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On the scent of American artists

It is funny how reference questions often come in bunches.  This week I have been asked by three unrelated people to research a number of American artists.  Having studied art history for many years, these questions are right up my alley.  One woman wanted to learn about an artist who painted a scene in Peterborough, New Hampshire that she owns.  A man wanted to read a book about an artist colony in Cos Cob, Connecticut that was active around the turn of the 20th century, and the assistant director to the library, who is compiling information about the artwork on our library walls, asked for information on the painter Fritz Pfeiffer, a printmaker named Chieffo and two unidentified artists who did images of harbors in Massachusetts.  Those last two may take me a while!

We have several types of resources here at the library that I used to gather bits and pieces of information together.  First off, I headed for the art books in our reference collection and consulted Who Was Who in American Art (1999), Who’s Who in American Art (2009) and Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers.  These are comprehensive directories that provide brief but valuable information about artists’ personal and professional lives.  I also consulted Davenport’s Art Reference & Price Guide to find recent auction values for paintings by the New Hampshire artist.  (Aside:  Davenport’s must be used with caution.  It is not wise to assume that all works by a particular artist listed in the guide are worth the same amount because there are so many variables that influence an auction value.  If you seriously want to know the value of something you own, see an appraiser.)

In addition to reference books, we have lots of great art books that can be checked out.  You probably know already that if Falmouth doesn’t have a book available, that we can make requests from other CLAMS libraries and off Cape libraries too.  Any CLAMS book can be borrowed from and returned at any CLAMS library.  We’ll make sure it gets back where it belongs.  There are two great books about the Cos Cob artist colony that I will request for our patron. 

I really hit the jackpot though when I consulted back issues of local newspapers.  Since I learned from the above directories that Pfeiffer lived in Provincetown, I figured I would find him mentioned in the Provincetown Advocate, which as luck would have it, is digitized and accessible via the Provincetown Library home page.  I found loads of articles, including one that was like an obituary and included lots of wonderful details and a photo.  Very exciting! 

I also searched numerous websites for museums and historical societies that I knew (also from the above directories) owned works by the artists in question.  Sometimes you can find a bio of the artist online or view images on museum sites.  Not much luck this week, but I’ll keep that trick up my sleeve for some other day.

I haven’t exhausted my search yet.  I will visit the Falmouth Historical Society archives and follow a couple other scents that wafted under my nose.  If you have anything to share, please let me know.  And if you have a reference question, just let a friendly reference librarian know and we will put you on the right track to find your answer, be that from books, newspapers, online sources or another format.  We’ve got you covered.

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