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National Academy of Design records, 1817-2012

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Hilary Price and Caroline Donadio
Scope and Contents
The records of New York City's National Academy of Design measure 92.7 linear feet and date from 1817-2012. The records pertain to all three constituents of the tripartite organization consisting of the Academy, a membership body of artists founded in 1825; the school, founded at the same time to promote arts education; and the exhibition program, inaugurated in 1826. Extensive administrative records include minutes, committee files, director files, annual reports, constitutions, and correspondence and subject files of council officers. Exhibition records, also substantive, date to the Academy's first annual exhibition and include gallery and special exhibitions, as well as exhibitions at the Academy's museum, established in 1979. The collection also includes gifts and funding files, especially relating to endowments and prizes; membership records; National Academy Association records; Ranger Fund assignments; extensive files pertaining to the school's administration, courses of instruction, registrations, and attendance; twenty scrapbooks containing clippings and ephemera; Society of American Artists records; correspondence and ephemera from other organizations; transcripts from oral histories with Academy members; extensive photographic material documenting artists, members, the school, exhibitions, buildings, and artwork created by Academy members; artist files containing correspondence, writings, and sketches from those associated with the Academy; and assorted printed material and ephemera.
The Academy minutes and committee files consist of official, original, and transcribed proceedings for the council, annual, business, and some committee meetings, as well as related correspondence, reports, financial documents, notes, drafts, and ballots pertaining to the Academy's administration and activities from its 1825 founding until 2006. As an organization actively engaged in the development of art and art education in the United States, the Academy minutes and committee files are a valuable resource on subjects and topics in the Academy's history; in particular, its founding, administration, school, and exhibition program.
Director files date from 1942-1990 and document the activities of four of the Academy's chief administrators, including Vernon Porter (1950-1966), Earl Tyler (1966-1967), Alice Melrose (1967-1977), and John H. Dobkin (1978-1990). Items include correspondence, memoranda, minutes, and printed material.
Annual reports, dating from 1828-2003, summarize the activities of the Academy over the course of a year, and may include presidents' reports, treasurers' reports, audits of financial operations by public accountants, and printed annual reports containing summaries from multiple council officers. Information pertains to the year's activities including finances, exhibitions, membership, the school, committee activities, awards, and other business.
Academy constitutions date from 1826-2012 and include the printed constitutions and by-laws as well as constitutional proposals. Constitutions and by-laws name the current council officials, professors, academicians, associates, and honorary members, and state the mission and guidelines for operation in regards to membership, officers, annual meetings, elections, school, exhibitions, and how the constitution can be amended or altered. Constitutional proposals contain amendment drafts, alterations, and related correspondence.
Council officer files, dating from 1848-1980, contain the correspondence and subjects files of Academy officers—presidents, vice presidents, corresponding secretaries, and treasurers—concerning all matters of Academy business and operations including membership, gifts and funds, the federal charter, exhibitions, juries, the school, scholarships, committee affairs, anniversaries, publicity, administrative matters, resignations, and relationships with other organizations.
General administrative files date from 1825-1982 and include ledgers, certificates, correspondence, and legal documents pertaining to the Academy's founding, building, financial accounts, art collection, and other administrative matters.
Exhibition files, dating from 1826-2003, document the Academy's long exhibition history and includes annual, gallery, special, and museum exhibitions. Files may include exhibition catalogs, photographs, press clippings, sales records, and correspondence related to jury selection, awards and prizes, and logistical planning. Files pertaining to the Academy's annual exhibitions comprise a bulk of the series. Held since 1826, the Annuals were organized and curated by Academy members, and considered to be an important and sweeping survey of contemporary American art.
Gifts and funding files date from 1860-2009 and include financial documents, ledgers, legal material, and correspondence concerning the bequests, endowments, donations, and other gifts that financed the operations of the Academy and school. A significant number of records pertain to the Abbey Trust Fund and the Archer M. Hunting Fund.
Membership files, 1826-2012, document Academy members, honorary members, fellows, and the nominations and elections whereby members were voted into the Academy. Materials include registers, certificates, nomination ledgers and proposals, candidate biographies, and ballots.
The National Academy Association files date from 1911-1959 and contain a constitution, plan, and agreement, as well as correspondence, meeting minutes, and reports for the Association, incorporated in 1912 with the aim to erect a building shared by several New York art societies. At the time of incorporation, the Association consisted of members from the National Academy of Design, American Water Color Society, American Institute of Architects, Architectural League of New York, New York Water Color Club, National Sculpture Society, Municipal Art Society, Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, Mural Painters, Society of Illustrators, and a number of city representatives and citizens.
The Ranger Fund assignment files, 1919-2008, document the distribution of artworks by living American artists to institutions throughout the United States, in accordance with the will of Henry Ward Ranger. The Ranger Fund was initiated to stimulate public interest in the work of contemporary American painters in 1919, when the Academy received a bequest from Henry Ward Ranger, totaling $400,000. Ranger stated in his will that the capital should be invested and the income used as a purchase fund to facilitate gifts of paintings by living American artists to arts institutions throughout the United States. Files document the assignment of particular works of art to institutions through the official agreement, related correspondence, and in some instances, photographs of the artwork.
Extensive school records, dating from 1826-2008, contain administrative files, enrollment records, course files, student affairs files, and printed material documenting all aspects of the school's activities aligned with the Academy's mission to educate aspiring professional artists. A bulk of this series consists of student course registrations, documented in registers, then on index cards beginning in the 1930s. While information collected varied over the decades, registrations document student names and the year, and may additionally include course name, instructor, and cost.
Twenty Academy scrapbooks document the organization's activities from 1828-1939 and include clippings and ephemera. Three of the scrapbooks are devoted to specific topics, including one for the Society of American Artists, one for both the Society of American Artists and the Society of American Fakirs, and one for the Academy's centennial exhibition.
The Society of American Artists files, 1878-1906, document the formation of the Society as a departure from the Academy in 1877, its independent operations and activities, and its eventual consolidation with the Academy in 1906. The Society's members have included Edwin Abbey, James Carroll Beckwith, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, George Inness Jr., John La Farge, Albert Pinkham Ryder, among many others.
Files from other organizations date from 1817-1997 and may include correspondence, ledgers, and printed material. Many of these organizations had business with the Academy, and records pertain to events, meetings, and exhibitions. Notable organizations include the American Academy of Fine Arts, American Federation of Arts, American Watercolor Society, Art Students League, Fine Arts Federation of New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Etching Club, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and Salmagundi Club.
Oral history transcripts date from 2002-2007. Eight comprehensive interviews, conducted by Avis Berman for the Academy, are with Academy members and cover all aspects of the artists' lives, including family, early life, beginning career, mentors, contemporaries, influences, patrons, awards, residencies, as well as the artists' relationship with the Academy. The interview transcripts provide first-hand accounts of the organization, particularly from circa 1940 up to the time of the interview. Artists interviewed include Will Barnet, Hyman Bloom, Richard Haas, Ellen Lanyon, Jules Olitski, Bernard Olshan, Paul Resika, and Dorothea Rockburne.
Photographic material, dating from 1845-2010, includes a wide variety of formats and processes including 19th and 20th photographic prints, glass plate negatives, copy prints, contact sheets, slides, and 35mm negatives. Subjects include artists and others associated with the Academy, the school, exhibitions and events, Academy buildings, artwork, and reference photographs. Many 19th century photographs contain descriptive annotations. Supplementary inventories and guides prepared by Academy archivists are scattered throughout the series.
Artist files date from 1826-2004 and include the correspondence, writings, manuscripts, diaries, exhibition catalogs, and clippings of many notable artists involved with the Academy, including Asher B. Durand and Rembrandt Peale. Of particular note are two notebooks Durand gifted to the Academy, both containing notes and sketches from anatomy lectures.
While printed material is scattered throughout, the final series collects a small number of additional announcements, brochures, clippings, illustrations, and other ephemera not filed in other series.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The bulk of the collection was donated by the National Academy of Design in 2018. The trustees' ledger book in series 6 was donated in 1979 by Warder Cadbury of the Adirondack Museum; it is unclear how Cadbury acquired the ledger. Microfilm reels 798-799 containing transcriptions of minutes were given to the Archives by Lois Fink in 1974.
Processing Information
The collection was processed and a finding aid prepared by Hilary Price and Caroline Donadio in 2018. The Minutes and Committee Files series was processed by National Academy of Design project archivist Anna Bekker is 2013, and preliminary processing of the entire collection was completed by other Academy archivists prior to donation. Series 18: Artist Files was further processed by Stephanie Ashley and digitized in 2020.