30th / VRA 20th
, Hyatt Regency, Union Station, St. Louis, Missouri - March 20-26, 2002
, Hyatt Regency, Union Station, St. Louis, Missouri - March 20-26, 2002
, Hyatt Regency, Union Station, St. Louis, Missouri - March 20-26, 2002
Treasure: Artist Files in the Digital Age
Erika Dowell, Indiana
Terrie Wilson, Michigan State University
, Amon Carter Museum
Kathleen Adrian, Johns Hopkins University
Ann Abid, Cleveland Museum of Art
Thomas Jacoby, University of Connecticut at Storrs
Erika introduced the
seminar, describing the artist files as a valuable resource for information on
artists who do not have national prominence. Many librarians have a love-hate
relationship with artist files. The panel members hope that the seminar will
encourage others to provide access to artist file collections.
Sam Duncan presented
his "low-tech" Web access using low and high technology. The artists'
biographical files date from 1961 when the museum opened. There are 8,000 names
in the files and it grows yearly. The files are very popular and include
non-artists. The database was the first to be added to the museum's website,
before the library catalog.
In 1994 they
provided an electronic index in the form of a word-processing file. The search
form is quick and convenient, and a benefit to the staff. It is very flexible;
for example, a keyword search using "Jack" brings up Jack as both a
last and a first name. The database is searchable by Google and other Internet
search engines. The increase in exposure has been dramatic and brings in a broad
and diverse audience. The exposure has also enriched the files: the son of an
artist gave correspondence.
for use has not been overwhelming for the library staff. Since February 2002,
there have been 472 hits. This is higher than the membership or news releases
hits on the webpage. The files have the seventeenth highest hit rate frequency
on the museum website.
There is a
notice on the form to say that if the library has an artist file it does not
mean that the museum has artwork by that same artist. There are no digitized
contents of the files. In conclusion, the low-tech solution has worked to
increase public exposure to a library resource.
Assistant Curator, Visual Resources Collection, History of Art Department, Johns
Hopkins University (currently at the National Museum of American Art),
"Have you seen me?" Expanding the Scope of Academic Visual Resources
Collections to Include Faculty and Local Artists’ Work for the Enhancement of
Traditionally, academic visual resources collections support the teaching and
research needs of faculty and students, and reflect particular areas of study
and interest. These collections, consisting of slides, photographs and digital
images, are utilized in Art History programs to support courses such as general
surveys in art history, classical studies, medieval and Renaissance studies,
non-Western, modern and Postmodern art. While often similar in terms of the type
and format of material acquired and maintained, one area lacking representation
in these collections has been the inclusion of work by local and regional
artists. An attempt to address the omission of local artists from visual
resources collections was made at my first position as a visual resources
curator and adjunct faculty member in the Fine Arts Department of Towson
University, and developed into a three-phase project upon my subsequent move in
1998 to an assistant curator position at Johns Hopkins University.
Phase One: Creation
of links to digitized images of JHU studio art workshop faculty members. While
Johns Hopkins University did not have an established Studio Art degree program,
there were elective studio courses offered by the university and plans for the
creation of a student art center. As a result, the first phase was a basic
attempt to identify the faculty members of the JHU Homewood Art Workshop studio
art program and solicit slides or digital images of their work, providing a
brief listing of identifying information, such as title, date, and medium.
Information about this visual resource representing faculty artists would be
available through a link on the collection's website for online images, with
access limited to students and faculty at Johns Hopkins University.
Phase Two: The second
phase was to shift the focus from within the Hopkins community and attempt to
create a larger portfolio of online images of work by local and regional
artists. The most logical method for identifying practicing artists with an
established body of work and exhibition history was to contact galleries and
local art organizations with digitized slide registries in the Baltimore area
and create hyperlinks to these online images from the collection's website. One
example of this is seen in the link to the slide registry of the Maryland State
Arts Council, a registry that contains biographical information and slides for
1,500 regional artists. As in the initial phase of incorporating artist's works
into a visual resources environment, this secondary phase emphasized compiling
information and links to online images.
Phase Three: The
final and most advanced phase was the integration of digital images by local
artists into a database catalog. The plan for incorporating artists at this
phase of integration focused on identifying artists of phases one and two,
contacting them with an explanation of the purpose of this project and how the
inclusion of their work would be an enhancement to a teaching collection of art
images, and entering the image data into descriptive fields in a searchable
As increasingly visual resources collections are digitizing slide images and
creating records in searchable databases, the decision to expand the scope of
these collections to include works by local and regional artists becomes more
feasible. In addition, the reality is that visual resources curators will always
be looking for ways to promote the strengths of their image collections, while
wearing the various hats of curator, librarian, photographer, and technology
specialist. Looking at methods for incorporating a wide range of art information
by local and regional artists will only enable collections to become more viable
and play a larger role in an academic environment, as well as expand the scope
of what a visual resources collection can be, use technology to increase access
to a significant group of artists, and encourage partnerships with individuals
and organizations outside of the art history department and academic
Abid, Head Librarian, Ingalls Library, The Cleveland Museum of Art.
1988, the CMA automated its library. The goal was to add all print collections
to the OPAC. In 1994, the clipping files were added to the OPAC and the project
was completed last year, in 2001. It was a "spare time" project, with
17,000 records on 22,000 files processed using the Dynix system. The author,
subject, and title are the artist's name. The call number is the clipping file;
four files become four volumes. They are barcoded so they can circulate.
Barcoding avoids having to type a "fast-add." They are well-used and
important for local artists, not for "big name" artists such as
Titian. They include photographs of artists, baby pictures, etc. The museum
archives are under the Library. Records of the May Show, an annual juried
exhibition of work by Cleveland-area artists, were transferred to the Library.
The show was held from 1919 to 1993, a sensitive topic in Cleveland. The May
Show has a finding aid and is on the Internet. The files include clippings,
bulletins, catalogs, gallery reviews, posters, all artist applications, artist
biographies, and slides. The slide OPAC includes the May Show artists. Ann
decided to organize and digitize the May Show project and submit it to the RLG
Cultural Materials Initiative. The catalogs will be digitized.
illustrated the types of material to be included in the project. A gallery view
of the exhibition and the poster are being digitized. A portrait photo of the
designer (and the back of the photo), a handwritten biography of the artist,
correspondence to the designer from the museum, and a questionnaire are also
included. The artist’s work is represented by a bowl that he designed. A
database in MS Access is being created for all artists, and includes the price
of the work. It will go in the RLG Cultural Materials Initiative.
Retired Art & Design Librarian, University of Connecticut at Storrs.
The Visual Resources
Collection was established at the University of Connecticut within the first
year of the existence of the Art and Design Library when, in 1980, it received
about 3,000 file folders from the William Benton Museum of Art, the University's
art museum. We divided the file folders into five parts: 1) One-person
exhibitions, 2) Multi-person [Group] exhibitions, 3) Art organizations within
Connecticut, 4) arts organizations outside Connecticut, and 5) art-related
newsletter-type serials. We established names for all these parts using standard
name forms that followed various sources that we used for name authority
control. After establishing procedures, the project was given to the Art and
Design Library volunteer corps and the project has been almost exclusively a
volunteer project ever since that time with occasional student assistance.
established a database in an early version of ProCite. At the same time, we
established a solicitation list for several hundred mostly domestic museums,
galleries, and other exhibiting institutions whose exhibition announcements we
wanted to have in the Visual Resources Files. This mailing list was augmented by
announcements from faculty and other 'library angels' who picked up second
copies of announcements whenever and wherever they visited art exhibitions.
Suffice it to say, the files grew by leaps and bounds so that within five years
we outgrew our filing cabinets when we reached ten thousand file folders and had
to move to another filing system that was more space-efficient than conventional
filing cabinets. We moved to the TAB Products filing system and cabinets (much
as one still sees in many physicians’ offices). I do not now remember when,
but as the ProCite update versions became increasingly more difficult to use, we
converted the database to Microsoft Access. Despite having databases that were
easily searchable online, the library administration did not give permission for
us to make our one-person exhibitions Web-searchable until 1999, by which time
the collection had grown to more than twenty thousand file folders.
immediately, when the one-person exhibitions database was made Web-accessible,
the workload for the Art and Design librarian increased enormously at the same
time as there were other professional staff reductions in the Art and Design
library. While we are grateful that the now Web-accessible materials were
available to a larger public, that larger public was also asking questions
electronically that were previously only asked in person. These electronic
queries often took vast amounts of time. They did not take nearly as much time
when they were asked in person and we could suggest in conversation the
appropriate print sources to use to find more information. As the workload has
grown and we could determine after a brief search of the artists files that the
electronic question would take a lot of our time, we began to send return
queries to electronic patrons asking them what community they lived in so we
could refer them to a local public or academic library for more help with their
query. Frequently it has turned out that electronic patrons lived in remote
areas of the United States, but we have also had queries from all over the
Americas, Europe, Japan, Southeast Asia, Israel, etc. If the query cannot be
answered by referring the patron to another library or publication, or if the
patron says they are physically challenged or the materials we have are so
unique that only we can answer the query, then we do all that we can to help the
patron, which involves the frenetic photocopying of the materials in the
one-person show files and other print sources if they provide us with a mailing
address. Volume of traffic and difficulty of electronic queries varies a great
deal and there is often a detailed exchange of e-mail correspondence to refine a
query. There is now, at the very least one electronic query a week, and usually
three to five queries a week during the autumn (for some reason the busiest time
of the year). The Visual Resources files sometimes have only one exhibition
announcement in a folder, but more often there are several announcements, hand
lists of exhibitions, heavily illustrated exhibition catalogs (which we do not
routinely catalog and classify) and other early non-illustrated exhibition
catalogues and other such materials.
As of this
time, the multi-person (group) exhibitions listed by name of exhibiting
institution, arts organizations within Connecticut (an archival file that is not
weeded), and arts organizations outside Connecticut are not yet Web-accessible,
although they are in a Microsoft Access-adapted, in-house database. Future plans
for these files are uncertain.
project called the Connecticut Artists Project (ConnArt), which is separate from
the library visual resources files we have been talking about, includes
extensive information and materials on over four thousand artists who have been
identified as Connecticut artists from Colonial times to the present. Begun by
Hildegard Cummings, the now-retired Curator of Education at the William Benton
Museum of Art, it is now housed in the Art and Design Library. Mrs. Cummings
began the file ten-to-fifteen years ago when she was doing research for an
exhibition catalog on Connecticut Impressionist artists and found very little
written on them. This is another adapted Microsoft Access database that, at this
time, only includes artists, but there will also be extensive information on
about thirty artists organizations and groups in Connecticut that she has
gathered (such as the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the New Haven Paint and
Clay Club, Silvermine Guild, and numerous other organizations) that played a
role in the visual arts in Connecticut. The ConnArt files include extensive
documentation on each Connecticut artist that Hildy has identified from
biographical material, exhibition records, exhibition catalogs, announcements,
auction records, etc. Should you wish to consult Mrs. Cummings for information
on Connecticut artists, her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Interestingly, many of the artists do not have entries in Peter Falk's Who
Was Who in American Art and, for many others, the data in Falk is erroneous
in one way or another.
Comments and Questions
Are the unique works
in the Cleveland files being taken out and put in the Archives? Is there
The Archives are closed now, but will be digitized and made available later.
Is primary and
secondary material all in one folder?
There are preservation and conservation issues. It is better for the user, but the user needs to be supervised.
To whom are the files
circulated—to curators, to reference?
The number of items
in a file is not recorded so items could be stolen. Ann said the file on the
bombing of the Rodin sculpture is frequently stolen by outside users. The
copyright issue (NINCH) "fair use" is parallel to a user coming into
the library, so digitizing is legal. It is important to use the "fair
use" rights to protect them.
announced that Maryland Art Source has an IMLS grant and will have a database of
Maryland artists similar to ConnArt. It will not include collectors. About ten
people at the session say they have vertical files in their OPAC. The Museum of
Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Frick libraries have theirs
in RLIN in the AMC format or the MARC format in the Union Catalog. Milan Houston
mentioned reformatting the fiche artists' files from the New York Public Library
and MOMA. The National Gallery of Art files (Robert Geier) include critics,
collectors, etc. The files are used a lot. The Toledo Museum of Art has author
files, curators, collectors, etc. The American Art Museum and National Portrait
Gallery, Smithsonian Institution museums (Cecilia Chin and Pat Lynagh,
Librarians) will add their collectors to the OPAC later. They have no newspaper
clippings, only photocopies. The Living Portrait Artist File will also go on the
Web later. When the living artist dies, the file goes to the vertical file.
Should some files be
centralized? CHIN is a union catalog of Canadian artists (<www.chin.gc.ca>).
There is not a union list for the United States.