From the Archives: Picturing and Preserving The Phillips Collection’s History

Fall Archives Detail Anna Christian on her work assisting with the organization of the recently digitized Historic Photograph Collection in the Phillips archives.

Over its 100 year history, The Phillips Collection has developed an extensive archival collection. In 2018, the museum received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to digitize three collections, including one of historic photographs. Imaging of the Historic Photograph Collection recently finished, and a finding aid will be published to make the material more accessible. Some of the photos in the collection are recognizable from the museum website, while others haven’t been made public yet.

The Phillips’s adventurous side. Image of a Phillips family trip in the early 1900s. Photographed are Jim, Duncan, other family members, and a hired guide.

The Historic Photograph Collection consists of photographic reprints, original photographs from the 1890s, black-and-white film negatives, and color film positives. The photographs range from 1880 to 2006, and represent exterior and interior images of the historic House, Duncan Phillips and his family, and other people relevant to Duncan Phillips’s history. There are images of gallery installations, Phillips Collection staff members, and notable museum visitors. Photographs of people have been arranged into a series called “Family, Visitors, Staff.” Series is a term used to describe a section of similar content within an archival collection. The series includes photographs of Duncan Phillips, Marjorie Acker Phillips, Laughlin Phillips, Duncan’s brother Jim Phillips, and their parents Eliza and Duncan Clinch Phillips.

A glimpse at the upper class. This is a family portrait of the Beal family from the late 1800s. Alice Beal (Marjorie Acker Phillips’s mother) can be seen standing behind the chair.

I am a Museum Assistant at The Phillips Collection, with a background in film photography, darkroom processing, and art history. I worked as a Detail in the archives this fall, and due to my photography background, I spent the majority of the past few months rehousing and describing this collection. Rehousing photos is done to ensure the material is properly stored for longevity. Historic photographs and negatives are more delicate than modern photos and require special care. They are light sensitive so acid free paper and archival plastic covers are used to protect them. Photographic material should be stored lying flat in archival quality boxes instead of vertically. I also numbered folders and created inventories for the Historic Photograph Collection.

A lesser seen view of the museum’s exterior. This shows the annex, ca. 1960, before the more modern renovations.

The project to digitize this collection was headed by Digital Assets Librarian Rachel Jacobson and Processing Archivist Juli Folk. Rachel and Juli worked to streamline the collection, which had been partially processed. One thing they did to improve a researcher’s experience was to remove complicated subseries to create a more cohesive collection for better navigation by patrons and staff.

Working with this collection has been a wonderful experience. There is so much history at this museum and it can be seen through the photographs in this collection. I was even able to work with photographs from the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were also many images I got to see of the House before the city was built up around it. It is fascinating to see images of the Phillips family throughout their lives.

The Historic Photograph collection will be available digitally sometime in 2022. In the meantime images can be seen upon request and the finding aid will be published in the next few months.

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