Archives of American Art Launches Online Guide Documenting American Art in Chicago

By the Archives
May 1, 2017
Collection Also Includes 10 New Oral Histories with Major Chicago Arts Leaders

The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art and the Terra Foundation for American Art today announced the launch of a new online guide to American art-related archival collections in the Chicago area. A $413,000 grant from the Chicago-based Terra Foundation supported a comprehensive survey of art-related archives in more than 75 Chicago-area institutions. This new resource has been published on an interactive platform on the Archives’ newly redesigned website.

Complementing the survey are 10 new oral-history interviews with influential art world figures in Chicago, as well as extensive documentation of the Archives’ holdings of Chicago-related materials, also funded under the grant. This project is part of the Terra Foundation’s Art Design Chicago initiative, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design history and legacy taking place in 2018.

“The project aligns with the Archives’ mission to collect, preserve and make available primary source material documenting the visual arts in the United States and with the Terra Foundation’s aim to foster innovative approaches to American art scholarship,” said Kate Haw, director of the Archives of American Art. “Our ongoing partnership with the Terra Foundation allows us to provide new web-based technologies that are transforming online research and vastly improving the discovery and dissemination of archival resources.”

“Providing access to the highest-quality primary source documents is an integral part of our efforts to make the historical art of the United States widely available to audiences across the globe,” said Terra Foundation President and CEO Elizabeth Glassman. “By collaborating with the Archives on this initiative, we will draw worldwide attention to a robust repository of material on American art located in Chicago, much of which showcases the vibrant artistic legacy of the city where the Terra Foundation was established and is headquartered. We are also delighted to add ten new spirited voices to the Archives’ oral-history collection—Chicago luminaries who have contributed meaningfully to the art world.”

To improve access to art-related archival material in the Chicago area, the Archives engaged art historian Wendy Greenhouse to survey Chicago-area repositories and their holdings, to update the Archives’ guide Art-Related Archival Materials in the Chicago Area, originally compiled by Betty Blum. Published in 1991, the guide was the culmination of the Archives’ Chicago Documentation Project, launched in 1985. Listings were updated and expanded, and collections in newer public repositories were added.

Since the guide’s publication, new organizations and institutions with art-related archives have emerged—the National Museum of Mexican Art and Media Burn Independent Video Archive among them—and established collections have added such freestanding units as the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University Chicago and the Roger Brown Study Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Greenhouse’s survey revealed myriad historical connections and art-related material embedded in the collections and repositories. For example, the papers of composer John Alden Carpenter (Newberry Library), whose wife, designer Rue Winterbotham Carpenter, was co-founder in 1916 of the Arts Club of Chicago, contain correspondence with the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Gerald Murphy, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and John Singer Sargent.

Another highlight of the project is the production of oral-history interviews with 10 influential Chicago artists, curators and gallerists for the Archives’ renowned-oral history program. Providing a window onto Chicago’s art scene over decades, the interviews yield a richness of detail, spontaneous reflections and a sense of character not available in written records. The subjects include Dennis Adrian (b. 1937), William Conger (b. 1937), Art Green (b. 1941), Theodore Halkin (b. 1924), Rhona Hoffman (b. 1934), Ken Josephson (b. 1932), Vera Klement (b. 1929), Suellen Rocca (b. 1943), Franz Schulze (b. 1927) and Evelyn Statsinger (1927–2016).

Additional digitized materials will be added to the Archives’ website when available. The platform is designed to accommodate future geographically based surveys, collection descriptions, oral-history interviews and links with open source and open data initiatives among other archives, museums, libraries and other cultural heritage institutions.

About Terra Foundation for American Art

Established in 1978, the Terra Foundation for American Art is dedicated to fostering the exploration, understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts of the United States. With financial resources of more than $350 million, an exceptional collection of American art from the colonial period to 1945 and an expansive grant program, it is one of the leading foundations focused on American art, supporting exhibitions, academic programs, publications and research worldwide. Since 2005, the Terra Foundation has provided more than $80 million for nearly 800 exhibitions and education and scholarly programs in more than 30 countries, including Brazil, China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom. For more information, visit