Frances Lichten Research Collection
Held at: Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives [Contact Us]Philadelphia Museum of Art, PO Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Frances Lichten was a Research Associate in the Decorative Arts department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1955 until her death in 1961. She brought to the Museum her expertise in Pennsylvania German folk art. She was involved in the development and opening of the Museum's Titus C. Geesey Collection.
Born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in 1889, Frances Lichten developed an early interest in art. At fourteen, she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. She studied design and interior decoration, while also developing an interest in landscape painting. She took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and began to travel around the countryside to practice her technique. She worked as a commercial artist after her graduation, and continued in this capacity for nearly ten years.
From 1936 until 1941, she utilized her design skills as the State Supervisor for the "Index of American Design," which sent artists into the field to document the richness and variety of American arts and crafts. Frances Lichten thrived in this position, compiling hundreds of sketches and drawings depicting folk art unique to the Pennsylvania German population. She later authored a number of books on Pennsylvania folk art, including "The Folk Arts of Rural Pennsylvania," which won her the National Art Club award in 1946. She also published "Pennsylvania German Chests" and "Folk Art Motifs of Pennsylvania," which drew from the sketches and illustrations she created while working with the Works Progress Administration. She published "Decorative Art of Victoria's Era" in 1950. She was also the author of many articles about decorative art, which appeared in local and national publications.
In addition to her position at the Museum, Frances Lichten spent the last years of her life working as the archivist at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She was also a consultant on Pennsylvania folk art for Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and Historic Bethlehem, Inc.
The Frances Lichten Research Collection contains a wide range of material: newspaper and magazine articles, manuscripts for articles and lectures, drawings and sketches, notes, photographs, painted images and fragile ephemera from the Victorian era, correspondence, and business and personal records. Though primarily made up of files compiled for research purposes, there is some overlap between her personal and professional research files. Much of the work contained in the Pennsylvania German series was completed well before Lichten came to work at the Museum. She likely drew from this past research to inform her work as a Research Associate. This collection offers a view of a holistic method of thinking and conducting research. Everything here is related, whether connections are obvious on the surface or not.
Frances Lichten was a collector. She clipped articles and advertisements from magazines and newspapers that had relevance to the project she was working on at the time. It seems clear that few of these images were used for actual publication, but they connected to facilitate the development of larger ideas. Visual images played a crucial role in her thinking process, creating a catalyst for a concept that had yet to become a fully realized idea.
There are seeds for new projects everywhere in the pages of these files. She layered idea on top of idea, literally stapling small scraps of paper to larger ones to create a map of a concept. She attached drawings to photographs and news clippings. Interspersed with magazine articles and watercolor sketches are delicate objects from the Victorian era. There was less concern for the sanctity of a particular object than for the interweaving of ideas, images, and authoritative notes.
Due to the intermingling of materials, unusual preservation issues had to be addressed in order to maintain the intellectual content of the collection. It seemed important to stay as true to Frances Lichten's style of working as possible because without the interconnection of ideas and images, much would be lost. As a result of this decision, unique solutions had to be devised for the preservation of all the objects in the collection. Rather than creating a separate photo file to uniformly house the hundreds of photographs in these files, extensive interleaving with bond paper, as well as some encapsulation, was performed to maintain the collection's informational integrity. Fragile objects were segregated in envelopes and paper folders to preserve the delicate paper. Oversized objects are housed in separate boxes for their maintenance.
As much as was possible, the original order of the files was maintained. However, this proved difficult because they were housed and used in the Decorative Arts and American Art departments for nearly thirty years between Frances Lichten's death and their transfer to the Archives. Heavily used sections of the files, particularly in the area of Pennsylvania German folk art, were often in an order that was not necessarily the same as during their use by Frances Lichten. Comparisons between her card files and the research files were made to establish as accurate an order as possible. Lichten's own arrangement appeared to be alphabetical by project, which is why there is a new alphabetical series for each series in the final arrangement.
Although housed separately, oversized clippings, drawings and artifacts are intellectually arranged within appropriate series. Oversized clippings are in flat storage boxes 26 through 28. Oversized drawings and artifacts, including patterns taken from late 19th century magazines, are in flat storage box 29.
This collection is a product of work done by Frances Lichten during her employment as a Research Associate in the Decorative Arts department from 1955-1961. After her death in 1961, the Decorative Arts department retained the files and they remained in the department for use as reference files until they were inventoried in 1993 and transferred to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives.
These materials were arranged and described by Cathleen Miller.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Cathleen Miller
- Finding Aid Date
- Funded by a grant from No sponsor
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
The Frances Lichten Research Collection is the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.
Consisting of research and collections that contributed to her writing of "Decorative Art of Victoria's Era," this series offered the clearest view of Lichten's workings as a researcher. She was methodical in her categorization of ideas, often marking notes with a label that identified its place in the research project. Because of the close alignment between the research files and the card files, it is evident that Frances Lichten was thorough and logical in her work. If she changed her mind about where an idea should be filed, she would re-mark the page with a different colored pencil so that she could identify the chronology of these decisions.
Contained in this series are many objects dating from the 1850s through the turn of the century. There are cartes de visites, tin type photo plates, paper valentines and paper doilies. There are fabric samples, hand-tinted prints from "Godey's Lady Book," a signed picture of Sarah Josepha Hale, patterns for embroidered images, original articles from a variety of sources, as well as modern imitations of Victorian craftsmanship. These delicate objects are intermingled with notes and drawings that would serve to explain the Victorian sensibility to a wide audience.
There is evidence in the card files that this series contains material for another Victorian research project about Eliza Leslie that was never fully formed. Because of the incomplete nature of these research files, they were incorporated into this series for better accessibility to researchers.
Frances Lichten Research Collection / I. Victoriana / f. Woman's position.
Frances Lichten Research Collection / I. Victoriana / f. Picturesque--rustic.
Frances Lichten Research Collection / I. Victoriana / f. Picturesque--rustic.
Frances Lichten Research Collection / I. Victoriana / f. Landscape.
Frances Lichten Research Collection / I. Victoriana / f. Painted work.
Frances Lichten Research Collection / I. Victoriana / f. Education.
This series is more artificially created than the others, containing items that did not necessarily connect to any research project, but were helpful in constructing a picture of Frances Lichten's research and life. There are photographs of her and her friends in her studio and garden, which depict Lichten's studio as a social hub for her circle. The correspondence files contain letters from her readers, as well as letters regarding her consultant positions.
In addition to Frances Lichten's obituary and a tribute written for a memorial service, there are some letters written by her companion Katherine Milhous to friends during Lichten's prolonged illness and after her death. Though they are few, they fill in the details of a life beyond what can be read through her research files.
Represented here is the scope of articles published on various subjects by Frances Lichten. Her articles appeared in publications as wide ranging as "Woman's Day" and "Antiques." Included are also lecture notes that indicated when and where they had been presented. There are book reviews for a number of her books and hand-designed book plates for one of her Pennsylvania German folk art books. A wall-size facsimile of a hanging that appeared in "Woman's Day" is included with its negatives. Also of interest are a number of clippings from magazines and newspapers that announce the opening of the Titus C. Geesey Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
An extensive collection of drawings and clippings, this series provides a depth that shows Lichten's passion for all things Pennsylvania German. She collected cards and menus, as well as reviews of the Broadway show "Plain and Fancy," which portrayed Amish life. There are documents linking some of the research to the Works Progress Administration projects that employed both Lichten and Milhous during the depression. There is extensive observation of costume and customs, accompanied by brochures from formal museum collections.
All aspects of Pennsylvania German life are documented in this series, but special attention is paid to the decorative arts common in this cultural group. Many of the drawings were used in the Index of American Design and WPA projects, as well as in various books written by Lichten. She seemed to have a special interest in Pennsylvania German dower chests and fraktur, since her collecting in these areas is heavy.
These files appear to be general reference files about specific periods, methods, media, and object types. Most of these files consist of clippings from magazines and newspapers that describe or picture a particular style or technique. Although notes and photographs do play a role in this series, Lichten seemed to use this as a source of information rather than ideas. The arrangement of the subject files is a close approximation of the arrangement in the card files.
Though their use in Lichten's research is not entirely clear, there is some replication between the card files and the subject folders. The card files were likely a place to store notes and references to bibliographic information that might be used for preparing lectures and publications. Among the many types of information contained in these files are notes about particular objects (including many small drawings), schedules for publication, and outlines of ideas that could be used to return to articles of interest. Most of the card files are arranged alphabetically by subject. The cards are more carefully grouped and related than the subject files. They seem to be broadly separated by project (i.e., "Victoria," "Material Pertinent to the Eliza Leslie idea," and "The home"), business files listing expenses and contacts, bibliographic files, and object files (i.e., "Geesey House and Collection"). There are many sections of the card files that contain information not duplicated elsewhere in the collection. For instance, there is a listing of women's clubs in the area, as well as a listing of various artisans by craft.
Because of their outline quality, it was the card files that helped to create the final arrangement of the collection.