Chicago Artist Files

Title Chicago Artist Files
Dates Circa 1890-2014, bulk dates 1946-2014
Size 72 linear feet of vertical files, 10 flat file drawers of posters, 15 linear feet of artist books, 10,000 35 mm slides, 132 photo CDs and 236 videos (VHS and DVD).
Abstract Chicago Artist Files documents over a hundred years of Chicago art history, with material on over 11,200 artists, art movements and arts organizations. Materials include press clippings, gallery notices, résumés, newspaper articles, artist books, photographs, slides and CDs.
Repository Visual & Performing Arts, Humanities Division, Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago Public Library, 400 S. State Street, Chicago, Illinois 60605
Provenance The Art Department started the Chicago Artist Files in the mid-1940s and librarians have continuously added to it, gathering materials from local artists and arts organizations.
Access No restrictions
Citation When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is:
Artist’s Name Folder [e.g. John Smith Folder], Chicago Artist Files, Chicago Public Library
Processed by Visual & Performing Arts staff, Chicago Public Library, ongoing

Historical Note

Beginning in the late 1920s civic leaders from the Municipal Art League of Chicago encouraged Chicago Public Library to promote the work of local artists. The library exhibited local artists in branches throughout the city and in the Main Library, which is now the Chicago Cultural Center, keeping research files on the artists. After the appointment of Matilde Kelly as the head of the Art Department in 1946, the Art Department began to assiduously develop the files, which later became known as the Chicago Artist Files. In 1991, Chicago Public Library moved into the Harold Washington Library Center, and the file has greatly expanded with the resumption of the department's exhibitions of Chicago artists.

Scope and Content

The file includes information on over 11,200 fine and commercial artists in all visual media, street artists, designers, architects, craftspeople, landscape architects, performance artists, photographers, collectors, curators, critics, gallery directors, galleries, and art organizations, from late 19th through 21st century Chicago. The file also includes information about the artists’ cultural affiliation, genre of work, important notes, gender, and dates of birth and death, where available. The file includes artists who were born or raised in the Chicago area, or lived here for several years. Materials collected include résumés, curricula vitae (CVs), artist statements, press clippings, gallery press releases, artist information forms from library exhibits, correspondence, artist books, photographs, exhibit notices, posters, and some original artwork. In addition, there are more than 10,000 35mm slides and 132 photo CDs of artwork. The collection also includes 236 videos featuring biographies, documentaries and television programs about Chicago artists.


The finding guide has been arranged alphabetically by artist’s last name, followed by the artistic medium or media, birth and death dates, and gender, where available. Cultural affiliation indicates a country, ethnic group or culture which an artist is identified with. The record also indicates whether the artist has a file, slides or video in the file, as well as any important notes. Citations are listed for books and periodicals with information on the artist.

Additional Resources

The Chicago Artists’ File contains citations to artist information in over 860 books, exhibition catalogs and journals in the Chicago Public Library’s Visual & Performing Arts collection. The list of citations should not be considered comprehensive. Researchers should also consult the library’s catalog, databases and indexes to identify books, exhibition catalogs and periodicals with artist information.

Container List

Chicago Artist Files #s, A-B, C-D, E-F, G-H, I-K, L-Mi, Ml-N, O-Q, R-Sc, Se-Sz, T-V, W-Z.

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