Goodbye from the John Rhoden papers team!

Contributed by the John Rhoden papers team, Kelin Baldridge and Jahna Auerbach

John and Richenda Rhoden, Christmas, 1984

This week, our journey with the John Rhoden collection comes to an end. A year of full immersion in the life of John and Richenda Rhoden has resulted in a project that will soon be open to the public, for researchers, the curious, and everyone in between. 

Anyone who works closely with a human subject – archivists, curators, historians, authors, researchers – can relate to the level of attachment that we, the John Rhoden papers team, feel towards John and Richenda Rhoden. 

As sad as we are that our journey with the Rhodens has come to an end, we are immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to work so closely with their remaining legacy. Working with their archives, we get a glimpse of how charming and interesting people they truly were. They both lived fascinating lives together.

The physical remnants of one’s life can be incredibly powerful. Though it will never be the case, we feel we knew them personally after connecting with the records they left behind. From the collection, we have been fortunate enough to learn that John Rhoden was a sharp businessman, resilient, joyful, and aware of how he could use his skills to help others. He created a path and a career for himself in an America that did not lend itself to his success. 

John Rhoden with Drago Trsar, Ljubljana, Slovenia, circa 1958-1959

The documents and the photographic materials come together in this collection to create a full picture of who John Rhoden was. The papers are deeply rooted in his professional life, but photographs of him smiling and of the way he interacted with those around him hint at the kind of man he was. Like many of us, John loved to document his travels by taking photographs. Browsing through the images, one not only gets transported back in time, but also gets to view the world through John’s lens and perspective–underexposed and all.

The records revealed how kind, joyful, and charismatic both John and Richenda were. They seemed to be the type of people who commanded the attention in a room, and whose presence lifted the mood. What seems to have struck people about the couple was their warmth, openness, and generosity. Both were successful artists and professionals, but what seems to have stuck with people most was their character. 

Another notable aspect of this collection is its expanse. Not only does it tell the stories of John and Richenda, it offers a full-color glimpse into the world in the 1950s, it tells the stories of many artists, lost and forgotten to time, it creates connections and networks among people, places, and things that might otherwise have nothing in common. In addition to telling the story of its primary subject, it contains seemingly infinite threads and tangents waiting to be fully explored.

John Rhoden drinking from a porron, France, 1952

As we now open the collection to public use, we wanted to thank the NEH and the incredible support system at PAFA that not only made our work possible, but downright enjoyable, through a global pandemic no less. Furthermore, we want to thank Hoang Tran and Dr. Brittany Webb for being the most incredible collaborators and leaders that two young professionals could ask for. 

Though our official work with the Rhodens is ending, we are looking forward to using Hoang’s Rhoden portal and visiting Brittany’s John Rhoden exhibition many times when it opens! 

John Rhoden and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, 1991-1992

A note from Assistant Archivist, Jahna Auerbach:

The portion of the John Rhoden papers that has had the biggest impact on me is contained in just one box, Richenda Rhoden’s personal papers. From the beginning, I had a personal connection to Richenda because of all of the incredibly endearing photographs of her posing with her various cats. 

Richenda Rhoden, 1930s-1940s

As we started digitizing her records, we discovered that this one box of papers is connected to many different parts of history, as discussed in previous blog posts and on the Rhoden portal. Richenda’s parents met at the Carlisle Indian School and her father was the first Native American judge in the state of Washington. Her first husband, Lawrence Lew Kay, who was tragically killed in WWII, has a rich family history rooted in China, and the Chinese community in Seattle, WA.

Richenda was not just defined by the men in her life. She was an incredible person in her own right. She has been described as head-strong, wanting to do things on her own terms, chic, and striking in beauty. John and Richenda never had children, but they dedicated their lives to the community. They always welcomed people into their house whether it was for an annual Christmas party or for the public to see their studio and art that was constantly on display. 

Richenda Rhoden, circa 1951-1959

Richenda was an artist like her husband. She only showed a few times in her life, but she painted every day.

Richenda’s portion of the archive has made me question a lot about evidence in the archive. What is present, what is missing, and what does that mean? Richenda lived alone at 23 Cranberry Street for almost 15 years, and yet, we have very little of her own records. Despite all of this we have been able to find a rich history of a woman. Without a doubt, Richenda’s presence is evident and her history is recorded throughout the archive, whether it is in photographs, or labels she put on travel slides. 

As Kelin and I wrap up this project, we are floored by the people on our team and members of the community that have helped us. From co-workers, family members translating Mandarin for us, to neighbors of the Rhodens sharing their stories. Lastly, huge thank you to Hoang Tran and Dr. Brittany Webb, who have been helping us and guiding us from day one.

Richenda Rhoden, Indonesia, 1963


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:

COVID-19 Updates

PAFA is committed to the health and safety of our visitors and staff. The PAFA administration is closely monitoring the global and local situation with regard to the 2019 coronavirus disease, COVID-19, including advisories from the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and local authorities.

Follow PAFA on Facebook (PAFAcademy) and on Instagram (@pafacademy) for immediate updates. For additional resources and announcements, please visit PAFA’s website.

PAFA Archives staff will continue to serve the public remotely by responding to emailed requests ( While the Archives are closed, we invite the public to explore our online resources by visiting our digital archives (

NEH Grant Project Update

Though the PAFA campus remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are pleased to announce that work on the NEH Project – Rediscovering John Rhoden recommences remotely this week!

Due to the present circumstances, we are operating at a somewhat limited capacity and, after over three months away, we will be taking some time to refamiliarize ourselves with the work at hand. Remotely, we are able to continue cataloging our digitized holdings, writing blog posts, and exploring different approaches for curating and presenting the digitized Rhoden papers.

This time away from the project has given us the opportunity to reflect on our work. The preservation and promotion of the tangible remnants of John Rhoden’s legacy is an important and exciting responsibility. We feel so privileged to be able to continue our work to make this legacy widely accessible. 

We will continue to update you as we learn more about how COVID-19 will impact our ability to return to the physical collection. For now, we will return to regular blog posts and updates on our continued progress. 

Kelin Baldridge
Project Archivist for the John Rhoden papers


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:

Happy Holidays from PAFA!

PAFA (museum) staff photo with artist Kambal Smith and his large-scale building sculpture of PAFA’s Frank Furness building.

We’d like to wish everyone the warmest wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

A quick update on our holiday hours. The archives will be closed December 23, 2019 through January 2, 2019.

The Museum galleries will be operating on a holiday schedule as well:

  • Closed: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
  • Open: New Year’s Eve, 10:00am-5:00pm
  • Mondays: Closed
  • Tuesday-Friday: 10:00am-5:00pm
  • Saturday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm

For more information on visiting the museum, please visit our website.

Rhoden papers highlight: Beings Anthropomorphic

Contributed by Kelin Baldridge, Project Archivist for the John Rhoden papers

Over here in the archives, we recently stumbled upon this enormous planning sketch for one of John Rhoden’s sculptures. The figures depicted in the sketch looked familiar, so we decided to do some digging within the papers to see if we could contextualize it.

Archives staff with the planning sketch for John Rhoden’s Beings Anthropomorphic.

Photographs in the collection revealed that this sketch was for a sculpture titled Beings Anthropomorphic. Captions on the photographs indicate that this sculpture was created specifically for the African American Museum in Philadelphia in 1975. There are no documents or correspondence directly related to this artwork and, as such, we have been unable to confirm the information on the photograph captions.

A label on the photograph suggests the sculpture was installed at the African American Museum in Philadelphia in the mid to late 1970s.

From the photographs, we do know that the artwork was completed and installed somewhere, but we cannot be sure that it was actually installed in the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the sculpture’s current whereabouts are unknown. However, what we do have relating to the sketch could potentially reveal something about John’s artistic planning process.

Small-scale model for Beings Anthropomorphic.

Above is a photograph of a small-scale model of Beings Anthropomorphic. It is evident that this was an earlier model given the slight differences in the figures. Below is a photograph of John with his planning sketch. It is interesting to note the grid imposed on the sketch as well as the inclusion of the weight and cost of the figures.

Having evidence of multiple objects produced in the process of creating an artwork gives an interesting view into both the evolution of Rhoden’s ideas and his creative and logistical artistic planning. John’s papers are full of items that contextualize each other, and give a more complete picture of John’s life and work.


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:

Congratulations to the CCL Class of 2020!

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

A BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Dr. Anna Marley, PAFA’s Curator of Historical American Art and Director of the Center for the Study of the American Artist (and my boss!). Anna has been named a Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellow for 2020!

Dr. Anna Marley, Curator of Historical American Art and Director for the Center of the Study of the American Artist
Dr. Anna Marley, Curator of Historical American Art and Director for the Center of the Study of the American Artist

The Fellowship includes instruction from Columbia Business School faculty, exposure to real-world challenges faced by cultural institutions, and a week long residency shadowing a Director at another major museum.

I am extremely proud of Anna and all her accomplishments (she recently celebrated her 10-year work anniversary at PAFA this past March). Anna is one of the strongest proponents of PAFA’s Archives program and much of her work affirms PAFA’s place in the American Art canon. I am grateful to have an amazing and supportive mentor here at PAFA! My favorite Anna quote, “There is no American Art without PAFA.”

Happy Holidays!

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

On behalf of the Museum Team, we wish everyone a very happy holiday season! This past week, PAFA staff and faculty came together for our annual holiday party celebrating over food, music, and prizes!


Three members of the museum team (Mark Knobelsdorf, Barbara Katus, and myself) were among the raffle prize winners!

Barbara Katus and I designed and constructed a PAFA gingerbread house. It includes flying buttresses, mosaic tile entry, and custom icing roof.

We want to thank everyone for their continued support. Happy Holidays!

IMLS Project Update: That’s a wrap!

Contributed by: Tess Amram, IMLS Project Archivist

I want to wrap up by extending my thanks to IMLS for the grant that made this project possible. Overall, I’m incredibly proud of the work I did here at PAFA, and there are so many images that I can’t wait to send to people to discuss, once everything is up and running online. (That old adage that ‘everyone has a twin’ is more true than I thought – I’ve lost count of how many double takes I’ve done, thinking the subject of a painting from over a hundred years ago was actually a friend of mine now. Also, there are so many adorable dogs the world deserves to see.)

Even aside from all the technical (that is, marketable) skills I’ve learned, working with these materials has been an object lesson in how small the world can be – for example, the first time I saw the painting “Three Friends,” by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, was not in installation photographs from the 1912 Annual Exhibition, but hanging in the main library of my alma mater six years ago, dourly watching over thousands of undergrads going about their academic lives. It’s little things like that that were, for me, the most exciting part – those moments of connection between Back Then, and Now.


“Three Friends,” by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp

Annual Archivist Conference: ALIKE/DIFFERENT

Contributed by: Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Society of American Archivists’ (SAA) Annual Conference in Portland, OR this year. The conference provided valuable professional development and networking opportunities that all archivists should take advantage of (if you have the opportunity).

Events such as the Teaching With Primary Sources: “Unconference” was particularly interesting. The all-day event generously hosted by the Portland Art Museum had the theme of “Aligning with Allies.” It was an informative and fun day, featuring a variety of workshops in the morning and an afternoon full of attendee-driven conversations (over 100 professionals attended!) covering all aspects of teaching with primary sources. I definitely learned a lot and I hope to implement some fresh ideas and new knowledge to benefit PAFA’s archives program.

I also had the chance to network with fellow (museum) archivists who shared new ideas and discussed their ongoing projects. One symposium included presentations by MoMa (digital portal for all exhibitions), Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (relocating their archives and restablishing a proper archival program), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (archiving email), and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum (digital oral histories).

Intern Spotlight – Leo Wong!

Contributed by: Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

Please welcome Leo Wong!

Leo will be working as the Project Archivist Intern for the recently acquired George Harding Sr. papers. He has a bachelors degree in history from St. Joseph’s University and a graduate degree in public history from La Salle University. Leo has volunteer experience at the Camden County Historical Society working on cataloging and inventorying projects for their audio collection. He has a strong desire to gain more experience on how to process archival collections.

The Center is happy to offer Leo a chance to take a lead on processing an archival collection that includes a variety of records (correspondence, photographs, diaries, sketches, and art) from start to finish. PAFA’s Director of Archives, Hoang Tran, will serve as his mentor during this internship.

Leo hopes to stay in the nonprofit/museum field and continue working on paper and object based collections.