Division of Archives and Records Service

Preserved Archival Records Provide Important Context to Art Masterpieces

Mahala Ruddell
April 29, 2021

Each spring, the Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board (USHRAB) seeks applications from Utah’s non-profit, local, and state government institutions for grant funds of up to $7,500 to support records preservation and access. The Board’s grant program is funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives, whose mission is to promote the preservation and use of America’s documentary heritage essential to understanding our democracy, history, and culture.

When you think of archival records, you might not immediately think of an art museum. After all, the crown jewels of an art museum are typically the art, right? But these types of institutions sometimes have archival records not on display: things like sketchbooks, letters, and manuscripts written and collected by artists that complement and provide context to their work. 

In the spring of 2020, the Southern Utah Museum of Art, housed on the Southern Utah University campus in Cedar City, Utah, applied for and received funding from the USHRAB to preserve and digitize archival records that document the life and work of two of its most important artists, Jimmie F. Jones, and Julius Mössel. This project, which featured scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, letters, short stories, sketches, photographs and more, is the Museum’s exciting chance to provide a glimpse into the rarely seen archival records held in its permanent collection. 

Julius Mössel was a German artist who moved to the United States to live and work after the First World War. His style was decorative and his work consists of religious murals and murals for the Field Museum in Chicago. The archival records held by SUMA that relate to Mössel include photographs, newspaper clippings, sketches on scrap paper, and even a short story he submitted to the Saturday Evening Post. SUMA’s permanent collection contains many paintings and etchings by Mössel, and the ability to preserve and provide access to his archival records brings his artistic work into context.

Drawn geometric design
Mössel was active throughout the early-mid twentieth century and his art generally focused on religious imagery and large murals.

Jimmie Floyd Jones, a famed landscape painter, was a local to the Cedar City area, and instrumental in the foundation of the Museum. According to SUMA, the Museum is referred to by staff and stakeholders as “the house that Jimmie built.” “Jones was considered a master of Utah and Southwest landscape painting,” the Museum wrote to the USHRAB. “SUMA’s collection of his work is the Museum’s principal long-term exhibition. His paintings and other works are among the most significant in SUMA’s collection in terms of value and public interest.”

The Jones archival collection consists mostly of scrapbooks which provide a unique glimpse at how he developed his talent and became more involved with art over the course of his life. The books contain early crayon drawings from his elementary school years, assignments from middle school, and editions of the high school newspaper, for which he served as Art Editor. Even more records, such as cards he made for his parents, letters home from his post-high school job at the Grand Canyon Lodge, and sketches round out the early years of his artistic development. This scrapbook collection gives a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the life of a master and complements the more than fifty art pieces completed by Jones in his later life that are on exhibit and in the permanent collection at SUMA. 

SUMA is working with Southern Utah University’s special collections and digital preservation team to properly box and store the items, as well as to digitize them and make them available online. They even plan to include an interactive kiosk within its galleries through which patrons can access the digitized records in house, while actually viewing Jones’ and Mössel’s work. You can already browse the Mössel photographs here.

Understanding the context in which art is created is often paramount to understanding art itself. One of the most important sources of this understanding is from the historical records left behind by the artists themselves. When art museums can take advantage of the historical records in their care and make them accessible to their patrons, the art on exhibit can come alive in new and unique ways. 

As SUMA wraps up their USHRAB project, we can’t wait to see the results of their hard work. The Museum is currently working on publishing an online collection of the Jimmie Jones scrapbooks, as well as other artworks we have by Jimmie Jones in the Permanent Collection. That will be up in June through Google Arts and Culture and free for the public to view.

To learn more about the Museum, please visit their website!

The USHRAB’s grant program is funded by a State Board Programming Grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives. The USHRAB assists public and private non-profits, as well as non-Federal government entities throughout the State of Utah in the preservation and use of historical records.

Credit: Text adapted from the Southern Utah Museum of Art’s 2020 application for funding from the USHRAB, as well as exhibition and collections information provided by the Museum on their website and additional contributions from Museum staff.