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American Federation of Arts records, 1895-1993, bulk 1909-1969

American Federation of Arts records, 1895-1993, bulk 1909-1969

American Federation of Arts

Collection Information

Size: 78.6 linear ft.

Summary: The records of the American Federation of Arts (AFA) thoroughly document the Federation's founding and history of sponsoring exhibitions and programs supporting the study and promotion of American art, both nationally and abroad. Included are correspondence, subject files, exhibition files, reports, financial statements, printed material, and photographs.

Biographical/Historical Note

American Federation of Arts (AFA) (established 1909) is a national nonprofit museum service organization in New York, N.Y.

Provenance

The bulk of the records were donated by the American Federation of Arts between 1964 and 1966. In 1972, AFA donated 16 photographs taken by Geoffrey Clements of artists whose work was exhibited in "Ten Negro Artists from the United States" in Dakar, Senegal's First World Festival of Negro Arts (circulated by AFA). In 1978, Christopher Cook of the Addison Gallery donated sound recordings from the AFA's 1951 annual meeting in Philadelphia, and in 1979, Preston Bolton donated letters regarding planning for the 1957 AFA Annual Convention held in Houston, Texas, convention minutes from 1956, and newsletters.The provenance of the 1990-1993 printed material is unknown.

A Finding Aid to the American Federation of Arts Records, 1895-1993 (bulk 1909-1969), in the Archives of American Art
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Finding aid prepared by Wendy Bruton and Barbara D. Aikens
Scope and Content Note
The records of the American Federation of Arts (AFA) provide researchers with a complete set of documentation focusing on the founding and history of the organization from its inception through the 1960s. The collection measures 78.6 linear feet, and dates from 1895 through 1993, although the bulk of the material falls between 1909 and 1969. Valuable for its coverage of twentieth-century American art history, the collection also provides researchers with fairly comprehensive documentation of the many exhibitions and programs supported and implemented by the AFA to promote and study contemporary American art, both nationally and abroad.
The earliest documentation from 1895 to 1909 concerns the organization's history and founding and is located in
Series 1: Board of Trustees.
Also found in this series are meeting minutes, 1909-1963 and 1968. Interfiled with the board meeting minutes are minutes of the executive committee and other special and ad hoc committees, reports to the board, financial statements and reports, and lists of committee appointments and board membership. This series also contains the scattered correspondence and subject files of various officers. Although not a complete set of officers' files, Presidents' Frederick Allen. Whiting (1931-1936), Lawrence M.C. Smith (1948-1952), Thomas Brown Rudd (1952-1954), Daniel Longwell (1954-1956), James S. Schramm (1956-1958), and Roy R. Neuberger (1958-1961) are represented. Leila Mechlin served on AFA's board as secretary from its founding to 1929, and her files are a particularly rich resource for AFA's activities during its early years. Lawrence M.C. Smith's files documenting his years as board treasurer are also arranged in this series. Additional officers' correspondence is interspersed throughout the Alphabetical Files and other series.
General information about the scope of AFA's programs, affiliations, founding, functions, and proceedings are arranged in
Series 2: Administrative Records.
The first subseries,
Alphabetical Files,
houses a wide variety of subject files that contain memoranda, correspondence, printed materials, lists, reports, and other papers. These files document the AFA's general history and founding, organizational affiliations, buildings and moves, grants, federal and state government art programs, auctions and other fund-raising efforts, publicity and public relations, publications, and fiftieth anniversary celebration. The subject headings by which these files are arranged are, for the most part, the ones designated by the AFA. The second subseries,
Staff Records,
houses the scattered files of AFA's director, assistant director, registrar, and special state representative, Robert Luck.
During its most active period, the AFA sponsored or participated in several special programs and
Series 3: Special Programs
houses the files that document many of them. The first subseries consists of the files for the
Artists in Residence
program that was funded by the Ford Foundation. Awarded in 1963, the grant sponsored short-term teaching residencies for artists in museums throughout the United States. The host museums were encouraged to hold exhibitions of the artists' works. This subseries contains both the general files of the program, as well as individual files on the participating artists. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the AFA and the Ford Foundation also sponsored additional programs for artists, including Grants in Aid, Purchase Awards, and the Retrospective Exhibitions Program. The files documenting these three programs are also arranged in Series 3, under the subseries
Ford Foundation Program for Visual Artists.
In the late 1950s, the AFA implemented the
Museum Donor Program
with benefactors and philanthropists Audrey Bruce Currier and Stephen Richard Currier. Through the administration of the AFA, the Curriers donated funds to selected institutions specifically for the purchase of contemporary American art. The Curriers preferred to remain anonymous throughout the program. Files documenting this program include correspondence, applications from the accepted institutions, rejections, a summary report, and clippings about the untimely deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Currier in 1967.
Also found in Series 3 are the files documenting AFAs working relationship with the first state arts council, the
New York State Council on the Arts
(NYSCA). In 1961, AFA and NYSCA implemented a traveling exhibition program in New York State. Found here are files for possible itineraries, proposals, publicity, loans, budgets, and the actual exhibition files. Additional AFA special programs documented in Series 3 include the
Picture of the Month
program of the mid-1950s and the
Jean Tennyson Foundation Color Slide Lecture Program.
AFA
Annual Convention
files constitute Series 4. Beginning with the Third Annual Convention in 1912 and continuing through the 1963 Annual Convention, the files contain official proceedings, speeches, programs, clippings, correspondence, and press releases. Files are missing for 1913, 1915, 1918, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926, 1931, 1936-1949, 1952, 1956, 1958, 1960, and 1962. There are also audio recordings in the form of reel-to-reel tapes for the 1951 Annual Convention.
Series 5: Exhibition Files
forms the bulk of the collection at circa 62 linear feet and is arranged into twenty subseries. The first subseries,
Exhibitions, General,
houses primarily the records of the Board of Trustees Exhibition Committee and documents the AFA's earliest involvement with traveling exhibitions. These files contain reports, budgets, correspondence, memoranda, scattered exhibition catalogs, and photographs. They are primarily the files of the chair of the Exhibition Committee and include the files of Juliana R. Force, Eloise Spaeth, and Mrs. John Pope. Also found in this series is a subseries of Mrs. John Pope's records documenting circulating exhibitions from 1934 to 1955, arranged by state.
The remaining nineteen subseries of the Exhibition Files reflect either specific exhibition programs, many of which have unique numbers assigned by AFA to individual exhibitions, or other exhibition-related files, such rejected, canceled, and suggested exhibitions and miscellaneous installation photographs. The
Annual Exhibitions
files constitute the largest of the subseries and are numbered according to the system assigned by AFA, following a typical chronological order. Although the documentation for each exhibition varies widely by both type and amount, most of the files contain contracts and legal agreements, correspondence, memoranda, itinerary information, condition reports, publicity materials, catalogs, announcements, price lists, and other such information arranged into one or more files. The files were labeled "documentation files," "dispersal files," "report form files," "loan agreement files," and "publicity files" according to the filing system devised by AFA. Many of the files also house a significant amount of correspondence with museum officials, lenders, and artists.
Additional subseries document AFA's exhibition venues and partnerships with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the New York State Council on the [UNK]
Life
magazine, and Addison Gallery. A complete list of all of the subseries, including specific exhibition programs, follows in the Series Outline.
The final three series of the collection are small:
Printed Material, Miscellaneous Files,
and
Oversized Material.
The printed material was donated much later to the Archives and dates from 1990 to 1993. Found here are scattered press releases, annual reports, and an exhibition program. Miscellaneous Files contain scattered records, 1926-1962, of the Architectural League of New York relating to national award programs. It is not clear why this small group of Architectural League records was found mixed with the AFA records but perhaps the collaboration between the two organizations on several special projects provides an explanation. Also found in Miscellaneous Files is a group of black and white lantern slides from a lecture series, "New Horizons in America." Oversized Material includes a portfolio, a work of art, and posters.
See Appendix: List of Artists Exhibiting with the American Federation of Arts
Historical Note
Founded in 1909 by Elihu Root, the American Federation of Arts (AFA) exists today as a national nonprofit museum service organization striving to unite American art institutions, collectors, artists, and museums. Elihu Root, then secretary of state in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, spoke of his idea at the first meeting of the AFA held in New York at the National Academy of Arts. He envisioned an organization that would promote American art most often seen only by the elite in the major cities of the East and upper Midwest by sending "exhibitions of original works of art on tour through the hinterlands across the United States."
The American Academy in Rome, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Metropolitan Museum of Art were influential organizing member institutions. Individual members included such notables as William Merritt Chase, Charles L. Freer, Daniel C. French, Charles L. Hutchinson, Henry Cabot Lodge, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Walters. The founding of the AFA provided the American art world with a forum for communication and participation among artists, cultural institutions, patrons of the arts, and the public.
To accomplish its mission, the AFA established volunteer committees for membership, exhibitions, and publications. During its first year, the AFA began publishing
Art and Progress
(later changed to
Magazine of Art)
and the
American Art Annual
(now the
American Art Directory).
In 1909, the AFA also organized its first traveling exhibition,
Paintings by Prominent American Artists,
which was shown at museums in Fort Worth, New Orleans, Minneapolis, and New Ulm, Minnesota.
By the end of the first year, the headquarters of the organization moved to Washington, D.C., to facilitate lobbying the federal government for favorable art legislation. In 1913, the AFA lobbied successfully for the removal of the tariff on foreign art entering the United States. In 1916, the Federation met with the Interstate Commerce Commission to protest prohibitively high interstate taxes on traveling art exhibitions.
Throughout the next fifteen years, the AFA continued to grow in membership and influence. By 1919, membership included 438 institutions and 2,900 individuals. The AFA's annual conventions were held in major national art centers and were attended by members, chapter delegates, and the public. At the conventions, scholars, patrons, and curators lectured on and discussed subjects of national interest, thereby fostering an exchange of ideas. The AFA also sponsored periodic regional conferences to promote institutional cooperation and to discuss mutual problems and needs. To facilitate exhibition venues west of the Mississippi River, in 1921 the AFA opened regional offices at the University of Nebraska and at Stanford University. The AFA produced and circulated slide programs and lecture series to museums and educational institutions that fostered art education. By 1929, the Federation had developed forty-six slide-lecture programs that covered American mural painting, European and American contemporary art, and textiles.
During the 1930s, the Federation expanded its services by providing schools with teaching guides, student workbooks, slides, and films about art. In 1935, the AFA began publishing
Who's Who in American Art,
later publishing
The Official Directory of Illustrators and Advertising Artists
and
Films on Art
reference guides. To reach an even larger audience, the AFA began collaborating with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to organize national circulating exhibitions to "bring the museum to the people."
One of AFA's priorities was to make American art more visible abroad. The Federation focused on encouraging the representation of American artists in foreign exhibitions, and in 1924 it lobbied successfully for additional American participation in the Venice Biennale. The AFA's focus on exhibiting American art abroad continued to expand, particularly following World War II. In 1950, recognizing that the AFA could assist in promoting American culture, the State Department awarded the AFA a grant for a German "re-orientation program" consisting of educational exhibitions shown in German museums. Additional government funding further enabled the AFA to organize American participation in exhibitions in India, Japan, Paris, Switzerland, and Rotterdam between 1950 and 1970. Later, the AFA collaborated with the United States Information Agency (USIA) to create the Overseas Museum Donor Program which permitted donations of American art to foreign institutions on a restriction-free, tax-deductible basis. During the 1950s, the AFA was a very active member of the Committee on Government and Art, a national committee with members from across the art and museum world concerned with government sponsorship of and legislation affecting art sales, commissions, and trade.
In 1952, the headquarters of the AFA returned to New York, sparking a period of innovation and expanded of programs. Throughout the 1950s, the AFA distributed films about art and co-sponsored the Films on Art Festival in Woodstock, New York. The AFA also introduced its Picture of the Month Program in 1954, renting original works of art to small American art and educational institutions. In 1956, the AFA organized the Art Collectors Club of America to provide fellowship for art collectors through meetings and activities. The club disbanded in the 1970s.
The Federation's exhibition programs continued to flourish during the 1950s and 1960s. Private and public financial support allowed the AFA to achieve many of its goals. In 1958, the Ford Foundation awarded an important grant to organize a series of traveling one-person shows and a series of monographs devoted to contemporary American artists. Milton Avery, Andrew Dasburg, José DeCreeft, Lee Gatch, Walter Quirt, Abraham Rattner, and others were among the artists who participated. Private foundation support for the AFA's Museum Donor Program provided an annual allowance that was distributed to regional museums for the pourchase of contemporary American art. Cooperative programs and joint venues also became popular during this period. For example, public support from the New York State Council on the Arts allowed the AFA to circulate exhibitions to small New York State communities, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts provided the AFA with five exhibitions for national tours.
Throughout its history, the American Federation of Arts has concentrated on its founding principle of broadening the audience for contemporary American art. Through its numerous exhibition and film programs, the AFA has succeeded in "breaking down barriers of distance and language to broaden the knowledge and appreciation of art." Annual exhibitions such as
New Talent in the USA
and
Art Schools USA,
organized by the AFA, brought before the public the most contemporary American artists and craftspeople, genres, and artistic forms of experimentation, exposing viewers to new ways of thinking and expression. In 1965, AFA produced
The Curriculum in Visual Education,
a series of films created to heighten the aesthetic awareness of children.
A vital part of American art history, the AFA was one of the first organizations to develop successfully the concept of traveling art exhibitions on a national and international level. The AFA was instrumental in assisting museums with circulating important juried exhibitions of contemporary art, such as the Whitney Annual and Corcoran Biennial. The AFA also recognized the importance of the exchange of cultural ideas, and it brought exhibitions of the European masters to the American public as well as exhibitions focusing on foreign contempoorary art, photography, and architecture. Many organizations and museums have followed the AFA's precedent, and traveling national and international venues are now commonplace.
Since 1909, women have served as officers and members of the Board of Trustees. Leila Mechlin was a founding participant and served as secretary from 1909 to 1933. Juliana R. Force and Eloise Spaeth both chaired the Exhibition Committee in the late 1940s. Women and artists of diverse backgrounds and nationalities were widely represented in the AFA's exhibition programs, most notably during the 1960s. In 1960, the AFA organized, with financial support from the Ford Foundation, a major Jacob Lawrence retrospective. Additional culturally diverse exhibitions included
Contemporary Jewish Ceremonial Art
(1961),
The Heart of India
(1962),
1,000 Years of American Indian Art
(1963), and
Ten Negro Artists from the United States
(1966).
The AFA also had an impact on patronage in the arts. AFA exhibitions of contemporary art provided collectors with knowledge of new artists and avant-garde art forms, creating a broader demand and market for this type of work. Museums and collectors began purchasing work by new or obscure American artists whom they learned about through AFA exhibitions and programs.
The historical records of the American Federation of Arts offer the researcher a unique opportunity to study the development of American art and artists in the twentieth century as well as providing insight into trends in American culture.
1909
Founded in New York City. Began publishing
Art and Progress
(later retitled
Magazine of Art)
and the
American Art Annual.
1910
Moved headquarters to Washington, D.C.
1913
Lobbied successfully for the removal of the tariff on art entering the United States.
1915-1916
Lobbied successfully against the Cummins Amendment and the Interstate Commerce Commission's prohibitively high interstate tax on traveling art.
1920
Organized a lobbying campaign for the development of a national gallery of art at its national convention.
1921
Opened two new offices at the University of Nebraska and at Stanford University.
1924
Arranged American participation in the Venice Biennale exhibition.
1927
Closed office at Stanford University.
1929
Organized American participation in exhibitions in France and Germany.
1933
Closed office at the University of Nebraska.
1935
Began publishing
Who's Who in American Art.
1948
Published
The Official Directory of Illustrators and Advertising Artists.
1949
Collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to circulate exhibitions from its collections.
1950
Participated in the U.S. government's German re-orientation program.
1951
Joined forces with the United States Information Agency (USIA) to create the Overseas Museum Donor Program. Published the reference guide
Films on Art.
Co-sponsored the Films on Art Festival in Woodstock, New York, through 1957.
1952
Moved headquarters to New York City.
1953
Magazine of Art
liquidated.
1954
Introduced the Picture of the Month Program.
1956
Founded the Art Collectors Club of America.
1958
Received a Ford Foundation grant to finance a series of one-person shows of contemporary American artists.
1960
Created the Museum Donor Program.
1961
Received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to circulate exhibitions to small New York state communities.
1963
Received a grant from the Ford Foundation for the Artists in Residence program.
1964
Introduced the List Art Poster Program.
1965
Produced
The Curriculum in Visual Education,
a series of films that attempted to heighten the aesthetic awareness of children.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into eight primary series based primarily on administrative units or program areas. Several of the series are further subdivided into subseries. While processing, it became clear that the two filing systems were redundant and overlapped in both subject area and type of material. Most of these files were subsequently merged into the now broader Alphabetical Files or into separate series. Oversized material may be found at the end of the collection arranged in a separate series.
In most cases, files related to one another by subseries or subject areas (in the case of the Alphabetical Files) or by individual name (in the case of officers and staff files) are arranged in chronological order. The entire subseries of Alphabetical Files in Series 2 is arranged by subject heading, as assigned by the AFA, or individual name. The Alphabetical Files originally formed two broad filing systems as established by the AFA: one for general correspondence arranged by subject; and one for director's and other staff correspondence, also arranged by subject.
Series 1: Board of Trustees, circa 1895-1968 (Boxes 1-3)
Series 2: Administrative Records, 1910-1966 (Boxes 4-8)
Series 3: Special Programs, 1950-1967 (Boxes 9-13)
Series 4: Annual Conventions, 1912-1963 (Boxes 14-16)
Series 5: Exhibition Files, 1934-1969 (Boxes 17-78)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1990-1993 (Box 78)
Series 7: Miscellaneous Files, 1926-1962, undated (Box 79)
Series 8: Oversized Materials, 1890, undated (Boxes 80-85)
Provenance
The bulk of the records were donated by the American Federation of Arts between 1964 and 1966. In 1972, AFA donated 16 photographs taken by Geoffrey Clements of artists whose work was exhibited in "Ten Negro Artists from the United States" in Dakar, Senegal's First World Festival of Negro Arts (circulated by AFA). In 1978, Christopher Cook of the Addison Gallery donated sound recordings from the AFA's 1951 annual meeting in Philadelphia, and in 1979, Preston Bolton donated letters regarding planning for the 1957 AFA Annual Convention held in Houston, Texas, convention minutes from 1956, and newsletters.The provenance of the 1990-1993 printed material is unknown.
Processing Information
The collection was processed and the finding aid written by Wendy B. Bruton and Barbara D. Aikens in 2000 with a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. The finding aid was modified during EAD conversion by Stephanie Ashley in 2002.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

American Federation of Arts records, 1895-1993, bulk 1909-1969. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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