News and Events: Archive:

Libraries' project to build digital directory
of women artists' archives:
Receives $149,000 Getty Fdtn grant

The first digital directory of archives containing the papers of women artists active in the United States since World War II is being compiled at the Rutgers University Libraries. The project, the Women Artists Archives National Directory (WAAND), was awarded by $149,000 in support from the Getty Foundation, the philanthropic division of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The directory is scheduled to be available for use by scholars by the end of the year. More information about WAAND is available on its website, http://WAAND.rutgers.edu.

"Papers," in this case, includes letters, sketchbooks, diaries, artworks, digital files, business records, photographs and memorabilia – the accumulations of a lifetime. The Rutgers effort, led by art historian and librarian Ferris Olin and Professor Emerita Judith K. Brodsky, will build a digital directory of all the sources where such papers might be found. When the project is complete, scholars and students will be able to find out quickly where artists´ papers are housed and how best to gain access to them.

"Women have been key leaders across the landscape of late-20th century art," says Olin, librarian at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library. "The reintroduction of the figure as a potent means of expression, the use of nontraditional materials and the establishment of alternative exhibition spaces are just a few of the widely adopted innovations that can be traced to the Women´s Art Movement. WAAND´s mission is to make accessible all the research data on this extraordinary generation."

"The beginning of the 21st century is a good time to look at our recent history," Brodsky says. "So often in the past we have seen women written out of the historical record. WAAND can establish a virtual – and actual -- community of interest in women artists and their work by providing universal access to information on this vital group of culture-makers." One of the project´s goals is to motivate today's older artists to organize their own papers for donation to appropriate research collections, both to benefit researchers and to influence and inspire the next generation of artists, Brodsky says.

The task is formidable, partly because of how various and widely scattered the archives and their contents are and partly because the technical challenge is so great. Consider a fictional example: an artist named Ann Smith, active in Iowa between 1945 and 1952, when she died in an equally fictional automobile accident. Imagine that Smith was a school teacher, married and the mother of one child, and that she lived her entire life in a single small town. Her works hang in that town – in its library, town hall, police station, courthouse and churches. What constitutes her papers, and where might they be found? Nicole Plett, the WAAND project manager, says WAAND aims to make it easy for researchers to find out.

"We want you to be able to look up her name or any variant of her name – Ann Smith, or Annie Smith or her married name," Plett says. "Say Smith's watercolors and diaries are in the local public library, but a researcher discovered her in the 1990s, and left Iowa with a trunk full of her stuff. When the directory is built, you could run a search and find the location of any of her papers anywhere. Even if her correspondence were part of a larger collection at Iowa State, you'd find that, too."

Grace Agnew, associate university librarian for digital library systems, is working on the data model for the directory. "Directories are databases that tell you information about resources, but they also give you specific information about how to locate those resources," Agnew says. "WAAND will not only tell you information about a source, but also direct you to it via the World Wide Web."

Olin is head of the Margery Somers Foster Center: A Resource Center and Digital Archive on Women, Scholarship and Leadership and curator of the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series. Judith Brodsky is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the department of visual arts, Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers. She is also the founding director of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, an internationally recognized studio for leading-edge artists to create new work in printmaking and papermaking.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and its programs are based at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

The Getty Foundation provides crucial support to institutions and individuals throughout the world in fields that are aligned most closely with the Getty's strategic priorities. It therefore funds a diverse range of projects that promote learning and scholarship about the history of the visual arts and the conservation of cultural heritage, and it consistently searches for collaborative efforts that set high standards and make significant contributions. Additional information is available www.getty.edu/grants.

Posted May 2, 2005