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A closer look at the BMA Archives

Through a grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the BMA Archive is working to provide greater access to some of its most heavily-used collections. As part of my work as the Project Archivist on this grant, I’m processing the Archives’ Photographs Collection: more than 150 boxes (43 linear feet, in archivist-speak) of photographic material documenting exhibitions, events, people, and the BMA grounds from 1923 to the present. The collection provides a rich visual overview of the BMA’s history—and the people and works of art that have shaped the institution.

The BMA’s Archives holds some particular gems, but as with many archival collections, more value can be found in the sum of its parts.

Model of the Waterman house parlor of Warren, Rhode Island, circa 1820, American Rooms in Miniature by Mrs. James Ward Thorne exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1943. Exhibitions Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art.

For example, look at this photograph. At first glance it appears to be a 19th century parlor, or maybe collection of furniture in one of the BMA’s period rooms.

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Model of the West Parlor, Mount Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia, 1743-1799, American Rooms in Miniature by Mrs. James Ward Thorne exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1943. Image courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago (Image No. 00044752-02)

But looking through other photographs from this exhibition, it quickly becomes apparent that something else is going on here. These images show the intricately decorated interiors of American Rooms in Miniature by Mrs. James Ward Thorne shown at the BMA in 1943.

Other photos demonstrate changes in the BMA’s history over time. The Photographs Collection includes images from many of the Maryland Annual Artist exhibitions throughout the 20th century. Even just a quick glance at the images of the exhibition judges provides an interesting look into the changing tastes and interests of the art world.

Xavier Gonzalez, Concetta Scaravaglione and William Calfee, judges for the Fifteen Annual Maryland Artists exhibition, 1947

Xavier Gonzalez, Concetta Scaravaglione and William Calfee, Judges for the Fifteenth Annual Maryland Artists Exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1947. Exhibitions Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art

Charles Chetham, James Elliott, Richard Tuttle, jurors for the 1970 Maryland Annual exhibition, 1970

Charles Chetham, James Elliott, and Richard Tuttle, Jurors for the 1970 Maryland Annual exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1970. Exhibitions Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art

Finding aids for the Photograph Collection, along with the other collections whose processing is generously supported by the NHPRC, are currently being completed. Digital collections and other finding aids can be found on the BMA Archives site.

 

Introduction to the BMA Archives

LS1.2sThe Baltimore Museum of Art, from the south, circa 1940.

Everywhere you look at the BMA, there are connections to history—from the architecture of the John Russell Pope building to the re-creation of Claribel Cone and Etta Cone’s apartments. The Museum’s Archives is reflective of this, with a rich array of materials documenting the history of the BMA, as well as the art collectors and other people who have helped shape it from 1914 to the present. Whether you have a scholarly research question or are just curious about the BMA’s past, helpful resources can be found in the Archives.

What’s in the Archives?
The Archives’ collection comprises approximately 1,400 linear feet or almost four football fields of primary source material such as letters, diaries, meeting minutes, photographs, films, audio recordings, architectural plans, research notes, and financial documents.  These are divided into two distinct parts: institutional records and manuscripts. The former are records of the activities of the Museum’s staff, volunteers, and trustees. For example, the Prints, Drawings and Photographs Department Records include curators’ research for exhibitions, correspondence about purchasing works of art, and logistical documents for the Print Fairs.  Manuscripts, on the other hand, are the personal papers of art collectors and others with a connection to the Museum. Claribel Cone and Etta Cone’s papers include account books listing their purchases while traveling in Europe, letters from Claribel to Etta describing life in Germany during World War I, and photographs of their apartments in Baltimore.

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Front room, Claribel Cone’s apartment (8B), Marlborough Apartments, Baltimore, Maryland

How do I find resources and materials?
To learn more about the materials in the Archives, start by reviewing the finding aids, which are easily keyword searchable with your browser’s find function (Ctrl+f). Because of the volume of material inside each box listed in the finding aids (often hundreds of items), you will find general descriptions of categories of materials called series or sub-series—correspondence, financial records, research, etc. When the significance of the materials warrants more information, detailed folder or item descriptions may also be included.

If you spot something that seems helpful to your research, please contact us. You don’t need to be a BMA member to visit the Archives. All researchers are welcome, by appointment, Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.  To make an appointment, call (443) 573-1778 or email bmalibrary@artbma.org.       

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Letter from Samuel Putnam Avery to George A. Lucas, August 25, 1895