- Collection ID:
American Watercolor Society
- Physical Description:
The records of the American Watercolor Society measure 3.8 linear feet and date from 1867 to 1977, with the bulk of the material dating from 1950 to 1970. The collection provides scattered documentation of the operations and activities of one of the oldest continuously operating artists' organizations in the United States and includes records of its administration and history, membership, and exhibitions, as well as printed material and photographs.
Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The records of the American Watercolor Society measure 3.8 linear feet and date from 1867 to 1977, with the bulk of the material dating from 1950 to 1970. The collection provides scattered documentation of the operations and activities of one of the oldest continuously operating artists' organizations in the United States and includes records of its administration and history, membership, and exhibitions
Records documenting the founding, history, and operations of the society are found in the administration and history series. Included are written histories and material on the 1941 merger with the New York Water Color Club, including an updated Constitution and By-Laws. Also found here are reports, committee documents, administrative correspondence, records of participation in national art events, and financial records.
The membership records include a membership roster notebook, dating from 1953-1961, lists of members, member biographies, and correspondence regarding membership. The society's exhibition files include a bound volume of the record of works shown in the annual exhibition from 1897 to 1904, as well as files on a few other annual exhibitions and exchange exhibitions with other countries. These files contain scattered correspondence, price lists, exhibition checklists and printed material.
A small amount of printed material in the collection includes a booklet entitled, Water-Color Painting: Some Facts and Authorities in Relation to Its Durability, distributed by the society in 1868, as well as news clipping about events and exhibitions, newsletters, and other published items. Photographs are of members, jurors, events, painting demonstrations, and artwork.
The collection is arranged into 5 series:
- Series 1: Administration and History, 1891-1970 (Box 1-2; 1.1 linear feet)
- Series 2: Membership, 1941, 1951-1960s (Box 2; 0.7 linear feet)
- Series 3: Exhibition Files, 1867-1910, 1955-1975 (Box 2-3, BV02; 1.2 linear feet)
- Series 4: Printed Material, 1868, 1943-1972 (Box 3; 6 folders)
- Series 5: Photographs, circa 1940-1977 (Box 3-4; 0.5 linear feet)
The American Watercolor Society still functions as an active artists' organization that was founded in New York City on December 5, 1866 as the American Society of Painters in Water Colors. The first president was Samuel Colman. Initially, election to membership was very selective, consisting of active members and honorary members (those living outside of New York City). From the beginning, the most important activity of the organization was its annual exhibition, open to both members and non-members, the first being held in the winter of 1867-1868.
The Society's first six annual exhibitions were held jointly with the National Academy of Design at the Academy's galleries. Beginning with the seventh exhibition, the society initiated independent annual exhibitions until 1899. The early exhibitions were very successful, and the society showed work from many prominent American and European artists such as Thomas Eakins, Abbott Thayer, Eugene Delacroix, and John Ruskin. 1888 marked the first year that the society awarded prizes to the best works. By the early 1900s the society had developed a program for exhibitions that included a jury of selection and jury of awards.
In 1903 the society was officially incorporated as the American Water Color Society, to "advance the art of water color painting in this country." Membership classifications changed slightly and artists were either classified as active (professional artists) or associate members. By 1904 the society was struggling financially, and annual exhibitions were held at various spaces around New York City. In 1905 the society established annual rotary (traveling) exhibitions. From 1922 to 1931, the society combined exhibition venues with the New York Water Color Club (founded in 1890), and in January 1941 these two organizations merged under the name of the American Watercolor Society and created a new constitution. This merger brought many female artists who were active in the New York Water Color Club to the society which had previously not recognized many women painters. In 1941 the society established their headquarters in one room at the National Academy of Design's new building where they also held annual exhibitions in the galleries.
Frederic Whitaker, a painter and businessman, became president in 1949 and brought a renewed vigor to the society. He reinstituted traveling exhibitions, created new committees, and increased the number of exhibition awards. He also established an office in the Flatiron building and hired an Executive Secretary. After he resigned in 1956, the society experienced a period of financial troubles that were immediately addressed when Mario Cooper became president in 1959. Offices were moved back to the National Academy, several new officers were appointed, and after a period of fiscal austerity, a scholarship program and central awards fund were established. In 1967 the society had its 100th annual exhibition and also had an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, entitled, "Two Hundred Years of Watercolor Painting In America, An Exhibition Commemorating The Centennial of the American Watercolor Society." Over the next few years the society organized and exchanged exhibitions with other countries, including Canada, Mexico, England, and Australia. Mario Cooper remained president until 1986, and the American Watercolor Society remains an active artists' organization today.
Originals of loaned material, including additional exhibition materials, correspondence, photographs, and administrative records were returned to the American Watercolor Society after microfilming. Loaned material is available on reels N68-8 through N68-10, but is not described in the container listing of this finding aid.
Alternative Forms Available
The bound volume of the record of works shown in annual exhibitions, 1897-1904, is available on 35 mm microfilm reel 497 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. Material lent for microfilming is available on 35mm microfilm reels N68-8 through N68-10 at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.
The collection was initially received as a loan and microfilmed on reels N68-8 through N68-10. Portions of the loan were later donated and received preliminary processing. The bound volume of the record of works shown in annual exhibitions was loaned and microfilmed on reel 497, and also later donated. The entire collection was fully merged, processed, arranged, and described by Erin Corley in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
The American Watercolor Society loaned material for microfilming in 1968, and, in 1978, donated some of this material. The bound volume of the record of works shown in annual exhibitions, 1897-1904, was microfilmed in 1972 and subsequently donated in 1978 by the American Antiquarian Society.
Using the Collection
American Watercolor Society records, 1867-1977, bulk 1950-1970. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Restrictions on Access
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.
Ownership and Literary Rights
The American Watercolor Society records are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
Additional records may be available by contacting the American Watercolor Society.
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001