About the Archives
One of the country’s first museum archives, the MFAH Archives was established in 1984 with a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
The mission is to preserve and make available for research the museum’s permanent records. Primary source material chronicles not only the history of the MFAH, but also the artistic and cultural development of Houston. Material is also maintained from prominent artists, collectors, and figures such as the Art Guys, Manfred Heiting, Ima Hogg, and Sally Walsh.
The institutional records of the MFAH date from 1900, when the museum was founded, and include correspondence, schedules, subject files, program files, ephemera, and exhibition files. Generally, files are available for public research after 15 years, though access to some materials may be limited.
Collection Highlights: Photographs
The MFAH Archives photograph collection contains 184,000 images that document the history of exhibitions, architecture, and programming at the MFAH. The collection is composed primarily of exhibition installation views; photographs of museum openings and events with members of the art community and museum staff; interior and exterior views of the MFAH campus and its environs; and architectural models. An additional 52,000 photographic images reside in manuscript collections, documenting subjects such as prominent Houston families, Houston gardens, exhibitions at the CAMH (Contemporary Arts Museum Houston), and contemporary artists represented by the Garth Clark Gallery. Photographic material may be reproduced in accordance with copyright laws.
Collection Highlights: Architecture
The architectural collection documents the construction history of the MFAH campus, including Bayou Bend and Rienzi. In addition to architectural drawings in a variety of formats, the collection contains account statements, architectural specifications, project histories, and correspondence. Among the highlights are a 1922 rendering of the south facade of the original building by William Ward Watkin; plans for Cullinan Hall, Brown Pavilion, and a never-executed sculpture garden by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; a sketch of the Beck Building by Rafael Moneo; and alternate renderings of Bayou Bend's dining room by William Mackay. The Sally Walsh papers include blueprints, sketches, and layouts.
Textual records are accessible for public research 15 years after their creation. Architectural drawings are available for viewing on-site by appointment, but may not be traced or otherwise reproduced. Some architectural drawings and records may be closed to the public for confidentiality or security purposes.
Collection Highlights: Audio-Visual
The audio-visual collection consists of more than 3,000 audio recordings and moving images—primarily interviews, lectures, ceremonies, and other events held at the MFAH. In these recordings, scholars, educators, curators, and artists speak on topics relating to exhibitions and the museum’s art collections. Examples include classes, tours, docent training, and annual events such as the Ruth K. Shartle Symposium. Also among the recordings are publicity materials; a number of short documentary films produced in conjunction with exhibitions; and more than 100 lectures by the Rice Design Alliance from 1975 to 2000.
The collection is catalogued in a database that contains items primarily from institutional department records and also from manuscript collections. Of note are the recordings of the Ceramic Millennium Conference from the Garth Clark Gallery archive; interviews with important Houston and Texas artists from the Fresh Paint video collection; and interviews with prominent international jewelry artists from the Helen Williams Drutt audio collection.
Electronic Records Archive
In January 2010, the MFAH received a two-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to plan the implementation of an electronic records archive (ERA) for preserving the museum’s permanent born-digital records. Under the grant, the MFAH Archives and Information Technology departments are collaboratively exploring emerging technologies in pursuit of a sustainable ERA system that will allow museums and other smaller archival institutions to ensure the authenticity and ongoing accessibility of their electronic records. The ERA is seen as a crucial step in fulfilling the museum’s continuing aim to achieve excellence in the care, documentation, and management of its institutional history and collections.
Gateway to Art / De Puertas al Arte
The online Latin American/Latino Art Exhibitions Archive—the archival component of the Gateway to Art / De Puertas al Arte project, initiated in 2003 and funded by the Wallace Foundation—encompasses the curatorial, photography, and registrar's records of 16 exhibitions at the MFAH between 1930 and 1992 that focused on Latin American Modernism and Latino art. Records consist primarily of checklists, correspondence, catalogue essays, plot plans, wall labels, and installation photography. The ambitious project was designed to broaden, deepen, and foster new knowledge about Latin American art among adult audiences.