Saturday, January 30, 2010

Verifying An Artist's Signature

John Castagno's reference sources on signatures and monographs are some of the key tools used to identify an artist’s signature, both in print and electronically. These sources are heavily used by auction houses, appraisers, antique dealers, galleries, and the average individual who might inherit or find a piece of art at auction, a thrift store, or a flea market. They are useful to authenticate the legitimacy of an artist's work, as well as to identify and verify signatures of both well-known and little-known artists. Most large public libraries and special art related libraries will have several such sources in their collection.

The latest in the Castagno series (2009, The Scarecrow Press) is American Artists III: Signatures and Monographs from 1800…. Within this source, the African-American artist is documented to an extent that far exceeds previous editions or many similar tools. This 2009 update substantially increases the number of black (African American) artists listed; the reference source contains 4,070 artists and the signatures of approximately 225 African American artists are represented. Follow this link:

A quick historical overview of Castagno's signatures and monograms series follows: Volume 1 (American Artists Signatures and Monograms, 1800-1989) which was published in 1990 included very few African American artists among its identification of more than 5,000 artists' signatures.

The second volume (2007), American Artists II, Signatures and Monograms from 1800... featured more than 3,000 artists and this began the visible recognition of African American artists to any real extent in the reference source. The 2007 edition included roughly 40 black artists and through my investigation they are: Ernie Barnes, John Thomas Biggers, James Sherman Brantley, Moe Albert Brooker, Grafton Tyler Brown, Arthur Carraway, William Sylvester Carter, Irene Clark, Eldzier Cortor, Allan Rohan Crite, Beauford Delaney, Jeff R. Donaldson, Aaron Douglas, Allan Randall Freelon, John Wesley Hardrick, Alvin Hollingsworth, Clementine Hunter, Oliver Lee Jackson, William Henry Johnson, Frederick D. Jones, Jr., Lois Mailou Jones, Robert Edmond Jones, Jack Jordan, Raymond Lark, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Valerie J. Maynard, William McBride, Samuel M. Middleton, William E. Pajaud, Nelson Primus, John N. Robinson, William Edouard Scott, Edward Strickland, Lawrence Newbold Taylor, Margaret Taylor, Leo Franklin Twiggs, Todd Williams, Ellis Wilson, and Hale Aspacio Woodruff.

As stated earlier, the 2009 edition of Signatures and Monograms from 1800 contains roughly 225 African American artists' signatures. For some time, I have had discussions with black artists about the need to raise the visibility of their presence in such an established source as the Castagno series or to create a comparable source that was more inclusive to meet the needs of those during research relating to black artists. This latest 2009 edition that includes more signatures of black artists brings those discussions to a crossroad. At this point, comments and suggestions are welcome to determine the best course of action for the inclusion of more African American artists in this established resource. Perhaps, a first strategy is to connect with the publisher of this series and/or author to get a clear understanding of the process and method for inclusion of a greater number of African American artists. Then, actively seek more inclusion. If this is not the best course of action, then let us create a dialogue on what is most feasible and in the best interest of black artists. I welcome your suggestions and comments.

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