Capstone presentation for studio archive field experience

As part of both the Learning from Artists’ Archives initiative and my SILS coursework, I participated in a field experience in which I established the studio archive for Durham letterpress artist Brian Allen. To learn more about the project, please view the video of the capstone presentation below.

In order to follow along with the transcript or to view the presentation alone, please visit

Path of Least Resistance: Mirroring Organizational Patterns in Artists’ Archives

FOR MY ORIGINAL POST, see the blog for the Learning from Artists’ Archives initiative.

Prior to becoming 2nd year fellows of the Artists’ Archives initiative, our application of knowledge was largely general.  We led workshop sessions for groups of artists and presented at library conferences, but rarely did we provide in depth, tailored consultations with individual artists who had particular needs.  Starting this year, however, my class of fellows has filled that gap by digging into the second internship required by the initiative: consulting with a North Carolina artist to establish their studio archive.

Tailoring the artists’ archives knowledge to a specific artist’s needs has clarified my understanding of the power of organization on an artist’s practice.  It has also brought to the fore what is required of an artist-archivist team before even touching the materials to start the archive.  First, we have to get at the underlying psychology behind why and how someone naturally organizes.  For my artist, Durham letterpress artist Brian Allen, this meant digging down to (1) how he prioritizes, categorizes and uses his materials currently, (2) how he intends to use them in the future and (3) how he naturally arranges this materials.

Establishing existing priorities, categories and uses for studio materials is an essential first step for two main reasons, one being the archival principal of ‘original order’ and the other the long term viability of maintaining the archive.  Archivists prioritize keeping materials or a collection in original order where it makes sense for the collection’s internal logic and intended audience.  The principle of original order becomes particularly vital when an archive will be actively used by the original creator of the collection.  To drive the point home, here’s a more mundane example of the impact of original order on making a grouping of items searchable.  Have you ever had a family member or friend who decided to  ‘help’ you by reorganizing your kitchen, closet or desk?  Remember how you couldn’t find anything for days (possibly weeks, maybe never again) after?  That’s because the priorities and categories they assigned to your materials didn’t align with yours or your patterns of use. In archival terms, they abandoned the original order – the internal logic – of your materials. Like with home organization, the usefulness of an archive only stretches as far as it is navigable from a user standpoint.  Understanding current use and workflows regarding studio materials allows archivists to replicate them as appropriate going forward.  That way the archives works for and with the artist for which it was constructed.

The appropriateness of maintaining original order is determined, in part, by intended future use of the materials, as well.  For Brian, his intended future use of his artistic production as a legacy collection for donation takes a backseat to just having it immediately arranged so that he’s aware of and can find all that he has and so that he can identify where projects overlap and relate.  However, his extensive reference library is another story.  Brian expressed an interest in having his extensive catalogue updated, but not for his current, personal use.  Instead, he envisions his library as a community resource that would be just one aspect of opening his studio up to the community as a gallery and learning space.  These attitudes towards use of his studio materials and reference collection drove the decisions we made regarding arrangement and how much to alter or maintain his pre-established arrangement, priorities and categories.

Determining natural organization practices represents the final step in pre-action preparation for establishing a studio archive. As our physical storage handout outlines, most people fall into three categories: (1) piler, (2) filer and (3) spring cleaner (see image below).  Brian—like myself—tends to be a combination of piler and spring cleaner.  To make any organizational strategy functional in the long run, the structure needs to follow the path of least resistance.  As anyone with failed New Year’s resolutions can attest, maintaining new behaviors that don’t work with natural inclinations or ingrained patterns requires too much effort and too many habit alterations to be sustainable.  For Brian’s studio archive, this meant maintaining the categories he’d already assigned his materials, both consciously and unconsciously, in clear plastic boxes that allow him to see both the label and the contents.  The boxes are also highly portable and maintained on shelves that also move.  His space tends to fluctuate in purpose, so ensuring that his storage accommodated this was essential.  Even his oversized materials that require flat file storage are in units with casters and labelled according to their categorized contents.  By working with Brian’s natural inclinations and making maintaining the organization as simple as possible, the hope is that maintenance will feel intuitive and thus not require Brian to employ someone to manage his materials after I finish up my term with him.


Artists’ Studio Archives: Managing Personal Collections & Creative Legacies

Are you an artist looking to get your studio and personal materials organized to help you maintain order (both physically & digitally), manage your finances, apply for grants & fellowships, or prepare for legacy matters?  The free, online workbook Artists’ Studio Archives: Managing Personal Collections & Creative Legacies answers those issues and more.  It’s also available for print-on-demand at

Authors Neal Ambrose-Smith, Joan E. Beaudoin, Heather Gendron and Eumie Imm-Stroukoff collaborated to create an actionable workbook of best practices based on case studies and studio visits.  Between the easy-to-read instructions and well designed worksheets, this workbook will set you on your way to establishing and maintaining a functional, accessible studio archive one step at a time.

For more, see this blog post from the Artist Studio Archives website.

Institutional Internships Commence: The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center

Happy Summer all!

I’m ecstatic to share that, as part of the Artists’ Archives initiative, I’m spending the next three months working as an intern in the Archives department at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

O'Keeffe Museum Research Center

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a single-artist institution dedicated to the life and work of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986).  The art collection reflects O’Keeffe’s experience primarily in northern New Mexico, Texas and New York, comprising over 3,000 oil paintings, watercolors and drawings.[1]  In addition to her art, the Museum also maintains two historic properties owned by the artist in Abiquiu and on Ghost Ranch, roughly an hour north of Santa Fe.

The Museum recently opened an exhibition on Georgia O’Keeffe’s Far Wide Texas, part of the installation of Becoming A Modern Artist.  Portions of the collections are also on loan to the Tate Modern for its upcoming exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe and The Harwood Museum of Art for its exhibition Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company: American Moderns and The West.

Besides the Museum proper and the historic houses, the O’Keeffe campus (as the staff calls it) extends to the Education and Conservation departments, as well as the Research Center, which houses the artist’s Library and Archives.  The relationship between Curatorial, the Registrar and the Archives is especially close-knit.  Even the interns benefit from this team mentality; staff members throughout the campus have extended invitations for me to shadow them and join their interns for relevant events.  As part of this, I will sit in on inter-department staff meetings, join both the Registrar’s interns and the library staff for cataloguing at the historic properties, tour the galleries with Curatorial’s drawing interns, and meet with the director of the Research Center for a glimpse into the planning for an upcoming forum for single-artist institutions.

This year, the Museum focused the arrangement of its galleries around themes, which accommodates display of the personal effects of O’Keeffe, which are the purview of the Archives.  Thus, Curatorial and Research Center staff are navigating a new relationship that fosters increased coordination of collections.  As a nearly life-long fan of the art and aesthetic of O’Keeffe, I’m thrilled to act as a fly on the wall while the two departments work out the kinks, such as what to do if a researcher presents a compelling need for an archival item that’s being housed in the galleries, or if another museum requests the item for an exhibition.

The scope of the Archives covers O’Keeffe’s life and artistic practice, American Modernism as it relates to O’Keeffe and her circle (including her husband Alfred Stieglitz), local histories relevant to O’Keeffe and her interests, and institutional history for the Museum.[2]  Currently, the Center’s archivist, Liz Ehrnst, is reviewing the collections development policy to tighten the scope even more on materials not just relating to, but significant to a deeper understanding of O’Keeffe and her artistic practice.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center Library

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center Library

[for the rest of the post, click: Institutional Internships Commence]


Learning from Artists’ Archives ARLIS/SE Conference Presentation

In 2015, Erin Dickey, Kelsey Moen and I all presented on the Learning from Artists’ Archives initiative for the ARLIS/SE regional conference in Atlanta, GA.

Embedded below is a copy of our slides.  To see the accompanying text, click the gear symbol and select Open Speaker Notes


2015 Archiving for Artists Workshop follow up: where are we now?

[Original post dated 19 April 2016]

Now that our first Archiving for Artists workshop is six months gone, we’ve begun planning our next workshop in earnest, scheduled for 8 October at the Mint Museum.  To help us improve upon the successes and weaknesses of the 2015 workshop, I checked in with some of our previous attendees to see how they’re processing through and applying their workshop experience.  Alberto Ortega Rodas, Keanna Artis and Eric Serritellagenerously responded to my questions with thoughtful and revelatory answers.

I asked the artists six questions:

  1. Which skills or tools from the workshop have you found most useful to your studio’s organization, artistic practice or personal archive?
  2. How did the workshop change your attitudes towards maintaining a studio archive?
  3. What are you struggling with most in terms of your studio archive?
  4. What do you see as the primary benefit of maintaining your studio archive?
  5. How have you maintained contact with other artists, archivists or art historians in attendance at the workshop?  Has that contact impacted the way you continue to think of your studio archive?
  6. Are there skills or topics you wish the workshop covered more deeply?

[for the full post, click:]

Archiving for Artists Workshop 2015: The Event Approaches

[Original post dated 28 September 2015]

The first weekend in October looms just over the horizon.  The Archiving for Artists signs are being printed, the worksheets edited, and the workbook compiled.  Our final preparation is to refamiliarize ourselves with our upcoming audience.  To do so, we examined the applications of those who will be attending the workshop.

The group is diverse in their mediums, backgrounds and archival needs.  They have various expectations for what they will learn, from how to archive without a computer to how to archive their Web presence.

Alberto Ortega Rodas, for example, is a mid-career painter particularly interested in the documentation of artistic process.  While his finished work is painting, a large part of his process involves multiple media: photography, digital image processing and digital sketching.  These media allow him to “explore lighting situations and to envision paintings and to spark ideas.”  The resulting digital images form an archive of their own, separate from the paintings, to which he refers frequently.  The difficulty Alberto Ortega Rodas finds in researching other artists’ inspirations and holistic practices inspires his interest in ensuring documentation of his own to assist other artists or researchers.

Beyond his interest in documenting process, Alberto Ortega Rodas also hopes to learn more about image, storage and sale inventories for his paintings, as well as appraisal and disposition of his documentation and materials…[for the rest of the post, click:]