Contact sheet from Louis H. Draper’s photoshoot with Langston Hughes, pre-1967, from the Virginia Museum of
Fine Arts Archives.
Photo: Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust

NEH Awards $173,833 Grant to Virginia Museum to Digitize Louis Draper Archive

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts a $173,833 grant to digitize the photographs, negatives, and other materials from photographer Louis Draper’s archive. In the 1960s and 1970s, Draper captured the vantage point of African Americans during the civil rights era, and in 1963, he was a founding member of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of African American photographers.

The museum acquired the archive—comprising 2,822 photographs, 42,116 negatives, 748 contact sheets, 4,378 color and black-and-white slides, 36 computer-generated images, and 71 computer disks, as well as his camera equipment and more than eighty linear inches of valuable archival documents and publications—in March 2016. It had acquired thirteen of his photographs three years earlier.

“This significant addition to our collection recognizes our vision to put the VMFA in the forefront in collecting and disseminating the works of African American artists,” director Alex Nyerges said. “In just a few years, our museum has become the go-to venue for Draper’s amazing works, both as a photographer and as an educator. Draper gave us a different and meaningful perspective each time he clicked the shutter on his camera.”

Stephen D. Bonadies, the VMFA’s senior deputy director for conservation and collections who will oversee the digitization project, said that the Draper archive is the institution’s largest special collection. “Not only will this project allow us to improve our stewardship and care of these works, but it will also enable us to virtually share this incredible resource with visitors from across America and even the world.”

In July 2017, the museum will loan works from the collection to London’s Tate Modern for the exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” Works from the VMFA’s holdings are currently on view in “Black in America: Louis Draper and Leonard Freed” at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The grant is from the NEH’s Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program, which supports programs in scholarship, education, and the humanities. NEH Chairman William D. Adams said, “NEH provides support for projects across America that preserve our heritage, promote scholarly discoveries, and make the best of America’s humanities ideas available to all Americans.”

In 2014, the VMFA received a $40,000 grant from the NEH to develop the technical requirements and workflow for the museum’s digitalization initiatives. The grant also supported efforts to digitize about 750 archival documents related to its Fabergé and Russian decorative arts collection.