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.

Helping our old neighbor, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

PAFA's Second Building, circa 1850s
PAFA’s Second Building

Many people may not know that PAFA was originally located in another section of Philadelphia. More specifically, in Philadelphia’s Market East neighborhood on Chestnut St. between 10th and 11th streets.

The neighborhood has dramatically changed since the early-mid 19th century but one of our neighbors remains to this day. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was founded in 1823 and still stands at 19 S. 10th Street Philadelphia, PA 19105.


Recently, the church’s historian/curator Suzanne L. stumbled upon a large painting in the church with a PAFA label on the back. Naturally, she contacted me to facilitate research assistance.


We didn’t have a lot of information to work from but two historians, Suzanne and I, are better than one! We knew PAFA’s Annual Exhibition (1811-1969) would be the first place to begin our research. The label suggests the painting was at PAFA in April, the month the Annual Exhibitions were usually held.

The painting in question included a baptismal font that was created circa 1856-1857 and donated to the church a few years later in 1859-1860. We were able to date the painting using these details. The painting was not signed so there was no name to search. It did include a monogram but it was a bit difficult to decipher.

We knew the image was an interior of the church, so the title of the painting should include the name of the church, St. Stephen’s. We browsed the Annual Exhibition catalogs and painting registers. After sifting through hundreds of names, titles, and donors, we finally located information that would verify the paintings provenance!


Just from this one item in the archives’ collection, we were able to verify a number of facts:

  • Titled, Oil Painting, Interior of St. Stephen’s Church, Philadelphia
  • A. Zeno Shindler, artist
  • The painting was registered number 170
  • Annual Exhibition catalog number was 364
  • Painting was for sale for $250, but did not sell and returned to the artist

Armed with this newfound information, Suzanne knew her work was not complete. The next phase of her research was to conduct more research on the artist and figure out how the painting eventually made it to the church since it was never sold at the exhibition.

#Flashback Friday – Alumni Spotlight: Donald Erik Chandler

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

Donald Erik Chandler (1922-2005) was a creative artist who had a long professional career creating some of America’s most iconic characters.

Before becoming an artist, Chandler proudly served in the United States Navy during World War II. After he was honorably discharged on December 18, 1945, he applied to numerous art schools including the Corcoran School of Arts and Design in Washington D.C. and San Francisco State College.

Student academic file for Donald E. Chandler, RG.03.03.02, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Archives

Almost two years after being discharged, Chandler applied to and was granted enrollment to PAFA with the support of the GI Bill. At PAFA, Chandler studied sculpture and went on to win the Stewardson Sculpture Competition Prize in 1949.

Donald E. Chandler’s 1949 Stewardson Sculpture Competition Prize

After completing his training at PAFA, Chandler began his career as a technical illustrator to work on America’s Apollo program. Perhaps Chandler’s most notable and recognizable contribution was actually in the American film industry 25 years after leaving PAFA. His first big break was his 25 foot sculpture of a great white shark for the 1975 Steven Spielberg film Jaws. The following year, Chandler with a team of sculptors created a 40 foot tall King Kong sculpture used in the film. Other pop culture characters include his assistance on creating the Pillsbury Doughboy and characters for McDonalds–the Hamburglar, Grimmace, Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, Captain Crook, the Fry Guys and the Hamburger Patch.

After Chandler’s death in 2005, his family made a contribution to name a school studio in honor of his memory. Even after all these years, his legacy still lives on here at PAFA in studio #1018. Thadius Taylor, a BFA + Certificate student is currently using the space to create art.

Don Chandler’s second cousin, Jeff Chandler, reached out to PAFA’s archives a few years ago to start the research process of compiling Chandler’s biographical information. Jeff recently published a short story about the artist’s personal and professional life and donated a copy of the book to the archives. Those interested in reading the book should contact the archives or you can access the digital copy here.

Museum Techniques – Transporting Art

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

Continuing the blog series on museum techniques, today’s topic is about housing and the transportation of art.

It all started a few months ago when three curators from the Library Company of Philadelphia visited the Center to conduct research on their upcoming exhibition, William Birch, Ingenious Artist opening May 1, 2018.


The curators examined some of PAFA’s William Russell Birch miniatures and selected the ones they wished to loan for their exhibition. It is hard to tell from the above image, but if you look closely, the original housing of the miniatures were simple archival boxes. This type of housing is fine for long-term storage, but inadequate for transportation. Although the Library Company is located only 8 blocks away from PAFA, transporting such fragile works is still challenging.

The loan of the objects provided an opportunity to create new custom housing for the miniatures. Not only would the project make transporting the objects safer, but the new enclosures will ensure the objects are well preserved once they are returned to PAFA for long-term storage.

Creating the custom enclosures required some thought and a lot of patience. Liz McDermott, PAFA’s Conservation Technician, had to pay special attention to how other people would handle the materials during the multiple phases of the exhibition–transportation, installation and deinstallation, repackaging, and delivery.

Features include separate lift tabs for easy access, Tyvek lining to prevent abrasion, and ethafoam and volara foam to absorb shock and create a sturdy environment within the box. While it is impractical to create custom enclosures for all of works of art, in this particular case, it was a great opportunity for me to upgrade the housing for these amazing works of art.