Reference: An International Endeavor!

Author: Barbara Beaucar

The thing I like best about reference is the flow and exchange of information, but not just between a researcher and my own institution. I value the interface between scholars, librarians, curators, and archivists as they provide answers and, at the same time, enhance each other’s knowledge regarding a particular subject or individual.
One of our favorite researchers emailed me some time ago about a gift of art work that my institution’s founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, made to the Blanden Art Museum in Fort Dodge, Iowa. It was the only gift that he is known to have made to a public institution and the scholar wondered if we had any more information about it. With the help of my co-worker, Adrienne Pruitt, I found some elderly collection catalogue cards in our archives indicating that, in 1951, a gift of art work was made to the “Ft. Dodge, Iowa, Museum (Robert Brady).” Meanwhile, the director of the Blanden Art Museum, emailed our researcher that Robert Brady, a native of Fort Dodge, had attended classes at the Barnes Foundation and at Temple University in Philadelphia and that, shortly before Dr. Barnes died in 1951, he met with Barnes to discuss a plan for creating a multi-cultural and stylistically diverse collection at the Blanden.
Dr. Barnes’s correspondence indicated that Brady had, in fact, been a student at the Foundation between 1950 and 1951, and a Google search revealed that he continued his career in Italy before settling in Mexico, where he bequeathed his home and art collection to the city of Cuernavaca. Imagine my delight when a researcher from that city contacted me with a reference request about Robert Brady! Lilia Urcino Viedma, a graduate student at Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, had chosen Brady and his art collection as her dissertation topic. Already familiar with the Barnes/Brady correspondence, our catalogue cards, and the email from the Blanden’s director, I was able to confirm Brady’s affiliation with the Barnes, supporting the interesting connection between the three institutions’ eclectic collections. 
In the summer of 2010, Ms. Urcino visited the Barnes Foundation to see the art ensembles that had so influenced Brady. When she asked if I might find further documentation of Brady’s education at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, I contacted Carol Ann Harris in Temple Libraries’ Special Collections. While she could not confirm his attendance dates, she found a 1951 article in the Temple University News mentioning a prize that Robert Brady won at an alumni exhibition. I created a pdf of the article and sent it to Ms. Urcino in Mexico. She wrote, “The completeness of my research would have never been possible without your valuable support and help.” Ah. My raison d’etre. But, I must add, I couldn’t have helped her without the help of others, those who work in a variety of information and cultural professions. 
Last winter, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico, to see Ms. Urcino in Cuernavaca, and experience her generous hospitality. Together we visited the Robert Brady Museum and met with the museum’s director, Sally Sloan, who noted that Brady’s wall ensembles not only mirrored Dr. Barnes’s sense of aesthetic organization but also the diversity of the objects that he collected. After returning home to Philadelphia, Ms. Sloan and I collaborated on an electronic exchange of our Robert Brady correspondence. 
The combined efforts of two scholars, two archivists, a special collections librarian, and two museum directors underscores of the value of not only building on past reference work but of sharing that vital information with other institutions.

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