At the American Art and Portrait Gallery (AAPG) Library, we are always turning to our Art and Artist Files for items to highlight the breadth of our collections. This was the case when we decided to find some materials that were related to the Smithsonian celebration of JFK 100, the centennial of President John F. Kennedy’s birth. Since both the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum are participating, we thought it was a great opportunity to see what we could pull from our vertical files.
While our Art and Artist Files collection is made up of files based on artist and institution, we also have subject files where we can file ephemera on subjects that don’t quite fit the other two categories but are necessary for our researchers. For instance, these subject files house ephemeral materials on American Presidents, an important facet of our collection needed to support both the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Though our slender subject file on John F. Kennedy mostly consisted of old newspaper clippings and Xeroxes copies, one item caught our eye. It was an unassuming two-paged exhibition pamphlet with a checklist of art works on the inside—all text, black and white. However, this particular exhibition was held in John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Suite at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth and dated the 22nd of November, 1963, the day that he was assassinated.
Notes on the back of the pamphlet indicate that this was passed to the AAPG Library from the Archives of American Art (a relationship that we are extremely lucky to have!), but it doesn’t note when or from where they received it from. However, it does note that it was number 65 of 100 copies, leading us to believe this item is rare. Preserving this original pamphlet is not only helpful for art research but for history research as well. Information in the pamphlet about the owners, curators, and supporters of the exhibition all have historical significance. This can tell a story about the local art scene at the time as well as the intended trajectory of that day, a subject of interest to many historians and conspiracy theorists.
Luckily, the efforts of the coordinators of the exhibition were not in vain. The Dallas Museum recreated the original exhibition in 2013 in their show Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. The exhibition discussed the importance of the original 1963 exhibition, how it was formed, and the tragedy that occurred and ultimately overshadowed it. Items like the original 1963 exhibition catalog are integral in recreating an exhibition constructed decades before.
When we make discoveries like this it makes us happy to know that we have had a place to put ephemeral materials that can become critical research items in the future.