Fifty years ago, in Detroit, the Archives of American Art was founded by E. P. Richardson, then director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Lawrence A. Fleischman, a young collector and patron of the arts. Richardson, author of a pioneering work on American art, realized that there were few places a researcher could go to find primary source material on the subject and that scholars often had to travel great distances to find original documents to support their work.
The Archives was founded to facilitate their research by microfilming papers housed in repositories across the country and depositing the films at their offices. This proved such a success that it was suggested that the Archives should itself become a repository for the original documents that obviously needed a home. From those early gifts in the 1950s, the Archives, since 1970 a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, has grown into a manuscript repository that is the single most important resource in the world for the study of the visual arts in America.
Celebrating Fifty Years: The Archives of American Art, 1954-2004 honors the vision of the Archives' founders by displaying fifty extraordinary documents from our rich collections.