regions of the country and numerous eras and art movements are represented. Among the significant artists represented in its collection are Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Marcel Breuer, Rockwell Kent, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, John Trumbull, and Alexander Calder. In addition to the papers of artists, the Archives collects documentary material from art galleries, art dealers, and art collectors. It also houses a collection of over 2,000 art-related oral history interviews, and publishes a bi-yearly publication, the Archives of American Art Journal , which showcases collections within the Archives.

Smithsonian Institution group of museums and research centers administered by the United States government

The Smithsonian Institution, founded on August 10, 1846 "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge," is a group of museums and research centers administered by the Government of the United States. The institution is named after its founding donor, British scientist James Smithson. Originally organized as the "United States National Museum," that name ceased to exist as an administrative entity in 1967.

Jackson Pollock American painter

Paul Jackson Pollock was an American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement.

Lee Krasner American artist

Lenore "Lee" Krasner was an American abstract expressionist painter, with a strong speciality in collage, who was married to Jackson Pollock. This somewhat overshadowed her contribution at the time, though there was much cross-pollination between their two styles. Krasner’s training, influenced by George Bridgman and Hans Hofmann, was the more formalized, especially in the depiction of human anatomy, and this enriched Pollock’s more intuitive and unstructured output.


The Archives of American Art was founded in Detroit in 1954 by then Director of the Detroit Institute of Art, E.P. Richardson, and art collector Lawrence A. Fleischman. Concerned about the lack of material relating to American art, the two organized the Archives of American Art with the support of scholars and businessmen. Their intention was to collect materials related to American artists, art dealers, institutions and writers, and to allow scholars and writers to access the holdings. [2] In 1970 the Archives became part of the Smithsonian Institution, moving its processing center and storage facility from Detroit to the Old Patent Office Building in Washington, D.C. [3]

Detroit Largest city in Michigan

Detroit is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan, the largest United States city on the United States–Canada border, and the seat of Wayne County. The municipality of Detroit had a 2017 estimated population of 673,104, making it the 23rd-most populous city in the United States. The metropolitan area, known as Metro Detroit, is home to 4.3 million people, making it the second-largest in the Midwest after the Chicago metropolitan area. Regarded as a major cultural center, Detroit is known for its contributions to music and as a repository for art, architecture and design.

Visual art of the United States

Visual art of the United States or American art is visual art made in the United States or by U.S. artists. Before colonization there were many flourishing traditions of Native American art, and where the Spanish colonized Spanish Colonial architecture and the accompanying styles in other media were quickly in place. Early colonial art on the East Coast initially relied on artists from Europe, with John White the earliest example. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, artists primarily painted portraits, and some landscapes in a style based mainly on English painting. Furniture-makers imitating English styles and similar craftsmen were also established in the major cities, but in the English colonies, locally made pottery remained resolutely utilitarian until the 19th century, with fancy products imported.

The historic Old Patent Office Building in Washington, D.C. covers an entire city block defined by F and G Streets and 7th and 9th Streets NW in Chinatown. It served as one of the earliest United States Patent Office buildings.

Currently the collection and offices are located at the Victor Building, on 9th Street NW, only a few blocks away from the Old Patent Office Building. [4] [ page needed ] Every year the Archives honors individual contributions to the American art community with the Archives of American Art Medal and art historians with the Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence in the Field of American Art History. These awards are presented at the Archives' annual benefit and have been rewarded to Mark di Suvero, Chuck Close, John Wilmerding and others. [5]

Mark di Suvero American sculptor

Marco Polo "Mark" di Suvero is an abstract expressionist sculptor and 2010 National Medal of Arts recipient.

Chuck Close American painter

Charles Thomas "Chuck" Close is an American painter, artist and photographer who achieved fame as a photorealist, through his massive-scale portraits. Close often paints abstract portraits of himself and others, which hang in collections internationally. Close also creates photo portraits using a very large format camera. Even though a catastrophic spinal artery collapse in 1988 left him severely paralyzed, he has continued to paint.

In 2011, the Archives of American Art became the first Smithsonian business unit to work directly with Wikipedia through the Wikipedia Galleries, Libraries, and Museums project, starting by appointing the first Smithsonian Wikipedian in Residence, Sarah Stierch. [6]


Upon the founding of the Archives, all collections, whether loaned or donated to the Archives, were duplicated on microfilm, allowing the Archives to offer easy access to its collections nationwide and to establish archival databases in New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Detroit, and at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. [7] Today's affiliates consist of the DeYoung, Boston Public Library, the Amon Carter Museum and The Huntington Library. [8] The Archives also offers microfilm for interlibrary loan at no charge. [7] [9] Microfilm is no longer being produced at the Archives as it has been superseded by digitization. With funding from the Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Program, the Archives has fully digitized numerous collections, which are accessible on their website. [10] In April, 2011, the Archives received a second Terra grant of $3 million to fund another five years of digitization and technological developments, which began in 2005 with a $3.6 million grant from Terra. [11]

Boston Capital city of Massachusetts, United States

Boston is the capital and most populous city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States. The city proper covers 48 square miles (124 km2) with an estimated population of 685,094 in 2017, making it also the most populous city in New England. Boston is the seat of Suffolk County as well, although the county government was disbanded on July 1, 1999. The city is the economic and cultural anchor of a substantially larger metropolitan area known as Greater Boston, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) home to a census-estimated 4.8 million people in 2016 and ranking as the tenth-largest such area in the country. As a combined statistical area (CSA), this wider commuting region is home to some 8.2 million people, making it the sixth-largest in the United States.

San Francisco Consolidated city-county in California, United States

San Francisco, officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California. San Francisco is the 13th-most populous city in the United States, and the fourth-most populous in California, with 884,363 residents as of 2017. It covers an area of about 46.89 square miles (121.4 km2), mostly at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, making it the second-most densely populated large US city, and the fifth-most densely populated U.S. county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs. San Francisco is also part of the fifth-most populous primary statistical area in the United States, the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area.

Boston Public Library library in Boston, USA

The Boston Public Library is a municipal public library system in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, founded in 1848. The Boston Public Library is also the Library for the Commonwealth of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; all adult residents of the commonwealth are entitled to borrowing and research privileges, and the library receives state funding. The Boston Public Library contains approximately 24 million volumes, and electronic resources, making it the third-largest public library in the United States behind only the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. In fiscal year 2014, the library held over 10,000 programs, all free to the public, and lent 3.7 million materials.

The Archives relies heavily on grants and private donations to fund the archival processing and care of collections. In 2009 the Archives received a $213,315 grant from the Leon Levy Foundation to process the André Emmerich Gallery records and a $100,000 gift from the Kress Foundation to complete the digitization of the Jacques Seligmann & Company records. In 2009 the Archives acquired 88 collections totaling 717 linear feet. [10]

Notable collections

The Archives holds a unique collection of material from notable artists, dealers, critics and collectors. While papers and documents make up a large portion of the Archives, more unique objects have been acquired over the years. These include a bird nest and a Kewpie doll from the collection of artist Joseph Cornell; painter George Luks' death mask; and a cast iron model car that belonged to Franz Kline. [12] The earliest letter in the collection was written by John Smibert in 1743, in which Smibert describes to his dealer his theories about the future of art in America. [13]

The papers of African American artists

The Archives maintain over 50 paper collections of African American artists. Subjects covered in these personal papers include the expatriate experience, racism within the arts, and the Federal Art Project. The collection includes the sketchbooks of Palmer Hayden, Horace Pippin's illustrated journal of his military service during World War I, and photographs of Alma Thomas. Other notable collections represent Charles Alston, Hughie Lee-Smith, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and Henry Ossawa Tanner. [14]

The papers of Latino and Latin American artists

Over 100 individuals and organizations are represented in the Archives' Latin American art collection. Topics range from Mexican muralism to Surrealism, New Deal art patronage and the Chicano Movement. Notable collections include the diary of Carlos Lopez, the sketchbooks of Emilio Sanchez, source material for Mel Ramos and research materials from Esther McCoy relating to Mexican architecture. They also maintain oral histories starting in 1964. [15]

Rockwell Kent papers

Painter, author and illustrator Rockwell Kent donated his collection in 1969. It contained over 60,000 letters, notes, sketches, manuscripts, photographs and business records covering 70 years. One month later his house burned to the ground and Kent was quoted as stating that he had wished he had donated the entire house to the Archives. [12]

In 2007, gallery owner Leo Castelli's family donated his papers to the Archives. It took three years to organize the collection of more than 400 linear feet. The collection consists of the sales of every artwork sold by the gallery during Castelli's lifetime, published reviews of the gallery's exhibits, photographs, and correspondence with the many artists he represented, which included, among others, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, and Andy Warhol. [16]

Oral histories

In 1958, the Archives of American Art started an oral history program with base support from the Ford Foundation and continued with support from New York State Council on the Arts, Pew Charitable Trust, the Mark Rothko Foundation, and the Pasadena Art Alliance. Today the Archives houses nearly 2,000 oral history interviews relating to American art. [17] The program continues today with funding from the Terra Foundation of American Art, the Brown Foundation of Houston, the Widgeon Point Charitable Foundation, the Art Dealers Association of America. [18] Donor Nanette L. Laitman funded The Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts In America enabling over 150 interviews with American craft artists. [19]

In 2009 the Archives received two major grants to further their oral history program: a $75,000 grant from the A G Foundation which established the Elizabeth Murray Oral History of Women in the Visual Arts Project destined to fund oral history interviews with important women within the American art community), [10] and a $250,000 grant from Save America's Treasures to assist with the digitization of approximately 4,000 recordings and the preservation of 6,000 hours of sound. [17]


The Archives mounts rotating exhibitions of its collections at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture in Washington, D.C. Exhibitions have included Of the Moment: A Video Sampler from the Archives of American Art, and Hard Times, 1929-1939, which examined the Great Depression's impact on American artists. [10] In 2012, the Archives celebrated the centennial birth of Jackson Pollock with an exhibition of Pollock's archives and artwork. [20]


The Archives of American Art is one of nine research centers of the Smithsonian Institution. It is managed by a director, nominated by a board of trustees. Governance includes an executive committee, a council, and emeriti members. [10]


To illuminate scholarship of the history of art in America through collecting, preserving, and making available for study the documentation of this country's rich artistic legacy. [21]

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  1. "About Us". Archives of American Art. 2013. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 4 Feb 2013.
  2. McCoy, vii
  3. Archives of American Art: Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Institution. May 1970.
  4. Archives of American Art (2008). Speak out Loud. Smithsonian Institution. ISBN   1-884381-24-3.
  5. Marissa Hoechstetter (7 Oct 2010). "Smithsonian Announces Archives of American Art Medal Recipients". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  6. Switzer, Cody (July 28, 2011). "'Wikipedian-in-Residence' Helps Share Smithsonian Archives". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  7. 1 2 McCoy, viii.
  8. "Hours and Locations". About Us. Archives of American Art. 2011. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 13 Jun 2011.
  9. "Interlibrary Loan". Archives of American Art. 2011. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 13 Jun 2011.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 "Archives of American Art Annual Report 2009" (PDF). Archives of American Art. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 13 Jun 2011.
  11. "Archives of American Art Receives Second Multimillion Dollar Grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art to Support Digitization Project". Targeted News Service. 7 Apr 2011. Retrieved 13 Jun 2011.
  12. 1 2 Archives of American Art, 7.
  13. Nathan, Emily (March 1976), "The Archives of American Art.", Art Journal, 35 (3): 259
  14. Archives of American Art, 1992, 1.
  15. Archives of American Art, The Papers of Latino & Latin American Artists, 1.
  16. Daniel Grant (24 February 2011). "Leo Castelli's Cache Of Art-History Gold". Arts & Entertainment. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 13 Jun 2011.
  17. 1 2 "2009 Save America's Treasures Grants" (PDF). Retrieved 17 Jun 2011.
  18. Archives of American Art, 2008, 6-7.
  19. "The Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts In America". Archives of American Art. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  20. John Sapunor (2012). "Remix Your Weekend: Super Bowl Funday". Vox Populi. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
  21. "Press releases". Informated. Retrieved 13 Jun 2011.