Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Archivist on the Road

This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

In my capacity as a collector at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, I am lucky to be one of those with the opportunity to travel the country to discover new collections to add to our holdings in American art history. In August and September of this summer, I made a circuit around the Rocky Mountains and along the West Coast of the United States in search of letters, sketchbooks, photographs, journals, and other primary resources to acquire for our collection. These voyages of discovery are an incredibly rewarding part of the work we do at SI.

My August trip’s direct route was about 4000 miles, but with side trips to places like Hondo, New Mexico and Aspen, Colorado, among others, I put over 6500 miles on my rental car.
There are many means by which we discover the existence of a new cache of papers we may want to acquire. The first, and most common, is from unsolicited offers from artists, dealers, collectors, scholars, or their heirs. Although we can’t accept everything offered to us, we do often run across collections of exceptional depth and scope, like that of Santa Fe dealer Dwight Hackett. Hackett ran an art foundry in New Mexico and worked to realize in metal the work of some of America’s most highly-regarded artists. The records of Art Foundry and his subsequent business Dwight Hackett Projects contain a wealth of research-ready material on artists like Kiki Smith, Lesley Dill, Bruce Nauman, Luis Jimenez, and Lynda Benglis.

The Art Foundry records and the Dwight Hackett Project records comprise over 40 linear feet of correspondence, photographs, drawings, and project files.
Another method that we employ for discovering interesting collections for potential acquisition is to build networks in art communities throughout the country. Our friends in the field often suggest people whose papers we might be keen to collect. Such was the case on this trip with metalsmith Tom Joyce, another Santa Fean, to whom I was introduced through a mutual friend. Joyce is a self-made man in every sense of the word. This includes his breathtaking home and studio, which he built by hand without any formal training in architecture. Joyce also collects widely in African metalwork. His papers include a shelf of dense sketchbooks with drawings by Joyce of each new acquisition in his metalwork collection.

Tom Joyce in his studio. In addition to his enviable collections of books and African metalwork, Joyce has a remarkable number of tools for his craft.

Tom Joyce draws each new acquisition of his African metalwork collection so that he can “get to know the piece better.”

Often, we look for collections with a connection to people already represented in our holdings. While in Seattle, Washington, I looked at the papers of the artist Byron Randall. Randall was married to Emmy Lou Packard, whose papers contain important material on her friend, the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Randall and Packard also ran a gallery together in Northern California. Collecting in “circles” like this allows us to build on our strengths and comes with the added bonus of getting both sides of a correspondence. 

Ahren Hertel in his Reno, Nevada studio.

My favorite thing to do while I’m on the road is to meet young, emerging artists, whose archives may not be of interest to us yet, but whose promising careers mean we may be knocking on their doors later in life. A friend of mine in Reno, Nevada told me I had to meet two local painters, Jaxon Northon and Ahren Hertel. Both work in similar styles but have very different processes and themes. Not only is it important for us to develop these relationships early, but painters like Northon and Hertel represent a generation of artists whose “papers” will contain virtually no paper at all. Learning how they work, communicate with one another, and market their work is crucial to understanding what archives will look like in the coming decades.

Jason Stieber, National Collector

No comments:

Post a Comment