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

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Wendy Bruton and Barbara D. Aikens
Scope and Contents
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 79.8 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.
The records of the American Federation of Arts (AFA) were donated to the Archives of American Art (AAA) over a thirteen-year period, with the bulk of the material arriving between 1964 and 1966. In 1979, Preston Bolton donated his letters and those from John de Menil, Ann Drevet, Lee Malone, and others regarding planning for the 1957 AFA annual convention held in Houston, Texas; convention committee minutes from 1956; and AFA newsletters. This material, as well as a 1979 gift from Louise Ferrari of transcripts from a panel discussion from the 1957 AFA convention in Houston, was microfilmed on AAA Reel 1780. All material previously microfilmed on Reel 1780 has been fully integrated into the collection and arranged within proper series and subseries. 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.