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Thursday, November 18, 2010

American Art’s Library of Congress Copyright Deposit Collection

One of the joys of my job as program assistant in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Research and Scholars Center is to help bring “hidden collections” to light. Most recently, I’ve been working on 2,335 photo-mechanical prints of artworks that make up the Library of Congress Copyright Deposit Collection in our Photograph Archives. While we haven’t yet been able to digitize the images, we are making our way towards organizing and cataloging the entire collection. I’ve been working on this project for the past year, and while I find the span of artists and artwork very interesting, I hadn’t really given them much thought outside of our archives. Some of the artists represented in the collection are well-known, such as Mary Cassatt and Grant Wood, though many of the works are a bit more obscure and appear to be for illustrated books and advertisements. I’ve discovered quite a few artists whose work I would have never been aware of if it wasn’t for this collection. I also didn’t think that I would ever see any of these works represented in a museum or gallery.

Over the summer I was able to visit a friend in Boston, and while this wasn’t my first trip to the city, it was the first time I was actually able to check out some of the many art collections. We headed to the usual spots (the Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts), along with the galleries in the Boston Public Library’s main building. I am familiar with the Library’s Sargent Gallery, having seen pictures in art history texts, and it was nice to be able to see the murals in person. The library also houses a collection of murals by Edwin Austin Abbey, an artist who is far from obscure, though I was not aware of his Boston Public Library paintings until recently. Some of the first works I cataloged from the Library of Congress collection were a set of images by Abbey that depicted the legend of the Holy Grail. I had at first imagined that the images were copyrighted to be used in an illustrated book, though upon further research I learned that they were for the paintings in the Abbey Gallery. There are Sargent images in the Library of Congress collection that are waiting to be cataloged that I’m now curious about…I’m wondering if they are of the same murals in the Boston Public Library?

Abbey's Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail
Study for Sargent's mural at the Boston Public Library

You can search the already cataloged works in SIRIS, under American Art’s Photo Archives Catalog. Use the limit box to find just those that are in the Library of Congress Collection.


Rachel Brooks
Program Assistant, Research and Scholars Center
Smithsonian American Art Museum

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Rachel! Isn't it always fun when the content from our work suddenly appears in our daily lives? I remember when I first started working here I couldn't look at an art work without subject-cataloging it in my head. Hope you enjoy cataloging the Sargent murals when you get to them!