Q&A with Francine Snyder

Unprocessed records.

Unprocessed records. James Johnson Sweeney records, A0001, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Archives, New York

New Years card from Gutai Group

New Years card from Gutai Group to Guggenheim curator, Lawrence Alloway, 1968. Lawrence Alloway records (A0064). Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum Archives, New York

Francine Snyder, Director of the Library and Archives at the Guggenheim, answered some common questions about Findings—how the project started, what it’s like to shuffle through archival material, and which discoveries were her favorite.

When did Findings start?

Findings started in December 2009.

What was the inspiration for the project?

In June 2009, the archives received a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to arrange and describe five key collections that documented the first 50 years of the Guggenheim’s history (you can read more about the project here). Prior to this, the collections only had a basic catalog record; the project allowed us to go into the records at a folder level and beyond to analyze and index the content.

Once in the collections, we kept finding exciting items that inspired us to say “Hey, look at this,” which developed into wanting to share more broadly.

What were your favorite posts?

My favorite posts are the more esoteric ones that provide odd details that you probably couldn’t find unless you stumbled upon them. For instance:

The exact blue paint color used on the first Museum of Non-Objective Painting sign.

An illustrated document that shows the circuitous voyage Willi Baumeister’s artworks took on route to the Guggenheim.

A letter from Thomas S. Messer to Thomas M. Messer, third director of the Guggenheim, describing the “curious sensation of addressing someone by one’s own name.”

And who doesn’t love all the wonderful examples of illustrated artist correspondence?

Strangest place a “Finding” was found?

Strangest is not really the correct term because everything is technically foldered in a box. However we have found unexpected things in unexpected places. One of our most recent finds was in the Collection on Arts Organizations. This collection contains information the library collected from the ’60s through the ’90s on other arts organizations, mostly press releases, invitations, and small exhibition catalogues. However, in the Gutai folder, we found two Christmas card sent to Lawrence Alloway from the Gutai Group after he left the museum (see an image of one in the sidebar).

Are all these old sheets of paper dusty? Do they smell?!

A lot of the paper used for correspondence was higher quality than what we use today, i.e. better rag count, less chemicals, and has held up remarkably well. There are always preservation issues in every collection; many of our early negatives suffer from “vinegar syndrome,” a common issue in film stability. However, in the overall scheme of things, it is minor.

What are some of your favorite Findings posts? Post their links below and tell us why.