Woody Internship at the Phillips Collection: Week 7 in Review

Charles Town Courthouse, West Virginia

Charles Town Courthouse, West Virginia. This building was the setting of two of Pippin’s John Brown paintings.

I began this week by going to the Archives of American Art to work with a variety of sources. Part of my time there was spent listening to the oral history interviews with Sam Green, an influential gallerist who features in a book that one of Anne’s colleagues is about to publish. The AAA has 17 tapes’ worth of interviews, but I was most interested in what he had to say about his time working at the Green Gallery. Fortunately, his discussion of the Green Gallery began on tape 2 and fizzled out on tape 3.

I also arranged a special appointment to work with the collection of print archives relating to the American Federation of Arts—I was searching for the checklist of their (untitled, undated) 1945 exhibition that included one of Pippin’s paintings. However, the collection didn’t include any exhibition checklists at all. I also checked a few reels of microfilm in search of checklists from two Corcoran Biennale exhibitions (1943, 1945), but I was able to find them. I was able to find the checklist from the 1941 First Annual Exhibition by the Pyramid Club tucked into the microfilm of the Julius Bloch papers… so between that list and my notes from the Green interview, my efforts were fairly fruitful.

And, following a tip from Anne, I was able to find a copy of one of the Corcoran exhibitions in the Phillips Collection’s library. You might expect that the Corcoran Gallery’s archives would be easily accessible to a researcher in D.C. However, you’d be wrong. Since the Corcoran’s closing in 2014, its art collection was left to the National Gallery and its school was taken over by George Washington University. Some of its records are preserved on microfilm at the AAA, but the precise location of the rest of its archives (or at least the ones I’m looking for re: Horace Pippin) is the topic of one of my personal investigations…

The most exciting day this week was Wednesday: Anne and I went on another research trip, this time to Charles Town, West Virginia, in search of records about Horace Pippin’s family. Charles Town is only about an hour and a half from D.C., and (some) parts of the drive were scenic. While passing over the Potomac River, we had a nice view of Harper’s Ferry in the distance.

On this trip we were hoping to find Harriet & Joseph’s actual marriage license and/or any other records relating to Harriet, Joseph, James, or any Pippins or Irvins. We went to the Jefferson County courthouse in Charles Town to conduct our research.  The courthouse is famous for hosting the trial and execution of John Brown, both of which Pippin painted. 

Horace Pippin, The Trial of John Brown, 1942. Image from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

Horace Pippin, The Trial of John Brown, 1942. Image from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

Horace Pippin, John Brown going to his Hanging, 1942. Image courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Horace Pippin, John Brown Going to his Hanging, 1942. Image courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.


The courthouse’s archival vault was incredibly cool, but none of the sources we looked through made any mention of Pippins or Irvins in Jefferson County circa 1850/1860. It was only later (upon our return to D.C.) that Anne received a tip that we might have had more luck locating the records of West Virginia’s free black population in the Jefferson County Clerk’s office—needless to say, this pursuit will be continued by phone.

Inside the archives at the Charles Town Courthouse.

Inside the archives at the Charles Town Courthouse.

Upon our return from West Virginia we stopped by Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens.  Anne had recently visited and was keen to share the spectacle with me… and what a spectacle it was. Hillwood is the former residence of Marjorie Merriwhether Post and today hosts her collections of Russian Imperial and French decorative art. Her furniture and clothing are also on display. Taken individually, the pieces of her estate are all very interesting. Taken as a whole, the Hillwood experience is overwhelming…and peculiar. You really have to experience it for yourself!


This week was the final week of Anne’s postdoctoral fellowship with the Phillips Collection- George Washington University.  On Tuesday afternoon the Center hosted a farewell party to wish her luck with her next fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum. I will continue to do some Pippin research for Anne in the final weeks of my internship, though, which is great because I am very into this whole project. I’ve become (rather unexpectedly) invested in the career of Pippin!