Lee Krasner (1908-1984)
"Milkweed
Lee Krasner
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Grace Hartigan
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Meet the Archivist

Valerie Sallis is Crystal Bridges' Archivist and Cataloger

Valerie Sallis is Crystal Bridges' Archivist and Cataloger

Valerie Sallis is Crystal Bridges' Archivist

Valerie Sallis is Crystal Bridges’ Archivist

I am thrilled to introduce our community to the Museum’s new archivist, Valerie Sallis.  Valerie brings five years’ experience in archives management and digital projects to the Crystal Bridges’ library. Given Valerie’s professionalism and proven skills, we can all look forward to even deeper access to our Museum’s treasured materials!  Valerie shares her interests and background below.  – Catherine Petersen, Crystal Bridges Librarian   What are your particular areas of interest or expertise? My background is in American history—I studied at the University of Arkansas focusing on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era—but I love all periods. The fascinating thing to me about history is imagining what life was like in that time, and art is such a powerful tool in that process. Each work of art reflects so many historical facets—the subject and how it is presented, the artist’s perspective, their place in contemporary art movements, and what that says about the culture at large—all these things can be interpreted through a single piece and help visualize the rich complexity of that time. I also have a background in library science focusing in special collections and archives, which are full of unique items that like art works each have a story of their own to tell. Making those manuscripts and books accessible to the public to explore their own interests is why I love working in a library.

Tell us a little about your previous position and how that relates to what you will do here at Crystal Bridges. My last position was as archivist for the Society of the Cincinnati, the nation’s oldest patriotic organization, at their headquarters in Washington, DC. The Society was founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts who served together in the American Revolution. It was dedicated to preserving the bonds of friendship forged during the war and remembering the achievement of American Independence. The Society is still an active organization today and maintains the American Revolution Institute which operates a museum and library with collections and educational programs focusing on the era of the American Revolution. I managed the Society’s archives, which date back to its earliest days and include many original documents from George Washington, Henry Knox, the Marquis de Lafayette and other Society members who were leaders of the time.

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) George Washington ca. 1780-1782 Oil on canvas

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)
George Washington
ca. 1780-1782
Oil on canvas

Although much of my work here at Crystal Bridges will have a broader focus in terms of the time period, there are a number of connections with the Society’s collections. The Society’s library owns a beautiful and very rare mezzotint engraving of George Washington made by Charles Willson Peale based on his sittings with Washington in the early years of the American Revolution, while Crystal Bridges owns Peale’s wonderful portrait of Washington at Yorktown done to celebrate the pivotal battle that won the war. To add to the connection, that portrait in Crystal Bridges collections was originally owned by a French officer, François-Jean, Chevalier de Chastellux, who was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati. That’s a really nice bridge between the two organizations for me. There is overlap elsewhere in the library collections—particularly in printed works with contemporary eighteenth-century maps or engravings and artist letters and manuscripts. The Society’s museum also holds works by John Trumbull and other early American artists whose names are familiar at Crystal Bridges. Ultimately, both positions also have a similar goal—to help people actively engage with the collections and increase their understanding through new information and perspectives.

What drew you to Crystal Bridges? As a native Arkansan, I am thrilled that there is a world-class museum in my home state and one that is intentionally free and open to the public. I’ve loved going to museums since I was a little girl and while I lived in DC, it was great to able to visit the one of the Smithsonian museums or the National Gallery on my day off and see works by artists that I’d previously only seen in books. Seeing the real thing in person really brings art to life and makes the experience personal. I grew up in a small town in southeastern Arkansas and I know that traveling to major public museums on the East or West Coasts isn’t easy for a lot of people in the region. So the thing that most draws me to Crystal Bridges is how it is bringing great art within close reach for a broad swath of the interior of the country, and that the Library will help people continue and deepen interactions with art and artists they discover here. Of course, placing the Museum in such a beautiful natural setting can’t hurt the appeal. The grounds are stunning and pair so well with the graceful architecture of the galleries. I’m looking forward to seeing the views from the Library change with every season and enjoying the trails with my dog on the weekends.

What’s the primary thing you will be working on here? I am going to be working on the institutional archives of Crystal Bridges, which are the records the Museum creates organically as it goes about its daily activities from its founding onwards. This is such an important task because the archives will ultimately tell the story of this institution for future generations who will be interested in how it came to be and what it did, and of course these records will be massively useful to Crystal Bridges staff as time goes on. I will also be working with the artist letters and manuscript collections and smaller archives from art historians, collectors, etc. that are of interest to our researchers. My main duties are processing and describing these materials so that people can find easily find information of interest—no small task when you think about the amount of material even one person creates in their lifetime. And of course I will be assisting with the day-to-day activities of the library and supporting as many of the museum programs as I can.

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