Defining Moments: A Chronology
The pictorial collections of the Library of Congress are the product of almost two centuries of collaboration between the Congress, an international community of creators and donors, and the people of the United States. There have been a number of defining moments in the course of building this great natio nal legacy, when the initiative or largesse of individuals or organizations has set the Library on a bold new course in its mission of assembling and preserving a record of the past.
The origins of the Library's collections are traced to the acquisition by the Congress in 1815 of Thomas Jefferson's library, offered by the former president to replace the original congressional library burned by British troops during the War of 1812. Jefferson's library reflected his own legendary breadth of interests, including architecture and the fine arts, and thereby established a domain for the national library far broader than the primarily legislative, commercial, and judicial interests of the original library.
The copyright act of 1870 centralized all U.S. copyright activity in the Library of Congress, and the Library became the sole repository of works copyrighted in America. Copyright law came about in the eighteenth century to afford statutory protection to creators against unauthorized copying and exploitation of their literary and artistic works. Works deposited as part of the copyright registration process became a rich source of material for the Library's collections. Thousands of books, prints, photographs, posters, trade cards, architectural drawings, and other types of graphic works deposited for copyright registration became the foundation for the Library's vastly expanded American holdings.
In 1898 Gertrude Hubbard gave to the Library the distinguished collection of European and American prints formed by her late husband, American industrialist Gardiner Green Hubbard. Hubbard's collection included old master prints from the sixteenth century onward, created by such towering figures as Därer, Rembrandt, and Marcantonio Raimondi, as well as prints by contemporary artists such as Whistler, Seymour Haden, and Charles Meryon. In its time Hubbard's was one of the finest private collections in the United States and, although the Library had acquired master prints before, it was Hubbard's gift that established the Library of Congress in its role as a national print cabinet.
In 1917 American printmaker, illustrator, and critic Joseph Pennell donated to the Library his extensive collection of the prints, drawings, and letters of the American artist James McNeill Whistler. Pennell followed this gift two years later by making the Library the primary beneficiary of his estate, bequeathing to it the major portion of his own oeuvre, along with his asssets and royalty income. In his desire to form a national collection of modern printmaking at the Library, Pennell specified that funds from his estate were to be used for the purchase of prints by Whistler, by living artists, or by artists who, in his words, "have produced art during the last 100 years." To initiate this activity Pennell's wife, Elizabeth Robins Pennell, served for a time as initial curator of the Pennell collection in the Library. Through an impressive record of collecting in this field maintained by the Pennell Committee for over sixty years, the Pennells' legacy has continued to shape the Library's modern print holdings.
In 1926 the Library acquired its first master photographs: two important groups of works from the estate of influential pictorialist Clarence White and from fellow Photo-Secessionist Gertrude Käsebier. Although the Library had by this time amassed substantial holdings in documentary photographs, these acquisitions marked its recognition of the artistic value of the medium.
In the 1930s, the Carnegie Corporation provided funds to establish and support at the Library a national repository for photographic negatives of early American architecture, now called the Pictorial Archives of Early American Architecture. This development had been encouraged by deposit at the Library in 1929 of several thousand photographic negatives of gardens and architectural subjects by one of the nation's finest architectural photographers, Frances Benjamin Johnston. This deposit was to be followed by many others in subsequent years. In turn, supported by a series of grants by the Carnegie Corporation, Johnston was commissioned by the Library to create an archive of her splendid photographs of the rapidly disappearing antebellum architecture of the American South, reflecting a prescient interest in its humbler structures. Furthermore, Johnston's donation of a body of her work set an important precedent for donations of architectural photographs by photographers, their families, and their sponsors, among them Gertrude Wittemann, Theodor Horydczak, Carol M. Highsmith, and Joseph E. Seagram and Sons.
In 1933, largely through the efforts of Charles E. Peterson of the National Park Service, the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) was founded to aid unemployed architects and draftsmen. At the same time the survey was to produce through photographs, measured drawings, and written documentation a detailed record of early American architecture. The Library of Congress became the repository of the documentation and a partner in the administration of a program, still very much active today. HABS, joined in 1969 by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), has recorded over 30,000 sites, structures, and artifacts in the intervening years.
In 1932 William Patten, art editor for Harper's Magazine during the 1880s and 1890s, initiated a multiyear campaign to assemble under the Library's roof the works of the golden age of American illustration. Patten's campaign of solicitations resulted in gifts to the Library by surviving artists or their descendants of the works of over 200 American illustrators active in the period 1870 through World War I. Drawings were donated by such luminaries as Charles Dana Gibson and Howard Pyle. Many women illustrators of the Brandywine School--Alice Barber Stephens, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and others--donated their drawings as well. In 1991 a bequest from Elizabeth Bendiner established the Alfred and Elizabeth Bendiner Memorial Fund to further augment the Library's collections in this area.
In 1944 the combined photographic archives of two landmark photographic documentation projects carried out successively within two federal agencies, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI), were placed by executive order under the administration of the Library of Congress. The FSA-OWI archive was the most comprehensive photographic survey of the lives and occupations of ordinary people ever carried out. To the Library's already extensive pictorial coverage of American buildings, cities, and news events it added an unparalleled record of the everyday experience of a broad spectrum of Americans in the period 1935-43.
In 1978 the Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoons was donated to the Library by the Swann Foundation. During the 1950s and 1960s several dozen American editorial cartoonists, including Edwin Marcus of the New York Times and Clifford Berryman of the Washington Star, had donated their drawings to the Library. The Swann Collection, however, enlarged the scope of the Library's coverage of the history of caricature and political satire, and it provided a sound footing for the documentation of contemporary and historical uses of these genres. The Caroline and Erwin Swann Memorial Fund has continued to support the preservation and development of the collections of political cartoons and caricature as well as related publications and exhibits.
The 1989 bequest by Ray Eames of the Work of Charles and Ray Eames provided the Library with its first comprehensive archive of a design firm whose activity extended into almost every product of human creativity: films, architecture, industrial design, exhibitions, furniture, books, and graphic works. The influence of the Eames on twentieth-century design has been profound, not only through their individual works but also through their working methods.