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Arts Department, Special Collections

Introductory guide to special collections in fine arts, music, photography, prints & drawings.

Fine Arts

Neighborhood Kaleidoscope

Quenby M. Buckleaw, Neighborhood Kaleidoscope (2017)

The Fine Arts collections include all moveable art located at the Central Library, including paintings and sculptures. (For more information about Built Heritage (architectural elements), including wall murals, please visit the Art & Architecture page.)

Other materials include archival collections of important historical architectural firms, individual artists, craftspeople, and local arts organizations from the 19th century through the late 20th century. These collections offer a critical perspective on the development of arts activities in Boston and New England. The Fine Arts department also maintains an extensive collection of artist and gallery clippings files that document the history of the local art community in Boston, from the 1940s to the present day.

***Materials in this collection include, but is not limited to:***

  • Archives
  • Architectural drawings and plans
  • Paintings
  • Sculptures
  • Clippings, exhibition brochures, and ephemera 

       Library of Babel

Sara Gothard, Library of Babel (2017)

  • Art on view in the Boston Public Library: Paintings, sculptures, and decorative art from the permanent collection can be found throughout the McKim and Boylston Street buildings. For architectural highlights of the McKim building, including the mural cycles by Edwin Austin Abbey and John Singer Sargent, please see our online tour, available here
     
  • Boston / New England Artist Files: News clippings, exhibition invitations, and correspondence about Boston and New England artists, compiled by Boston Public Library curators throughout the 1980s. These materials form a history through those years of Boston's art galleries, many of which have since closed.
     
  • Architectural Records: Twenty-five collections of architectural plans and drawings from leading Boston firms including Peabody & Stearns, Maginnis & Walsh, stone worker John Evans, and the Charles J. Connick Studio. 

Edward E. Oakes, jewelry designs (c.1960s)

  • Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston Collection: These records date from the Society's first exhibition in 1897 through the 1970s. Materials include exhibition files, publicity documents, correspondence, price lists, drawings, lists of members, and photographs of early exhibitions and objects. Working sketches and studies contained within the records provide insight into the artistic process.This is an exceptional collection that documents the early history of the Arts and Crafts movement in Boston.

 

***For more information on these collections, please inquire through arts@bpl.org.***

Resources that will help you find Fine Arts collections are not yet all available online, but some are searchable on-site at the library through guides such as card catalogs, paper finding aids, and inventories. Researchers are strongly encouraged to send their questions about Fine Arts collections to arts@bpl.org.
 

Searching non-BPL arts resources:

To access materials related to general arts materials, you must have a BPL card, which can be obtained at any Borrowers' Services Desk in the library system, or you can get an eCard here.  

There are four main steps to locate resources; in many cases, it is worth consulting all four resources. 

Step 1: Online catalogs provide records for published sources on the topics of fine art, architecture, design; you can request these items through the catalog, designating "Delivery Desk" as the pickup point. However, items cataloged before 1980 may not be online. In which case...

Step 2: Card catalogs and microfiche provide a more complete record of the published material in the Fine Arts Department. Please see a librarian for assistance using arts@bpl.org.

Step 3: Periodicals and Journals can be found in databases listed here, either by subject, format, or audience.

Step 4: Finding Aids provide access to structured descriptions of select collections of Fine Arts archival collections, such as card catalogs containing biographic and historic information about artists, architects, galleries, and craftworkers.

About 30% of Arts collections have been digitized and are available through Digital Commonwealth. Below are a few examples of finding aids and works of art that are available online from the Fine Arts collections.

Works of Art on View at the Boston Public LibraryThis digital set contains works of art that are on long-term display at the Boston Public Library's Central Library. 

Charles J. Connick, Christian Assembly Church, Pittsfield, Massachusetts (ca. 1945–1986)

Charles J. Connick Gouache Collection: Charles J. Connick (1875-1945) was one of the pre-eminent artists in stained glass artists of the early twentieth century; his stained glass studio created approximately 15,000 windows for over 5,000 commissions between 1912 to 1986. Boston Public Library's collection includes 2,150 studies in gouache, along with over 10,000 black and white photographs, and several stained glass windows. Additionally, Massachusetts Institute of Technology maintains a robust finding aid of related works by Connick.

Ralph Adams Cram Papers, 1618-1997Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) was an American ecclesiastical and collegiate architect of the 20th century. The collection includes manuscripts, correspondence, watercolors, sketches, journals, scrapbooks, printed materials, and photographs.

UrbanArts, Inc. Records, 1970-2014This collection contains the business records of the seminal public art initiative The UrbanArts Institute, Boston, which have inspired the work of organizations in Boston today who are dedicated to supporting public art. A vital resource for researchers interested in public art administration and urban planning, materials includes photographs, slides, negatives, samples of artwork, administrative records, and newspaper clippings.

***Please visit Boston Public Library's Archives and Special Collections page to search descriptions and inventories of other archival collections found within the Fine Arts collections.***

Duke Riley (b. Boston 1972), The Enchafed Flood (2021).

Composite tile mosaic. Purchased through the Merriam Fund, 2022.33.1

On display in the Dartmouth Elevator Lobby, McKim building. 

 

 

The Public Gardens at twilight Boston skyline

Bruno Zupan (Slovenian, b. 1939). The Public Gardens at Twilight Boston Skyline (2019).
Gift of Galerie d'Orsay and Bruno Zupan. 2019.24 On display in the Newsfeed Cafe.