This post is part of an ongoing series on Eye Level: Q and Art, where American Art's Research department brings you interesting questions and answers about art and artists from our archive. If you enjoy this post, take a look at others in our series.
SAAM's Photograph Archives hold more than a quarter million photographs, documenting American art and artists. Curators, conservators, art collectors, and historians have used the images to inform or illustrate their projects. The Archives' largest collection contains 127,000 negatives from the Peter A. Juley & Son photography firm. The Juleys specialized in fine art photography and their clients included prominent artists, galleries, museums, and collectors. The collection includes photographs of artworks and artist portraits. But my favorites are the group portraits of artists socializing or participating in summer art schools like Ernest Thurn's school in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, these group photos often include unidentified individuals. Archives staff research the images in our collections and try to fill in as many details as possible, but many remain unknown. Therefore, we are thankful when a researcher sees our collection and tells us "I know who that person is!"
We recently received such a tip about this photograph of Ernest Thurn's class. A scholar researching the artist Sue Fuller spotted the young Fuller (she would have been around twenty years old) in this Juley photograph. It was at the Thurn School of Modern Art that she first studied with artist Hans Hofmann, an influential teacher for many of the artists who became abstract expressionists. Fuller continued to seek opportunities to learn new skills, and built a successful career as a sculptor and printmaker. SAAM holds several of her artworks including one of her innovative string compositions in which she embedded thread into synthetic plastic. With the identification of Sue Fuller, the Juley photograph portrays not only a summer art school, but also an episode in the early training of a specific artist.