Friday, May 24, 2013

Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library Art and Artist Files

The Smithsonian American Art Museum / National Portrait Gallery Library Art and Artist Files are scholarly resources that are carefully maintained for future researchers and contain original pieces of ephemera such as small exhibition catalogues and brochures, announcements of or invitations to gallery shows, and press releases.

Although international artist material has been added to the files in the past, currently the library will only accept material for American artists. For an artist to warrant inclusion in the Art and Artist Files collection, the artist should have been included in at least three group and/or individual art exhibitions in an accredited art museum, commercial art gallery, or college/university gallery or museum (that is not a student show). Other criteria may also be considered at the discretion of the librarian or files manager.
The following are acceptable material for the files:                              
  • Artist statement or interview
  • Artist biography, bibliography, and/or CV
  • Invitation, announcement, and/or press release for a solo exhibition
  • An exhibition catalogue, of less than 30 pages, from a museum or dealer on one artist (not a catalogue on multiple artists)
  • Some newspaper or magazine articles which are not readily available online or at this library

 The following are not accepted for the files:
  • Artist portfolio or self-published promotional material
  • Unpublished or self-published materials
  • Slides
  • Photographs lacking clear copyright
  • Photocopies
  • Ephemera lacking bibliographic identity (name, place of publication, exhibition dates)
  • Any materials which can be accessed via the internet

The library reserves the right to refuse any donations which are offered. Any items not accepted for inclusion into the vertical files can be mailed back to the sender, if requested.

The library welcomes freely given additions to the vertical files.

  • Main phone line (202-633-8236) or email and the staff would be able to tell you what’s in your file. 
  • Additional information can be sent to the attention of Alice Clarke at:
    Smithsonian American Art Museum/
    National Portrait Gallery Library
    PO Box 37012
    VB 2100, MRC 975
    Washington, DC  20013-7012
SEE earlier post highlighting African American artists in the Artist Files

Monday, May 13, 2013

Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery's Artist Files: Highlighting African American Artists

This post features the results from an on-going and extensive project that I was  involved with, on an infrequent basis for the past 3 years, at the Smithsonian American Art/National Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG). The project focused on identifying African American artists who are included in AA/PG Library's Artist Files which are a part of its vertical files collection. The vertical files are a rich special collection resource consisting of over "500 file cabinet drawers of ephemeral materials on art, artists, art institutions, collectors, and special subjects."

What are the Artist Files?
In AA/PG's vertical files, approximately 254 file cabinet drawers are devoted to artists. Artists names from the vertical files have been identified and compiled into an online catalog, Artist Files, which includes at least 48,817 artists with new artists added frequently. The Artist Files contain ephemera such as small exhibition brochures; announcements of or invitations to gallery and museum exhibitions; press releases; clippings from newspapers, magazines, or auction catalogs; correspondence; and reproductions of works. These files are a valuable resource for art historical research done on emerging regional and local artists, and often are the only obtainable sources of information on those artists. Although, online art ephemera is increasing, paper art ephemera, such as that in these files, is still heavily used for its dynamic historical and current content. The richness of these files will become even greater as art librarians, artists, galleries, collectors, and art institutions collaborate and cooperate in getting even more ephemera material to the AA/PG Library.

African American Artists Included in Artist Files
I have spent time inspecting the contents of the folders in the vertical files to identify African American artists in this rich online resource.  As a personal project and being narrow in my focus, I emphasized those who were African American or those of the Black Diaspora with a strong U.S.A. connection via residence, schooling, or employment. 

If you see your name on this list of African American artists, you are encouraged to update the material that is included in your folder(s). However, if your name does not appear on this list, check the master Artist Files list, to see if your name appears there and was not capture for the specialized African American file. If your name appears on the master Artist Files, bring to my attention, so corrections and updates may be made to the African American artist files.  

This post simply introduces the Artist Files and brings the reader up to date on this African American artists' project. For artists who are not yet included in the Artist Files, a future post will highlight criteria for inclusion. For the time being, direct any questions to