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Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art registrar's office records

 Record Group
Identifier: COR0005.1-RG

Scope and Contents

The Registrar's Office Records contain the Corocoran Gallery’s object/ accession and deaccession files, as well as additional administrative files, including records of insurance, bequests, reproduction rights, loans of works of art, and exhibitions.

Much of the Registrar's Records before 1950 are bound volumes or "registers." Information on book, bronze, painting and sculpture accessions is located in four accession registers in Series 1.

With the official appointment of a Registrar in the early 1950s, the records of the office become more organized and more complete than those for earlier years. The earlier "registers'' of works of art were no longer used by the late 1940s. Similar accession logbooks were used from then until the early 1960s. After that time, all accession information has been kept on accession sheets in each object file. A logbook of "X" numbers assigned lists those works found during the inventory of the collection during the late 1940s and early 1950s for which there was no notation in any of the registers.

Materials containing information on all other aspects of the Office of the Registrar’s activities are either greatly expanded or appear for the first time in this post-1950 period. Registrar's Reports (quarterly), which began in 1959, systematically record the activities of that department for the first time. In addition, reproduction rights and photo order requests make their first appearance in this post-1950 period, beginning in 1963. The volume of loan files expands greatly, providing an informative and complete record of loaned works of art since that time.


  • 1869-2013


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to research.

When conducting research within The Corcoran Archives collections, please be advised of the following restrictions:

Records of the Board of Trustees (RG 1.0) and records of the Office of the Director (RG 2.0) are closed to research for 25 years from the date of creation.

Development records are closed to research (RG 3.2).

Access to student records is governed by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records. Student records are closed for the lifetime of the student, and are presumed to be open 75 years after the date of record creation (RG 9.0 Series 4).

Personnel and financial records are closed for 50 years from date of record creation (RG 4.0).

Please see the Public Services and Instruction Librarian for assistance.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that the institution owns copyright, the donor has assigned the copyright in its works to The George Washington University; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For activities that the researcher determines fall under fair use as defined under U.S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Please contact Special Collections if the copyright status of the materials you wish to reuse is unclear. Staff will provide additional information. For re-use of materials in the collection not created by the donor, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights, determining if the intended re-use falls under fair use, and obtaining approval from the copyright holder if the intended use does not fall under fair use. For such materials, researchers do not need anything further from The George Washington University’s Special Collections Research Center.

Historical narrative

The first section of this history, covering events through 1981, was prepared by Corcoran Archivist Katherine M. Kovocs for publication in 1985 with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Registrar’s position at the Gallery was established in 1952. The Registrar's duties included the registering of art objects; handling of loans, shipping and insurance procedures; and controlling the physical inventory and the storage of art objects. It was at this time that the Curator's and Registrar's offices, one department until this time, divided into two distinct units.

The 1960s saw a continued increase in the size of the Curatorial/Registrarial staffs as well as greater expertise amongst its members. At various times throughout this decade the curatorial staff featured Chief Curators, Registrars, Curators of Exhibitions, Curator of Collections & Research/Research Curator, Curator of Contemporary Art, Assistant and Associate Curators, and various curatorial and registrar assistants and secretaries.

The 1970s featured further expansion, diversity, and organizational innovations in the Gallery's curatorial and registrar's departments. Until 1975, the Gallery's Director maintained an active role in curatorial affairs (e.g. exhibitions), continuing a trend begun by the Corcoran's first Curator/Director. However, with the appointment for the first time of a Chief Curator, Jane Livingston, in 1975, much of the aesthetic initiative and curatorial administrative responsibilities were placed with the Chief Curator. The Director, now aided by a large, expert curatorial staff, turned his focus toward other Gallery concerns, such as budgets, finances, and fundraising. This is especially true with the appointment of Peter Marzio as Director in 1978.

The latter half of the 1970s witnessed other important occurrences such as the creation of the Associate Director's post, the naming of a Curator of Collections, and the reinstallation of the "American" (permanent) collection.

Persons who figure prominently in the Registrar's Office history include Shelby Cave, Jane (McCall) Cohen, Mary (Hoffman) Porbes, Ellen Gross, Rosemary Jones, Martha Morris, Judy Riley, Glenn Thomas and Susan (Grady) Williams.

The following section of this history was prepared in 2019 by George Washington University SCRC staff with the support of the Luce Foundation.

Following the reinstallation of the “American” permanent collection, the Gallery continued to expand on its American art holdings, beginning to branch out into American contemporary art. In 1979, the Gallery created the post of “Associate Curator of Contemporary Art for the Washington Region.” The position was revised later to include a national focus, becoming the Associate Curator of Contemporary Art. With the appointment of Ned Rifken in 1984, the position title was changed again to Curator of Contemporary Art.

Jane Livingston's tenure as the Chief Curator of the Gallery had long lasting effects on the direction of the curatorial department. From 1975 until her resignation in 1989, Livingston placed greater emphasis on photography and progressive modern art. Through her initiative, the Corcoran Gallery became a major force in Contemporary photography. Work by Ned Rifken (Curator of Contemporary Art 1984-1986) and Ed Nygren (Curator of Collections until 1988) further elevated the Corcoran’s position in the Washington contemporary art scene.

The Gallery suffered major setbacks in 1989 following the decision to cancel the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective The Perfect Moment. Jane Livingston resigned in protest of the cancellation, and several members of the curatorial staff followed her in departing the Corcoran. Jane Livingston’s position would not be filled for another three years, until the appointment of Jack Cowart in 1992. Cowart then created the position of Curator of Photography and Media Arts in the same year.

In 2007, the Corcoran set out five core subjects for the permanent collections; Historic American Art, Historic European Art, Photography and Media Arts, Decorative Arts, and Contemporary Art. There was a particular focus on the photography and American art collections.

The Gallery continued to acquire art, predominantly photographs and paintings, as well as loan works and house traveling exhibitions until its partition and dissolution in 2014.


212 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Corcoran Gallery of Art Office of the Registrar was responsible for the registering of art objects, handling of loans, shipping and insurance procedures, and controlling the physical inventory and the storage of art objects. This record group contains files and reports generated by the Office of the Registar in the course of their duties. The Accession files provide the most complete record of works entering the Corcoran collection. Material in this record group dates from 1869-2013.


Organized into 17 series: Accessions [legacy series]; Accessions; Registrar's reports; Loans of works of art [legacy series]; Loan files; Insurance [legacy series]; Insurance files; Reproduction rights and photo orders [legacy series]; Reproduction rights and photo orders; Bequests; Amati and Stradavari instruments [legacy series]; Amati and Stradavari instruments; Miscellaneous subjects [legacy series]; Miscellaneous subjects; Exhibition files; Deaccession files; Collection management files.

Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site, and will require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Corcoran Institution Board of Trustees donated these records to The George Washington University in 2016.

Related Materials

Within the Corcoran Archives, several other record groups contain related material to the Registrar’s office records:

RG 1.0 Corcoran Board of Trustees meeting minutes and reports -- especially those of the Works of Art Committee -- feature loan and accession information. Annual reports also contain summaries of loan and accession activities.

RG 2.0 Corcoran director's records provide information regarding bequests to the Gallery.

RG 5.0 Curatorial office records contains additional exhibition files.

RG 5.2 Conservation department records include valuable data on individual works of art within condition reports and the quarterly reports of the Conservator.

Processing Information

Series 1-8 were processed by Corcoran Archivist K. Robinson in June 1983. Series 9-17 were processed in 2019 during the Luce grant project for the Corcoran Archives. Series numbering and titles from 1983 were retained, and the label “[legacy series]” indicates an original series that now has a corresponding later series with the same title. For ease of browsing, corresponding legacy and new series have been re-ordered to be adjacent in the collection display.

During original processing in 1983, the following materials were removed and placed in more appropriate locations:

News clippings: Artist vertical files or history clippings files; Announcements/invitations: Special Events ephemera; Exhibition catalogs (non-Corcoran): School Library for its collection; WGMA materials: Washington Gallery of Modern Art Records; Photos/slides/transparencies/tapes: Archives Audio-Visual Records.

The following materials were disposed of during original processing in 1983: Annual Report copy; employment applications, cover letters, and resumes; expense vouchers, purchase orders; miscellaneous receipts; and information queries on exhibition schedules, artists or works of art. Those queries which provided new or significant information on an exhibit, artist or work of art were retained (most often transferred to the artist vertical files).

  • Art Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
  • Artists Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
  • Museums Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
  • Washington (D.C.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
Guide to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art registrar's office records, 1869-2013
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

2130 H Street NW
Washington 20052 United States of America