Art and Artist Files in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries

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The Smithsonian Libraries' artists' files are an exceptionally 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. The files were largely unavailable to those who did not travel to Washington DC until 2004, when several efforts were combined to produce a single electronic list of holdings contained in the various art, history and culture libraries at the Smithsonian. This collaborative cataloging initiative has lead to the preliminary availability of information on over 70,000 files that contain exhibition announcements, newspaper and magazine clippings, press releases, brochures, reviews, invitations, illustrations, résumés, artists' statements, and exhibition catalogs. Please check back frequently, as new artists' names are being added on a regular basis. [See current statistics]

Smithsonian American Art Museum / National Portrait Gallery Library

The Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery (AA/PG) Library has a dynamic collection of over 150,000 files on Artists, Art Institutions, Collectors, and art-related Subjects. Files generally contain ephemera such as small exhibition brochures; announcements of or invitations to gallery shows; press releases; newspaper, magazine, or auction catalog clippings; and/or reproductions. At this time, only the Artist Files are indexed online.

  • The Artists Files, though primarily on American artists, also contain some European artists.
  • The Art Institutions files are arranged geographically by U.S. state/city/museum or gallery and by foreign country/city/museum or gallery.
  • The Collectors Files include material on individual and corporate collections, as well as separate collections within a museum. They also may contain object lists.
  • The Subject Files contain ephemeral material on many art-related subjects. A particularly strong section within the Subject Files is that on Federal Art Projects. These files are divided into the four different New Deal projects: The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the WPA’s Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP), the Section of Painting and Sculpture (the Section), and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP).
  • The AA/PG Library also houses the Colonel Merl M. Moore, Jr. Files. These include Artists Files on early American artists, many copied from 19th century newspapers and magazines, Institution Files (e.g., National Academy of Design, Art Unions, Art Fairs), and Subject Files (e.g., Silhouette Artists, Passports, Immigration Records, etc.). The emphasis of the Merl M. Moore, Jr. Files is on art and artists of the 19th century.

All of the AA/PG Library’s files may be consulted on site and selections may be photocopied for a small fee.

Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art

The Warren M. Robbins Library at the National Museum of African Art maintains a fast-growing collection of more than 3,700 files on African artists. This unique repository features artists living and working in Africa, but also includes African artists internationally. The files may contain articles, gallery brochures, exhibition announcements and invitations, price lists, resumes, press releases, and reviews.

Anacostia Community Museum Library

The mission of the Anacostia Community Museum is to challenge perceptions, broaden perspectives, generate new knowledge, and deepen understanding about the ever-changing concepts and realities of "community" while maintaining its strong ties to Anacostia and the D.C. Metropolitan region. The art and artist vertical files at the Anacostia Library consist of biographical data, photographs, announcements, reviews, press releases, invitations, reproductions, resumes, and newspaper clippings. These files document the work of innovative American artists creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art, including architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, music, theatre, film, dance, and poetry.

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Library

The more than 400 artist's files housed at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Library consist of biographical information, photographs, exhibition announcements and reviews, brochures, and clippings that document the work of contemporary African-American and Latino - Hispanic designers. The Afro-American collection, created in 1991 and no longer added to after 2003, chronicles innovative Black American designers working in the areas of architecture, interiors, graphics, industrial design, textiles, wallcoverings, ceramics, glass, metalwork, jewelry and furniture. Similar subject areas are covered in the Latino-Hispanic files (begun in 1995 and no longer added to after 2002), featuring designers of Hispanic - Latino origin working in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Library

The Freer's vertical file is arranged by LC subject heading and consists of various small-size publications, pamphlets, and newspaper clippings on Asian art and culture including a large number of pamphlets from national and international museums.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library has more than 41 file drawers containing files for 2,291 individual artists as well as on the museum's founder, trustees, and former directors. The contents of the files include gallery invitations, press releases and biographies, some newspaper clippings and other ephemeral material. The material has been collected since the opening of the museum in 1974. Artists represented in the museum collection or who have been in Hirshhorn Museum exhibitions have more substantial files.

Vine Deloria, Jr. Library, National Museum of the American Indian

The Vine Deloria, Jr. Library of the National Museum of the American Indian has a growing collection of over 450 files of Native American, First Nations, and Indigenous contemporary artists, performers, and writers who are primarily from the Western Hemisphere. The files contain general biographical material, small exhibition brochures, announcements, invitations, show reviews, newspaper and magazine clippings, internet pages relevant to the artist, and color and b/w reproductions. An equal number of files remain uncatalogued. All of the Deloria Library’s files may be accessed on site, with availability to photocopy or scan.

last updated Dec 10,2012

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