The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Ruel P. Tolman’s Images: Who Are You?
Artist Ruel Pardee Tolman (1878-1954) served the Smithsonian for thirty-six years in a variety of positions. He came to the Smithsonian in 1912 after studying at Pomona College Prep School; Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, San Francisco; Los Angeles School of Art and Design; University of California, Berkeley; Corcoran School of Art; and the National Academy of Design, New York City. Tolman’s experience as a free lance artist, illustrator, and portrait painter, helped him acquire a job as a preparator of graphic arts for the United States National Museum (USNM).
After a year, Tolman became an Aide in the department. By 1920, Tolman earned the title of Assistant Curator of Graphic Arts. He then served as Acting Director of the Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) from 1932-1946, when he became Director. Tolman retired in 1948 and was succeeded by Thomas M. Beggs.
In addition to his Smithsonian duties, Tolman took an active role in the Washington, DC, art scene. He worked as a drawing instructor at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from 1906-1919. Tolman also served as a founder and the President of the Miniature Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers Society of Washington. Though most noted for his work as a painter of miniatures, Tolman worked in a variety of disciplines including graphic arts, lithography, etching, mezzotint, drypoint, oil, and watercolor.
A multitalented artist, Tolman also dabbled in photography. His stylish photographs of Smithsonian staff, the city of Washington, and an assortment of cities he traveled to, capture the style of post World War I America. The Smithsonian holds many of Tolman’s papers. His collection at the Archives (Record Unit 7433) contains scrapbooks of these images, which allow us to get to know the people who helped shape the Institution as we know it today.
We are excited to present a set of these images on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons. However, there is one snag: some of the individuals are not fully identified, so we ask that you take a look through a sample of these unidentified images (also in the slideshow below) and let us know if you happen to recognize any of the men and women Tolman photographed.