- 27 November 2023
At the Paul Mellon Centre, we have been thinking about how our archives can help capture a more complex story of how art history in Britain has been practised and shaped by individuals working in different ways. Career paths in art history are rarely linear, and individuals working in the field are likely to be involved in a range of activities. As a result, we have expanded our archive collecting parameters to include a more diverse range of roles and activities including, but not limited to, educators, biographers, curators, gallerists and artist practitioners (in the latter case, only where this is not the main focus of the material). Increasingly, we recognise that the histories of British art have been created by people who might not necessarily describe themselves as professional “art historians”.
The Centre is also keen to acquire collections which explore and challenge the perhaps more traditional boundaries and definitions of British art. We are delighted to announce that we have recently acquired the archive of Deanna Petherbridge (1939–), an artist, writer, curator and teacher. Containing material relating to her extensive career, including residencies and lecture tours in countries such as India, Pakistan and Australia, the Petherbridge archive provides a rich resource for research.
Similarly, the Centre is eager to address gaps in its holdings, not least in relation to previously under-represented voices in the field. With this in mind, the Petherbridge Archive is the first of three collections, created by women, to have been acquired by the Centre in the last twelve months. This increases our holdings from four collected archives by women to seven (out of forty-one collected archives in total).
Together, these policy changes will help ensure that the archives at the Centre continue to fulfil their mission as a superlative resource documenting developments, changes and new narratives in the field of British art.
Deanna Petherbridge’s career epitomises some of these developments. Simultaneously working in the roles of artist, curator, writer and teacher, and with a focus on drawing, she has exhibited, lectured and published widely in both the UK and abroad. Her publication The Primacy of Drawing (YUP, 2010) and the 2013–2014 exhibition Witches and Wicked Bodies are particularly noteworthy and reflect her diverse concerns. Petherbridge has held various teaching posts including, perhaps most significantly, Professor of Drawing at the Royal College of Art, 1995–2001. She travelled extensively taking up residencies and fellowships across the globe, developing and working with a wide-ranging network of experts in the field.
The Petherbridge Archive documents these diverse activities. It contains material collected and compiled by Petherbridge throughout the course of her career, from the 1960s to present. Highlights of the collection include a series of “annual files” which contain extensive material related to a wide range of initiatives. Those concerning the studio residencies and lecture tours she undertook, often supported by the British Council, outside the UK are particularly rich.
Fifty books from Deanna Petherbridge’s library were also donated to the Centre. The collection contains books on art and architecture by Deanna Petherbridge as well as catalogues of exhibitions that she curated. It reflects her varied working life and is particularly rich in material on drawing. The material has been logged, but not fully catalogued, on the Centre’s library catalogue. All the books are available to readers.
The Petherbridge Archive has not yet been catalogued, but a boxlist is available and the material is open for consultation. Announcements about two further new acquisitions which also reflect these changes to the Centre’s archive collecting policy, will be made in the coming months: as soon as the material has been boxlisted and is available for consultation.
For more information on the Paul Mellon Centre’s collections see here.
The Centre’s revised Archive Collection Development policy is available here.