Skip to main content

Paul Vanderbilt papers, 1854-1992, bulk 1945-1992

Paul Vanderbilt papers, 1854-1992, bulk 1945-1992

Vanderbilt, Paul, 1905-1992

Curator, Librarian, Photographer

Collection Information

Size: 26.2 linear feet

Summary: The papers of librarian, curator, and photographer Paul Vanderbilt (1905-1992) measure 26.2 linear feet and date from 1854 to 1992 with the bulk of the material dating from 1945 to 1992. The papers are comprised of biographical materials, personal and business correspondence, interviews, writings and notes, fourteen diaries and two diary fragments, reference and project files, photographic materials, sound recordings, and professional files.

Biographical/Historical Note

Paul Vanderbilt (1905-1992) was a librarian, curator, and photographer of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wisconsin. Vanderbilt's work in bibliographic control, led Roy Stryker, of the Farm Security Administration's Historical Section (later the Office of War Information), to hire Vanderbilt to arrange and classify the vast FSA-OWI photographs. When the collection was transferred to the Library of Congress in 1944, Vanderbilt went with it as Curator of the newly formed Prints and Photographs Division. He remained at LC until 1954, when he left to join the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, where he established the Iconography division. He became a photographer himself toward the later part of his career.

Provenance

Donated 1981 by Paul Vanderbilt, and in 1993 by his estate through John W. Winn, executor.

Related Materials

Funding

Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

A Finding Aid to the Paul Vanderbilt Papers, 1854-1992, bulk 1945-1992, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.vandpaul
Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Mundy
Biographical/Historical note
Paul Vanderbilt (1905-1992) was a librarian, curator, and photographer active in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and Madison, Wisconsin.
Paul Vanderbilt was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and educated in Germany, Switzerland, and Massachusetts. He attended Amherst College from 1923 to 1925 before transferring to Harvard where he graduated with a BA in art history in 1927. After graduation, Vanderbilt traveled to Europe where he studied at the American School of Librarianship in Paris and the Institut de Psychologie Bibliogique in Lausanne. In 1929, he returned to the United States and became a librarian at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and director of the Union Library Catalog project for the Philadelphia area.
In 1941 Vanderbilt began working under Roy Stryker cataloging the extensive photographic survey collection of the Farm Security Administration and U.S. Office of War Information. The collection is a rich resource of images of American life between 1935 and 1944. In 1943, the FSA photograph collection was transferred to the Library of Congress and Vanderbilt went with it as the curator of the newly formed Prints and Photographs Division, eventually becoming the Division chief of fine arts.
During the early 1950s, Vanderbilt also served as the director of the Graphic History Society of America. There he published a quarterly bulletin
Eye to Eye
and developed a guide to iconography in Iran. In 1954, he became the Curator of Iconographic Collections at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and worked there until he retired in 1972.
Vanderbilt remained active after retirement. He became an artist-in-residence at the Apeiron Workshops, worked as a photographer for the Seagram courthouse project and the George Eastman House, and was a presenter at multiple conferences. Vanderbilt devoted much of his later life to working on his book titled
Between the Landscape and its Other
which was published posthumously after Vanderbilt's death in 1992.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 10 series.
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1894-1992 (0.5 linear feet; Box 1)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1933-1992 (1.5 linear feet; Box 1-2)
Series 3: Interviews, 1967-1992 (1.5 linear feet; Box 2-4)
Series 4: Writings and Notes, 1887-1992 (4.0 linear feet; Box 4-8)
Series 5: Diaries, 1926-1990 (0.5 linear feet; Box 8)
Series 6: Reference Files, 1877-1992 (2.5 linear feet; Box 8-10, 26)
Series 7: Project Files, 1935-1990 (3.0 linear feet; Box 10-13)
Series 8: Professional Files, 1854-1991 (11.7 linear feet; Box 13-24)
Series 9: Photographic Materials, 1912-1980s (0.5 linear feet; Box 24)
Series 10: Sound Recordings, circa 1980s (0.5 linear feet; Box 24-25)
Scope and Contents note
The papers of librarian, curator, and photographer Paul Vanderbilt (1905-1992) measure 26.2 linear feet and date from 1854 to 1992 with the bulk of the material dating from 1945 to 1992. The papers are comprised of biographical materials, personal and business correspondence, interviews, writings and notes, fourteen diaries and two diary fragments, reference and project files, photographic materials, sound recordings, and professional files.
Biographical materials include seven appointment books, family letters and documents, and an honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin.
Vanderbilt's correspondence is with colleagues, and organizations including Dorothea Lange, Beaumont Newhall, Roy Stryker, and Julia Vanderbilt.
Sound recordings of interviews of Vanderbilt conducted by Mary North Allen, Barbara Crane, Carl Haywood, Jack Holzhueter, and Jane Plunkett. Other recordings are of Vanderbilt discussing his personal and professional life.
Writings by Paul Vanderbilt include drafts of
Between the Landscape and its Other
, poems, lectures, student papers, and notes on a variety of subjects. Writings by others are found for William Blake, Gregory Conniff, Woody Guthrie, Michael Lesy, Arnold R. Pilling, Jesse H. Shera, and Roy Stryker.
Fourteen of Vanderbilt's personal diaries and two diary fragments date from 1926 to 1990.
Reference files consist of printed materials on art, art historians, book reviews, library and information studies, photography and microphotography techniques, and other themes of interest to Vanderbilt. Project files include material from Vanderbilt's various projects including a guide to the iconography of Iran, the reclassification of FSA photographs, and the Union Library Catalog of Philadelphia.
Included in professional files are administrative records, correspondence, exhibition files, project files, printed material, and research files created during Vanderbilt's career at the Library of Congress, Graphic History Society, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Farm Security Administration. Also found are materials for Vanderbilt's work as a consultant for several organizations, lecture documents, and art-related workshops.
Photographs are by and of Paul Vanderbilt, the staff of the Library of Congress, and George Talbot. Negatives include images for the Farm Security Administration. Bibliography cards and photographs of artwork from the Library of Congress can be found on microfilm reels within the collection.
Also found are fourteen unidentified sound recordings.
Provenance
Donated 1981 by Paul Vanderbilt, and in 1993 by his estate through John W. Winn, executor.
Related Archival Materials note
Also found at the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Paul Vanderbilt conducted by Richard Doud on November 10, 1964.
Processing Information note
This collection was processed and a finding aid prepared by Sarah Mundy in 2015 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care and Preservation Fund. The Archives of American Art has implemented accelerated processing when possible to increase information about and access to more of our collections. For this collection, accelerated processing included arrangement to the series, subseries and folder levels, adhering to the creator's original arrangement as much as possible. Generally, folder contents were simply verified with the original folder titles, but items within folders were not arranged further. All materials were rehoused in archival folders and boxes for long-term stability, but staples and other fasteners have not all been removed.

Additional Forms Available

Some of the sound recordings in this collection have been copied for research access and digital copies are available in the Archives of American Art offices.

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

Paul Vanderbilt papers, 1854-1992, bulk 1945-1992. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available