Contrary to popular belief, archivists do not keep everything.
One of my archival mentors was very fond of the saying: “When in doubt, throw it
When I tell people this they usually don’t believe me. But here’s the reality: If
archives and historical societies kept every single item that landed on their
doorstep….every cancelled check… every unidentified photograph… every duplicate
map… Well, there simply wouldn’t be any room left for new collections. And that
won’t work in the long run, will it? No way.
The same holds true for your family archive, but it’s a little different. When
collections stay with a family, the sentimental value is very important. I’m a mom
myself, so I understand how difficult it can be to part with sentimental treasures like
children’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures. Original art is not the same thing as
a cancelled check! But read on, because I’ve worked out some solutions for your
SORT EVERYTHING INTO TWO PILES
The first step to conquering the clutter is to start sorting. Designate a “Keep
Forever” pile and one for “Other” (more on what you can do with these later). Large
boxes would be great, but feel free to sort on a table or the floor. Just be sure your
treasures don’t stay in piles too long. It’s much safer for them to live in boxes with
The keepers need to go into a high quality archival storage box. These tend to be 3″
deep, so if your “keep” stack is more than 3″ high, you’re gonna need more than one
box. Or you’ll need to go through the “keep” pile again and remove a few more. It
depends on what your budget and available storage space will allow.
What to keep? I’d recommend a sample that includes all your children and
represents each of their school years. Beyond that, it’s up to you. That’s your job as
the family archivist. You can choose pieces that really grab you, the ones that have
the most visual appeal, or the ones that have the most interesting stories behind
them. Depending on how old your children are, they can help with the decision
STILL CAN’T BEAR TO PART WITH THEM?
If you’ve got the room to store it all, then by all means keep it. But if you’re running
out of storage space you’ll need to do what archivist call “de-accessioning.”
Fortunately, we live in an age of technological wonders, and digital copies can ease
the pain of de-accessioning. Think of the digital copies as
surrogates. You still get to see the art, but you don’t have to look at the clutter
anymore and you have more storage space.
Scanning is an option, but for kid’s art you would need an oversized scanner, which
most folks simply don’t have. I thought about purchasing one for my business but
large scans take a long, long, time — which makes the service too expensive for my
A little while ago I had a real “Eureka!” moment and realized that digital cameras are
the way to go. Quick, inexpensive, and within the reach of most families these days.
So snap away! Try to get even lighting and a good straight shot. Use an easel if you
have one to support the drawings. For 3-D items like Paper Mache and clay, be sure
to shoot from more than one angle.
STORING ARTWORK SO IT LASTS FOR GENERATIONS
The best kind of box for the long term storage of *any* paper records (that includes
letters, photographs, and artwork) is an acid-free, lignin-free, archival box made
without adhesives or unknown plastics. Oversize materials are best stored flat rather
than standing up. This way you avoid permanent curling from paper that slumps
down in a less-than-full box.
Good boxes are available from archival supply companies such as Gaylord
(gaylord.com) and Light Impressions (lightimpressionsdirect.com). My
personal favorite and the one I recommend most often for kid’d art is Gaylord GH-
DFB24. It’s got a drop front for easy access, a full lid to keep out the dust and light,
it’s big enough and it comes in an attractive black. Cost is about $29 including
shipping. The price goes down if you order more than 5, so placing an order with
friends can save you money.
Schoolfolio (schoolfolio.com) sells polypropylene portfolios in two sizes.
Polypropylene is one of the inert (and therefore safe) plastics. The larger holder has
separate sections inside. The smaller portfolio comes in exciting, lively colors and
patterns. The company even started their own foundation called Save the Art which
donates money to “selected youth arts groups.” Everyone wins!
My only caution about plastic (even safe plastic) is that it tends to hold onto
moisture, so it’s not a good idea to store one of these in a moist basement or un-
airconditioned attic. It’s also not the best choice if you live in a humid climate such
as Florida or Hawaii. In this situation you’re better off with archival boxes.
Where to store it? Attics, garages, and basements are all poor choices. The
temperature and humidity are usually uncontrolled which will cause stress and
damage over time. Plus they tend to have creepy-crawlies and other critters that will
literally eat your artwork. Closets located in the interior part of your house are
perfect. Under the bed works great, too — but don’t leave treasures near a radiator
or exterior wall.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE “OTHER” PILE & YOUR NEW DIGITAL COPIES
Just because it’s not worth storing in a very high quality archival box, doesn’t mean
you have to throw it out!
Ideas for Sharing Paper Originals
*Send them to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.
*Use them to make envelopes.
*Use them to make cards.
*Use them as gift wrap.
*Laminate ones with a seasonal theme and use them as placemats.
*Punch holes and store in a 3-ring binder.
*Have your local copy shop add covers and bind them into a book.
Kids Art Project (kidsartproject.com) will transform up to 6 paintings into
a single 18×24″ poster collage. Cost is under $100 for unframed, unmounted photo.
Ideas for Sharing Digital Copies
*Use them as the desktop image on your computer.
*Create a slideshow screensaver that cycles through a number of different
*Upload them to an online digital photo company like snapfish.com or
imagestation.com – they can create a dizzying array of products including
calendars, playing cards, mugs, puzzles, coasters, mousepads…the possibilities are
Jacobs Archival Services creates dynamic DVD slideshows out of digital
images. This is not your father’s boring old slide show! They add music, titles, and
interactive menus. There’s no special computer equipment needed, just a DVD
player and television set. Transform any room into an art gallery featuring your little
For a current price list simply send an email to: email@example.com
The list will arrive automatically in a few moments.
I hope these basic archival principles and creative solutions will help you enjoy the
artwork in you family’s collection. Remember that even archivists toss some things
out to make room for new items. Select what you love the most and invest in high
quality storage materials. Artwork that you store correctly for the long term
will bring your family joy for years to come. My mom saved a few “masterpieces” of
mine, and it’s a special treat to share them with my daughter. Thanks, Mom!