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

No comments:

Post a Comment