Rediscovering John Rhoden: Project Update

Kelin Baldrige, Project Archivist for the John Rhoden papers surveying the collection.

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

We are excited to announce the official launch of the NEH grant funded project to process and digitize the John Rhoden (1918-2001) artist papers.

The funds will help support the Archives’ efforts to preserve and provide greater access to the rich primary records of the under-recognized American sculptor John Rhoden. The Archives is also happy to introduce Kelin Baldridge who will serve as Project Archivist. Kelin will spearhead the one year project which includes surveying, processing, cataloging, and digitizing the artist’s papers.  

In true PAFA fashion, Kelin hit the ground running during her first two weeks on the job! Please check back here regularly for updates on the project. 


Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:

Archives resumes normal business hours

PAFA’s Archives will resume public hours beginning September 23, 2019:

MondayFriday: 10am – 4:30pm

As a reminder, individuals wishing to review records need to schedule an appointment in advance of their arrival. Appointments are required, due to limited seating capacity and staff. For more information on visiting the archives for research, please visit here.

Don’t forget to visit PAFA’s Digital Archives for additional online resources. New digital collections are routinely added.

PAFA’s (New) Digital Archives

The Archives has successfully upgraded its online digital archives platform. PAFA’s Digital Archives (PDA) gives researchers more efficient tools to view and search the voluminous digital collections held at the Archives. The new Digital Collections site ( ) updates the previous web interface to a more user-friendly experience that improves users’ ability to discover images, learn more about holdings, and browse collections.

Screenshot of the landing page for PAFA's upgraded Digital Archives portal.

“Aesthetically, the front-end user interface looks similar to our previous site. The main improvements come on the back-end with more robust features that will help connect users to more items,” said Hoang Tran, Director of Archives. “Moreover, the project included an upgrade to our hosting server which ensures all digital assets are preserved and continually accessible.”

Added features include full-text search of PDF files, expanded metadata vocabularies, and linked open data.

New Digital Collections Portal

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

Over the summer months, the Archives has been working diligently behind the scenes upgrading our digital collections platform–from Omeka to Omeka S. The new platform provides greater flexibility as we grow our digital collections.

We are still performing web and user interface tests, ensuring a seamless transition and simple, straightforward navigation. The launch of PAFA’s New Digital Archives will be September 1, 2019.

Newly processed collection: Jessie Willcox Smith periodical illustrations

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

The Dorothy and Kenneth Woodcock Archives recently acquired a collection of periodical illustrations by PAFA Alumna Jessie Willcox Smith 1863-1935). Compiled by a collector over many years, the illustrations eventually made its way here after the estate donated it to PAFA.

Smith was a prolific illustrator during the late 19th, early 20th centuries. Her work has been published in many of the leading magazines of the time including Collier’s, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Woman’s Home Companion, and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Researchers can access the finding aid for the collection here: Collection of Jessie Willcox Smith periodical illustrations (MS.2018.01)

PAFA’s Archives also has a small collection of Jessie Willcox Smith personal papers (MS.026).



New Digital Collection – School Class photograph collection

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

The Dorothy and Kenneth Woodcock Archives is happy to announce that the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ School photograph collection has been fully digitized and available online on PAFA’s Digital Archives.

As America’s first fine art school, we are proud to provide students and artists an intense immersion in art-making anchored in a rich heritage of artistic achievement. It is without question, PAFA provides a fine arts education unlike any other.


Photographs in this collection provide a glimpse at the studio arts training in painting, illustration, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and of course, PAFA’s long-standing tradition of working from the figure. Photographs also provide evidence of our vibrant community of artists, curators, critics and teachers who create complex, diverse and provocative work and provide inspiration and stimulus for individual expression.

Annual Archivist Conference: Archives*Records

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) joined the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) for a joint Annual Conference held in Washington, DC. The joint conference brought together record breaking attendance at the historic Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. With all the information professionals in DC, it was obvious that the week long conference would be filled with informational sessions, tours, projects, and networking events.

A popular session titled “Email Archiving Comes of Age. Included 13 speakers!

At the Library of Congress for the Unconference: Teaching with Primary Sources

LOD stands for Linked Open Data

With so many events and sessions, I had to thoughtfully plan my week. I had to balance my personal/professional goals with the needs of PAFA’s archives program.

For the second year, I attended the Unconference: Teaching with Primary Sources. We were introduced to the Library of Congress’ many initiatives and resources that help educators, including archivists, to establish workshops and/or classes to assist students, teachers, and faculty on easy and scalable approaches of incorporating the use of primary source materials. In the second half of the afternoon, we broke off into different groups to discuss various topics. We had a chance to network and hear stories about successes (and failures). One particular success story came from the Brooklyn Historical Society where they developed free online curricula and resources. Using resources as models, it would be easy to adapt them to our needs.

Another well attended sessions was the SAA Museum Archives Section Group Symposium. It was great learning more about the projects at some of the leading museums in the nation–The Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, Yale Center for British Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Another interesting session was on Web Archiving. As we know, we are producing a huge amount of information online and most are ephemeral in nature. How does one begin to archive the information for posterity? What information do we save or discard?

A particular session that resonated with the archives here at PAFA came from True Confessions: Paying off the Technical Debt of Early Digital Projects. Just last year, we launched PAFA’s Digital Archive, which now has over 6400 items! The research, design, and implementation process was methodical and well thought out. We knew we needed to mitigate any issues that would cause an issue for the archives further down the line. we’re glad we spent the time doing so!

Linked Open Data (LOD) is a fairly new concept in the archives and information field. LOD in the simplest form is a method of publishing structured data (information) so that it can be interlinked and become more useful when conducting research. Often times, the linked data provides additional/optional/necessary contextual information. By leveraging the power of the web and computers, LOD makes it easier to share and browse data. The session Progress (and Pitfalls) of Linked Data Projects outlined some tips, resources, and tools on how to implement LOD. Our neighbors at the Philadelphia Museum of Art discussed their current project, Building a Duchamp Research Portal at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Filled with great food, sites, and history, Washington, DC was an amazing host city for the conference. Until next time!

Newly processed collection: Hyman Myers, Historic Landmark Building renovation project files

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

We are pleased to announce that the Hyman Myers, Historic Landmark Building renovation project files are open and available for research. This collection provides an in-depth look at PAFA’s 1970s renovation of it’s Historic Landmark Building designed by Frank Furness and George Hewitt. Myers was the project lead for the renovation of the building. The collection contains extensive correspondence with clients, vendors, and various projects such as roof repointing, painting, skylight repairs, waterproofing, and electric upgrades. Also included are photographs evaluating the building and architectural plans for renovations.


Emergency Preparedness is a Team Effort!

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

Preparing for a disaster is one of the most important things a museum can do to safeguard collections. Preparation ensures the museum has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to fulfill its role as stewards of collections.

On May 16, 2018, Alex Till, Liz McDermott, and myself attended the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts’ (CCAHA) Collections Care Training workshop to gain some hands-on training on disaster response and recovery.

Mercer Museum & Fronthill Castle was kind enough to play host for approximately 30 20180516_blog_002library, archives, and museum (LAM) professionals from the region. Samantha Forsko, Preservation Specialist for CCAHA began the workshop reviewing the standardized Incident Command System (ICS) approach for emergency response. Included in her presentation were hypothetical scenarios when disasters occur at cultural institutions and how to handle certain objects–books, paper, art, artifacts, etc.


The majority of the workshop was spent applying what we learned in the classroom in a simulated disaster setup in the courtyard of the museum. The participants split up into three teams and were given specific ICS roles. Each participant had a chance to play a designated role to get a better sense of how the ICS worked in the field.


We recount our experiences in the “field” applying the ICS during a disaster.

Liz McDermott, Conservation Technician:

During the first round, I was in the Operations Section as the Object Retrieval Strike Team Leader. As the team leader, I oversaw the systematic removal of damaged objects based upon the information given to me by the Incident Commander. This was a really tough job and I found that, under pressure, I tended to want to dive into action too quickly without taking the time to adequately plan with the Logistics and Triage Treatment Team members who oversaw where the objects were going and what materials the objects will need when they land.

During the second round, I was a Triage Treatment team member. I felt much more comfortable with handling and caring for objects after they were retrieved from the disaster site and preparing landing sites for incoming objects. That being said, I think that all team members were much more calm the second time around since we were able to better understand the function and duties of each division and how they played out in real life—rather, “simulated” life.

I look forward to using what I’ve learned to help with re-vamping our own Disaster Plan before we reconfigure our collection in the new storage facilities slated to be completed by next spring. This was a fantastic workshop, but there is still so much more to learn—as one can never be too prepared, especially when it comes to caring for the oldest collection of American Art in the country.

Alex Till, Associate Registrar:

For the first round, I was made the Liaison Officer. This was the first time I was ever exposed to the Incident Command System, so I was honestly pretty unsure of what I was supposed to be doing and I think that others in the group shared the feeling. It ended up being more of a hypothetical job during the simulation. I ended up contacting a outside contractor to set up space to freeze some materials and I contacted an outside conservator to examine the painting we had in our pool. Valuable tasks, but in the case of the simulation, they were imagined because there was no one there to play those outside roles. After I completed those tasks, I was switched to the object retrieval team and helped fish things out of the water. I felt more comfortable in that second role because I have had experience handling a variety of objects throughout my career and because of the lack of hypothetical scenarios.

For the second round, I was made Incident Commander, so I was in charge of the whole team. After being briefed by the previous commander and looking over our project area, it became clear to me that we were running out of space to handle the materials that were remaining in our pool. I assigned most of the team to object triage and had them rotate the objects already saved from the water and make room for new ones. Based on the first round, I saw that we had before had too many people retrieving objects and not enough dealing with them after they came out of the pool. I think the whole group was a little more certain of the different roles the second time around. While I think I did a passable job as the leader, I felt a little awkward giving out orders and said as much to the team I was working with. Everyone told me I did a fine job though, so I’ll chalk that up to first time leading jitters.

I haven’t yet been heavily involved with our disaster plan here at PAFA, but I think that the experience here gave me a good impression of the confusion that can come about from just trying to organize a response to a disaster. I was glad to get the experience, even though it was simulated, and though I doubt that I’ll be assigned an Incident Commander any time soon in a real disaster, I think it was a valuable exercise.

Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

I’ve heard of the ICS in my previous work in disaster planning and emergency preparedness. I shared the same feelings with Alex and Liz when we played the ICS roles in the simulation. Moreover, since it wasn’t a “collection” we oversee, placing value on the object compounded the difficulty. For the first round, I was selected as the Triage/Treatment person. I felt comfortable in the position since the objects were things I’m accustomed to handling—photographs, negatives, textiles, paper, etc. Our disaster supplies were limited so we had to be resourceful in our efforts to treat the objects. I will admit, my group was a bit frenzied in regards to the chain of command and communication system since we were all basically strangers. I found some comfort since I had some colleagues on my team—Lillian Kinney (archivist) from the University of the Arts and Jennifer Vess (archivist) from the Academy of Natural Sciences.

After our debrief we had a chance to change roles for the second round.

After we assessed the situation with the new Incident Commander, we opted to use the flexibility of ICS and eliminated or combined certain roles. I ended up playing two roles, Safety and Logistics officer. Like Alex, we felt triage/treatment needed more people and object retrieval needed less people. We also knew we needed more space to treat the objects. I setup four staging areas so the object retrieval and triage teams could work more efficiently. As the session went on, we soon realized that documentation and tracking was really important in the overall scheme of the disaster. Essentially, documentation gathers all the data to discuss necessary services with vendors and senior staff. More importantly, there is no need to unnecessarily enter the disaster area since the documentation details all the objects impacted by the disaster.

Overall, it was a great experience. It was equally nice meeting fellow LAM professionals interested in disaster preparedness. Hearing their experiences and training alongside each other made for a very enjoyable and informative day.