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Oral History

In an effort to preserve the historical record of the National Gallery of Art, nearly 200 oral history interviews have been conducted for the Oral History Program since 1987. A selection of audio recordings and transcripts are available for study in the Gallery Archives.

National Gallery of Art Oral History Program

The National Gallery of Art established its oral history program in 1987 in the context of preparations for its 50th anniversary celebrations and at a time of generational change. Since then, interviews have been conducted with trustees and donors to the Gallery, former executive officers, retired curatorial and administrative staff, architects and others associated with design and construction of the West and East Buildings, and close observers of the Gallery over time. Interviews have ranged from in-depth life histories recorded in several sessions to shorter interviews relating to a single significant aspect of an individual’s career or a single phase of the history of the National Gallery of Art.

The oral history program also includes interviews focused on a particular event or topic, such as the “Vermeer Project.” In 1996, archives staff conducted a series of interviews with individuals and groups of staff members. Gallery staff described the events associated with the Johannes Vermeer and Winslow Homer exhibitions and the unexpected closings, enormous crowds, and national attention experienced by the Gallery during the fall and winter of 1995-1996. Although covering the full range of topics relating to winter events, the interviews are called collectively the “Vermeer Project.” These special project interviews are not included in the Oral History Guide but may be consulted by request in the Gallery Archives.

Using the Oral Histories

The Gallery Archives seeks to make oral history interview transcripts and audio recordings available to researchers as soon as possible and to the fullest extent possible, in accordance with signed agreements with interviewees and established access policies of the Gallery Archives. Select transcripts and audio recordings are available for study in the archives.

Oral History Guide

The Oral History Guide provides descriptions of interview transcripts that are available for study in the Gallery Archives. Interviews are arranged by category.

Download the Oral History Guide (PDF 491kb)