Saving America’s Treasures

As part of the federal Save America’s Treasures initiative to preserve significant historic properties and collections, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art has been awarded a matching grant of $250,000 for the preservation and digitization of the Archives’ Oral History Collection, one of the oldest, most-consulted and historically significant oral-history collections in the country. The Archives is the nation’s pre-eminent repository for primary sources documenting the history of the visual arts.

The ever-expanding Oral History Collection, begun in 1958, contains nearly 2,000 interviews with artists, collectors, critics, dealers and others, and is central to a fuller understanding of American art, creativity and culture. Common themes such as working methods, sources of inspiration, regional affinities, and issues of race, gender and politics emerge across artistic mediums and generations. Areas of concentration that have yielded fundamental information focus on the New Deal art programs, Latino art, African American art, pop art, feminism, photorealism, public art commissions, new media and the art market. Recently, the Archives produced 175 interviews with nationally prominent artists who shaped the field of contemporary craft.

"Employment of Negroes in Agriculture" 1934, oil on canvas by Earle Richardson.

"Employment of Negroes in Agriculture" 1934, oil on canvas by Earle Richardson.

Despite the stewardship the Archives currently provides, these unique, original sound recordings totaling over 6,000 hours, face permanent loss due to deterioration, damage and format obsolescence. Through basic preservation reformatting, further deterioration will be halted. In addition, obvious defects will be removed, sound quality enhanced and greater access and use of the interviews will be possible. The Save America’s Treasures grant ensures the preservation of this irreplaceable collection for the benefit of future generations.            

The Archives of American Art is the world’s pre-eminent resource dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America. For more information, visit the Archives Web site at www.aaa.si.edu.

Posted: 15 January 2010
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The Torch relies on contributions from the entire Smithsonian community.