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Vertical File Collection at the AA/PG Library

Sloan1Vertical files in art museums and libraries are repositories of “ephemera” — things that are not intended to last a long time. Among other things, the ephemera collected in the artist files may be: announcements of exhibitions, small catalogs, press releases, clippings from various print sources, and correspondences.

The vertical file collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum / National Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG) supports the mission of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery. The mission for all of the Smithsonian is for ‘The increase and diffusion of knowledge’. In this particular case the knowledge relates to the understanding of the American Experience especially in the visual arts.

The vertical file collection is extremely valuable to researchers not only because of its age and depth but because of the "ephemeral" nature of material in the files.  Since these objects were not meant to be retained, a lot of them are very rare.  Additionally their historical value is very high. The AA/PG Library’s Vertical File Collection, housed in a climate controlled room, is heavily used by curators, historians, interns, fellows, andSloan3 outside researchers who may travel quite a distance to view the contents of particular vertical file. The artist files that are available can be searched in an online database.


Future blog postings will highlight examples of some of the material housed in the AA/PG Library’s Vertical Files. Today we feature objects from the file of the American artist John Sloan.

Born in 1871, John Sloan started his artistic career as a newspaper illustrator for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Press. In 1904, he moved from Philadelphian to New York. In 1908, he exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery with  Arthur Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, and Everett Shinn. Eventually, this group of artists became known as “The Eight”.  Although their artistic styles were different their philosophy was basically the same: a sympathetic study of all of human existence. Later, this interest in everyday life, especially in poor neighborhoods, led to their work to be labeled “The Ashcan School”. Although he loved the city life, Sloan spent most summers in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  During these sojourns he came in contact with the aesthetic traditions of American Indian Art which he decided to promote. At the Grand Central Galleries in New York City, in November 1931, as president of the Society of Independent Artists, Sloan attempted to present the first comprehensive exhibition of all Indian tribes that were living in the United States.—Alice Clarke

Top image (left to right):

  • Checklist of an "Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, and Etchings by John Sloan at the C.M. Kraushaar Art Galleries, March 19th to April 7 1917"
  • Bulletin from the Delaware Art Museum, spring 1978 describing the donation of the Sloan archives by his wife Helen Farr Sloan

Bottom image (left to right):

  • Exhibition announcement for "Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts", Grand Central At Galleries, November 1931 (found in the Institutional file for Grand Central Art Galleries), Winter 1956
  • Philadelphia Museum Bulletin featuring the exhibition "John Sloan Memorial: His Complete Graphic Work"
  • Checklist of an exhibition in 1963 for "Drawings and Prints by John Sloan 1871-1951" at the Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY

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