Saturday, August 15, 2015

Heinz Archive and Library--National Portrait Gallery

Heinz Library and Archive Reading Room
The Heinz Archive and Library may literally be in the shadow of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), but the research value of its collections is inestimable. The Heinz is the library and archives for the NPG, and the collections within are centered around the decisions, activities, and events of the Gallery, as well as the material used for authenticating the Gallery's holdings. Additionally, they have a wealth of portraits and photographs not on display at the Gallery.

All papers and photographs are kept onsite, and there are around 250,000 photos, comprising loose prints, albums, and negatives. Because of their relationship with the NPG, photographs in the collection were centered around the subject of the portraiture, rather than the photographer. In recent years, interest and research has shifted to include the photographer. The photo collections are exclusively portraits and serve to demonstrate the history of portraiture. However, the collections can also be helpful to genealogists, and those looking for portraits of their relatives. A collection of albums from a commercial photographer, for example, includes prominent Hyde Park families sitting for portraits in the 19th century.

List of 'rats trapped and killed in the Gallery'
While the photographs display the history and evolution of portraiture, the archives hold the records of the NPG itself, which are quite interesting in their own right. Among these records are the photos and papers produced during the war years, while the collections were evacuated to a country estate. Photos of the staff feeding the chickens on the estate and records detailing rat kills in the London premises are a comical juxtaposition to the war.

Other gems include postcards, the first commercial attempts of the Gallery, which were commissioned to contemporary writers and written about famous figures. Some of the resulting postcards were a bit rude, wordy, or impersonal, and were more telling of the writer than the figure in question.

Finally, the archive digitizes on demand and by need, or with an external funding project. Their online catalog and digitized collections can be found at the link below.

Although this was an optional visit, I enjoyed it immensely. The archivist, Bryony, spoke about what it means to be an archivist, and her own career. As a student about to embark on similar career, I found it helpful and interesting to hear her explain things in her own terms.

I would suggest this as a must visit!

Check out the Heinz Archive online!

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