Santa Fe, New Mexico – 1920

Sunlight filters through your studio, specs of sand and dust twinkling in the beams. You’ve just finished your lunch – wiping your hands on a rag stained with paint and crumbs. Now it’s time to sort through the day’s mail. You begin sorting through the small pile of mail that arrived earlier that morning. Familiar handwriting catches your eye, and you glance at the return address. It’s just the letter you’ve been waiting for. Gathering your letter opener, your stationary, and finally finding that pen you swore you had just moments ago, you’re ready to slice open the envelope to read the message that awaits.

A dear friend has written to you – giving you updates about their family, their thoughts on a new painting technique they’ve tested, and even including a paw print of their dog so you can see how much it’s grown. A smile tugs at the corner of your mouth as you trace the shape of the paw print. Putting pen to paper, you write your response; words flowing easily and filling the page. Later that afternoon, you drop the letter off at the post office, and the morning’s mail stays tucked away in a drawer as you carry on your day.

Fast forward over one hundred years, the letter is found resting comfortably in an archival box by the DelArt Digital Project Manager. It is carefully removed from its folder, scanned into a computer, and, finally, transcribed and uploaded to the Digital Archives so that researchers and art enthusiasts alike can read this letter and many other memories for years to come. It’s letters like these, along with photographs and, of course, pieces of artwork, that allow the people of today a glimpse of the past.

The John Sloan Manuscript Collection measures 238 linear feet (approximately 112 baguettes) and fills over 300 boxes and drawers, accounting for about 10% of the Museum’s total archival holdings (which stands at over 2,000 linear feet or 24,384 goldfish crackers). The Collection includes Sloan’s extensive correspondence, personal diaries, and notes about his career; personal and family papers; financial and legal records; photographs and more.

The John Sloan Digitization Project, funded by a generous grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS), aims to digitize and make accessible online the 300 boxes of letters, photographs, and other archival material. Currently, the project consists of 7,261 individual scans with more to come! If you’ve ever wondered what John Sloan’s typical day might have been like, there are plenty of letters and photographs that can transport you back in time. Be sure to follow along by checking the Digital Archives as more material is uploaded every day!

Illustrated letter from Will Shuster to John Sloan, November 30, 1920, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum