Archives of American Art Presents “Finding: Source Material in the Archives of American Art”

Exhibition Shows Sources of Artists’ Inspriation April 22–Aug. 21
April 14, 2016
News Release

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Comic book clipping

In its exhibition “Finding: Source Material in the Archives of American Art,” the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art reveals how artists find inspiration. The Archives’ collections hold a kaleidoscopic array of source materials; many of these materials are somewhat ordinary: comic-strip panels, newspaper clippings and snapshots of mundane scenes. Yet the ways in which artists draw on them provides a glimpse into the twists and turns of their creative practices.

The exhibition will be on view at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture from April 22 to Aug. 21.

“This exhibition brings us to the very source of inspiration, offering us insight into how artists find meaning in the world around them,” said Kate Haw, director of the Archives of American Art.

Artists featured include Dotty Attie, Don Eddy, Roy Lichtenstein, Esta Nesbitt, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Ben Shahn, Honoré Sharrer and Ray Yoshida, among others. Some of the artists gathered hundreds of photographs of carefully posed models and eye-catching objects. Others amassed news items and scraps of evocative ephemera about a single topic. The artists often filed their findings, pasting them into scrapbooks or piling them into portfolios. All of the items on view encourage imaginative exploration.

Artists rely on source materials to form more cohesive ideas, engage with political subjects or aesthetic challenges, achieve technical accuracy and even use as raw material. They can also evoke fleeting moments and moods, some of which are never fully realized in artworks. Together, these documents prompt new ways of thinking about and making art.

About the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art

Founded in 1954, the Archives of American Art fosters advanced research through the accumulation and dissemination of primary sources, unequaled in historical depth and breadth, that document more than 200 years of the nation’s artists and art communities. The Archives provides access to these materials through its exhibitions and publications, including the Archives of American Art Journal, the longest-running scholarly journal in the field of American art. An international leader in the digitizing of archival collections, the Archives also makes more than 2 million digital images freely available online. The Archives’ oral history collection includes more than 2,200 audio interviews, the largest accumulation of in-depth, first-person accounts of the American art world. For more information, visit the Archives website at and follow the Archives on Twitter at @ArchivesAmerArt.

Image: Comic strip clipping enclosed in a letter from Roy Lichtenstein to Ellen H. Johnson, 1963.

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