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An Introduction to Crystal Bridges' Archives

Archivist and Cataloger Valerie Sallis with items from Crystal Bridges’ archive. © 2015 Stephen Ironside/Ironside Photography

Today is National Ask an Archivist Day!  So we thought we’d ask Crystal Bridges’ Archivist and Cataloger, Valerie Sallis, to provide some information about archives in general and the growing Crystal Bridges archive in particular. 

Archivist and Cataloger Valerie Sallis with items from Crystal Bridges' archive. © 2015 Stephen Ironside/Ironside Photography

Archivist and Cataloger Valerie Sallis with items from Crystal Bridges’ archive. © 2015 Stephen Ironside/Ironside Photography

The Crystal Bridges Library acquires and maintains archives that relate to our mission, including personal documents, photos, and ephemera from prominent American artists, art historians, and collectors. Our archivist works to make the records usable for researchers. This involves research on the collection’s creators, sorting the material, and weeding out unnecessary items—after all, archives are about storytelling and every story needs a good editor. Once the materials are organized, a finding aid is created that describes the materials and where researchers can find them.

A finding aid may be a very specific listing of individual items, or a more general listing that points researchers to a box or folder of material, without listing specific items within that box or folder. The finding aid for Crystal Bridges’ collection of letters written by Winslow Homer, for instance, includes a listing of each individual document, to whom it was written, and a brief idea of the subject matter. Other finding aids may only detail the holdings by folders or boxes, leaving the researchers to look through the materials for themselves to determine if any of them relate to their subject of inquiry. The level of detail for a finding aid depends on the importance of the subject as well as the size of the collection—larger collections take longer to sort, so it’s more time-consuming to describe down to the item level.

Crystal Bridges’ holdings also include institutional archives including original plans for the Museum and information on its subsequent development, exhibitions, programs, and staff. Stewardship of our institutional archives is crucial because the archives tell the story of Crystal Bridges for future generations. The institutional archives are currently open only to staff, but in time, portions of the archives will open to the public for use in studying the evolution of the Museum.

A portion of the Library’s current archival holdings were acquired in a single large purchase before the Museum opened, but the Library continues to collect archival materials through purchases and donations. Only a fraction of the materials in Crystal Bridges’ archives have been fully processed.

The finding aids currently available for Crystal Bridges’ Library Archives can be accessed online: Check out the Library’s webpage. To view the actual materials, set up an appointment by calling or emailing me at, 479-418-5756. Happy researching!