at the Smithsonian
The National Anthropological Archives's artwork collection, containing nearly 20,000 drawings from diverse cultures worldwide, has been recognized as one of the great treasures of the Smithsonian. Together with the Star-Spangled Banner and artifacts from the Apollo Space Program, this collection was honored with a grant from Save America's Treasures, a program designed to build public-private partnerships to preserve our common heritage. This $228,664 grant will be matched with private funds, in keeping with the NAA's program of supplementing government funding through grants, corporate sponsorship and private philanthropy. These varied sources of funding support the artwork project's intertwined goals of preservation, scholarship, and education.
The Save America's Treasures grant will help the archives preserve many fragile, easily damaged drawings. These collections provide a spectacular visual record of the art and culture of many parts of the world, especially America, offering a unique perspective on our nation's culture and history.
Some drawings were produced before photography was used to record U.S. scientific and geographical investigations, such as Commodore Perry's 1854 expedition to Japan or the Western railroad surveys of the mid 19th century. The NAA's collections of drawings by native artists, such as Sitting Bull's pictorial autobiography, were used to record and illustrate daily life. These collections are among the world's finest assemblage of works created before the commercialization of art in these communities.
A recent $140,000 matching award from the prestigious Getty Grant Program recognizes the artistic importance of these materials by providing for their conservation. Together, the two awards will support immediate, critical needs of the collection, while the Smithsonian will provide the environment necessary for long-term preservation. The collection will soon move to the Smithsonian's Museum Support Center, a state-of-the-art conservation and storage facility, where it will continue to be accessible to researchers.
Many of the archives' artwork collections, such as the Plains Indian drawings, have long been recognized as the essential foundation for scholarship in that area. Less widely known works from other regions, such as the American Southwest, offer the potential for a revised understanding of the history and development of the region's art. Smithsonian scholars who research these collections encourage others to learn from them through on-site research, publications, and loans to exhibitions worldwide. Several hundred researchers visit the National Anthropological Archives each year, but the greatest opportunity to engage the widest possible audience is via the Internet.
The NAA has launched an ambitious project to digitize its collections
and place them on the Web, combining support from federal sources and corporate
sponsorship. Several of the archives' pilot projects (such as the exhibit of Kiowa Indian drawings) are already drawing thousands of
online visitors each week, demonstrating keen interest in these archival collections by
students, scholars and
the public. The
development of more substantial online exhibits offers unique opportunities for private
philanthropy to join with federal and foundation support to
exhibit these hidden treasures of the Smithsonian to a wider public.