Philadelphia Museum of Art - Research : Center for American Art
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Still Life - A Student's Table
Still Life - A Student's Table, 1882
William Michael Harnett, American
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Research Resources

The Center for American Art offers assistance for all types of research about the nation’s artistic heritage. Specifically, the Center administers the files for the Museum’s American art collections as well as maintains the Lloyd and Edith Havens Goodrich Record of Works by Thomas Eakins.

Additionally, the Museum offers several free resources to aid researchers, including:

  • An online searchable database of many (but not all) objects in the collection,
  • The Museum’s Archives, which holds a variety of materials that chronicle the history of the institution, and
  • The Museum’s Library, which contains 285,000 print and electronic books, periodicals, auction catalogues, and online databases, as well as more than 190,000 cataloged digital images.
  • Since not all objects are represented online, please email to inquire about further collection holdings that may be of interest. Due to the fragility, rarity, and difficulty of handling certain objects, requests are subject to the approval of curators and conservators.

    When accessing materials, certain types of information may not be available because of restrictions that protect the privacy rights of individuals/organizations or the proprietary rights of the Museum, or for other reasons. However, access to the bulk of the collection is unrestricted and will be made available to researchers on a fair and equitable basis.

    Request an Appointment

    Appointments to access American art collection objects or research files can be scheduled for Monday–Friday, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Availability may be restricted by the department’s exhibition schedule and by staff and space limitations.

    To request a visit, email with the following information:

    • Name
    • Preferred date of visit
    • Subject of research
    • Purpose of research
    • Collection objects to be consulted
    • Research files to be consulted
    A staff member will contact you to confirm the appointment.

    Policies

    When working with collection objects and files, kindly follow these guidelines >>

    Collection Objects

    • Before your appointment, check personal belongings such as coats, bags, backpacks, umbrellas, and portfolios at the Museum’s coat check. Pencils, paper, laptops, and cameras are allowed.
    • Food (including candy or gum) and beverages (including water) are not permitted in secured storage areas.
    • Museum staff will handle and move art objects. A staff member will be present at all times with you in secured storage areas. When closely examining objects, ensure your accessories, apparel, and other personal items do not touch the object. Be mindful not to touch an object when pointing or looking through magnifying glasses or other devices.
    • You may photograph objects with a digital camera, cell phone, or tablet but without the use of flash or a tripod. Images of many collection objects are available on the Museum’s website. To publish an image of a work from the Museum’s collection, email for information about photography rights and costs.

    Archival and Research Files

    • Personal belongings such as coats, briefcases, or bags should not be placed on the research table. Pencils, paper, laptops, and cameras are allowed.
    • You will receive permission to examine materials after filling out and signing a Researcher Registration Form. This document includes an agreement that indicates that you have read the access procedures and a warning about copyright law. It will be kept on file with a list of records pulled.
    • Examine records one box at a time, one folder at a time, maintaining the order in which they were received. Notify a staff member if anything appears to be out of order—do not rearrange the records yourself.
    • When handling records, use a common-sense approach:
      • No food or beverages at the reading table.
      • Wash hands before handling materials.
      • Pencils only.
      • Do not erase or make marks on documents.
      • Do not trace or write on top of documents.
      • Wear gloves only when examining photographic materials.
      • Do not bend or crease brittle paper; support it against a stable flat surface, such as a folder or tabletop.
      • You may photograph objects with a digital camera, cell phone, or tablet but without the use of flash or a tripod. Images of many collection objects are available on the Museum’s website. To publish an image of a work from the Museum’s collection, contact the Library at for information about photography rights and costs.
    • Items to be copied should be turned perpendicular in the folder. Let us know if you would like documents scanned or photocopied. This service is available free of charge.

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