Celebrating the Smithsonian's 175th Birthday with Archives of American Art

By Jess Purkis, Digital Initiatives Archivist, Archives of American Art

Happy 175th Birthday to the Smithsonian Institution!

Join the Archives of American Art and the Smithsonian Transcription Center over the next year as we celebrate the 175th birthday of the Smithsonian Institution. Explore the worlds of 175 different figures in the arts on their birthdays, one for each year since the Smithsonian's founding on August 10, 1846. Born from 1790 to 1945 and practically every year in between, we're seeking your help to celebrate the artists, collectors, dealers, gallery owners, and writers who shaped the arts in the United States from the 19th century to the present. By taking a deep dive into the Archives' collections and transcribing everything from journals to exhibition files to correspondence, you'll help us illuminate their lives and work.   


While it's impossible to list every single one of the 175 people that we're planning to highlight in the next twelve months, take a look below for a sneak peek at some of the people that we'll be featuring.  


Who in the art world was born on this day? Explore our ongoing projects throughout the next year and see!  







African American artist Norman Parish was born August 26, 1937, and founded the Parish Gallery in 1991, in Washington, DC. The records of the Parish Gallery are fully available online . Parish grew up in Chicago, contributing to the Wall of Respect mural there in 1967. When he opened the Parish Gallery, it was one of the few galleries owned by an African American at the time, and it became best-known for exhibiting work by African American and international artists.



Photograph of Norman Parish with artwork, circa 1980. Parish Gallery Records, 1940–2013. Archives of American Art. 








The Parish Gallery had its grand opening on June 25, 1991 and sent this invitation to the attendees. It closed its doors in 2013.  


Invitation to the Parish Gallery's grand opening, circa 1991. Parish Gallery Records, 1940–2013. Archives of American Art.











Beverly Buchanan was born October 8, 1940. Active in Macon, Georgia, she was an African American sculptor, painter, and land artist best known for her depictions of houses tied to Southern identity and memory. She created other works, too, some of which you can see in the Archives' collections online here,



Martin W. Kane. Beverly Buchanan in her studio, 1979. Beverly Buchanan Papers, 1912–2017. Archives of American Art.








Check out this artist's book by Buchanan, Hope This Helps You Survive Your Gallery Visit. It contains great advice for newcomers to the gallery scene.  


Beverly Buchanan. Hope This Helps You Survive Your Gallery Visit, undated. Beverly Buchanan Papers, 1912–2017. Archives of American Art.









Weaver and designer Dorothy Liebes was born October 14, 1899 and created textiles that used bold colors and unusual materials like glass rods, bamboo, grass, wire, and ticker tape to create distinctive textures. A highly successful businesswoman, her commissions included the United Nations Delegates Dining Room, the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel and the King of Saudi Arabia's traveling royal throne room. Her papers will be fully digitized and completely available online in September of 2021 here . Check back soon to explore them!



Photograph of Dorothy Liebes with a textile design, circa 1930s. Dorothy Liebes Papers, circa 1850–1973. Archives of American Art.








The front cover of the 1964 Bigelow-Sanford, Inc. annual report featured the "Pop Art" rug designed for them by Dorothy Liebes.  


Bigelow-Sanford, Inc., annual report, 1965. Dorothy Liebes Papers, circa 1850–1973. Archives of American Art.









Landscape painter and art educator Reuben Tam was born in January 17, 1916 in Kapa'a, Hawai'i. Exhibiting widely, he became well-known for his abstract landscapes and worked as an instructor at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School in 1946–1974. Tam also taught at Oregon State University, Haystack, and Queens College, CUNY. His papers are fully digitized and available here.



Hanna W. Schreiber. Photograph of Reuben Tam, undated. Reuben Tam Papers, 1931–2006. Archives of American Art.








Here's the January 1, 1932 page from Reuben Tam's diary. Tam's diaries have been previously transcribed at the Transcription Center, starting with his 1932 diary.  


Reuben Tam. Diary, 1932. Reuben Tam Papers, 1931–2006. Archives of American Art.









The inventor of Morse code, Samuel F. B. Morse, was also a portrait painter known for works featuring the Marquis de Lafayette, John Adams, and James Monroe. Born April 27, 1791, Morse was a founding member of the National Academy of Design , and his papers are fully digitized here . From 1826–1845 Morse served as the Academy's president, and during that time, he developed a concept for a single-wire telegraph and Morse code.



Reproduction of a photograph of Samuel F. B. Morse, circa 1850. Samuel F. B. Morse Papers, 1826–2009. Archives of American Art.








This 1872 printed account of the transmission of the first telegram from Washington, DC, to Baltimore, MD, is included in the collection. Morse successfully sent it on May 24, 1844.  


Benson J. Lossing. Clipping from "Professor Morse and the telegraph," circa 1872. Samuel F. B. Morse Papers, 1826–2009. Archives of American Art.









Sculptor Cornelia Chapin, born August 7, 1893, studied under Mateo Hernandez in Paris, France, and learned his techniques in wood and stone for direct carving from life. She was primarily known for her animal sculptures, one of which is on display at the National Zoo. She shared a studio with her close companion and fellow sculptor Marion Sanford until her death in 1972. Their joint papers are fully digitized and available online here.



Alfred Eisenstaedt. Cornelia Chapin at work, 1939. Marion Sanford and Cornelia Chapin Papers, 1929–1988. Archives of American Art.








In this photograph, Cornelia Chapin is hard at work carving a pelican sculpture from life at a zoo in Paris.  


Cornelia Chapin working on a sculpture of a pelican in Paris, circa 1936. Marion Sanford and Cornelia Chapin Papers, 1929–1988. Archives of American Art.




Since its founding in 1954, the Archives of American Art has been preserving and promoting access to resources about the US art world and the people active in it. In 2005, the Archives began making its extensive holdings available online through its digitization program, and today over 250 of its collections have been fully digitized, with countless others partially digitized, for a total of over 3 million images. With the help of all the amazing volunpeers at the Transcription Center, we're currently working to uncover the textual information locked away in these static images and expand access to them even further.