Project preserves stories behind paintings in Greater Latrobe Special Art Collection

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Each of the more than 200 works in the Greater Latrobe Special Art Collection purchased by the students of the district since 1936 has a story to tell, and the Art Conservation Trust is working to share those stories.

With the help of archivist Nicole Danforth, the trust has worked to digitize four filing cabinets “overflowing” with those stories behind the paintings: letters, newspaper clippings and other corresponding documents.

“We always talk about conserving the paintings, conserving the works of art so the students in the future will have them, but we're also conserving information and making it usable,” said Barbara Nakles, chairwoman of the trust.

The project was a part of the Preserve the Vision campaign with the assistance of Emily Uhrin, archivist for the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College, and took about a year to complete.

Many of the files were initially acquired and retained by James R. Beatty, who first suggested that students vote and raise money to buy works of art. Included with the other papers is a transcript of more than 30 hours of conversation about the collection between Nakles and Beatty from 1991, when Beatty was 90.

“Maybe his memory wasn't exact, but that doesn't matter; it just matters that it's here,” Nakles said.

Danforth had worked with the art trust previously and was given the nod as the perfect candidate for the project, scanning and making consistent files for possible online searches one day.

“She is meticulous, which is necessary,” Nakles said. “She is extraordinarily skilled at doing this.”

Each of the stories — such as a letter on nearly translucent paper from the subject of 1944's “Mimi” to the artist — is a part of an ongoing legacy, Danforth said.

“How do we: one, preserve what we have, and two, make it good for research?” she said.

Everything has been scanned. New hard copies were made, staples and clips were removed, and important files were placed in acid-free folders.

Related books, like the one about the Sewickley family of “Mimi,” called “Misfortunes of Wealth,” have been filed together with the paperwork.

Anyone interested in the paintings or their corresponding file can contact the Center for Student Creativity to review the information.

Now the trust is working to determine how to best present the archives along with the works online, in order for more people to search and learn about particular artists or works of art.

“We are slowly moving into an electronic world, but we look to a future where the images and perhaps the material and catalog would be immediately available,” she said. “It's going to take us some time.”

Paintings are highlighted online in the trust's e-newsletter as well as a “painting of the month” on the Greater Latrobe School District website.

The organization is working to digitize the minutes and archives of the art trust.

Danforth said she appreciates the original vision of the art collection and its accessibility to students.

“It's chaos” in the halls of the school where the art hangs, but “they're living every day with history and incredible works of art,” she said.

The work is never done in the “living” files, as new information about the artists, subjects or work are unearthed, Nakles said.

“It's something that will not be completed,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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