Frederick Ferdinand Schafer Painting Catalog


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Preface: Why a professor of engineering is maintaining an art history web site

This work grows out of an unusual conspiracy of circumstances: the author is a computer scientist who usually writes about engineering principles for computer systems, not art history. This crossing of fields deserves explanation. In 1989, in preparation for a research project on how computer systems might be used in future, on-line libraries, I found that few people in my own field had any idea how a library works and what problems limit the usability and effectiveness of a modern research library. (The technology of computers changes so quickly that by the time things get written down in books and those books are collected by libraries, they are already obsolete. So my colleagues, for the most part, are not in the habit of going to the library.) It appeared that to learn these things I would either have to interview library users or, better, become a library user myself, by taking on a scholarly research project in an area far from my usual field, one in which the library would become my laboratory. I chose the latter course.

At the time, I owned two paintings by Frederick Ferdinand Schafer, one of which was dated but unsigned, the second of which was signed but not dated. So I undertook to learn how to authenticate the first painting and date the second one. This project would provide a reason to use research libraries, archives, and the services of librarians, card catalogs, computerized catalogs, and related materials.

It quickly became evident that the art historical record of Schafer's work was almost non-existent, and that a prerequisite to dating undated works would be a catalog of his currently known works. So I refocused the effort toward the compiling of a preliminary version of that catalog.

A second circumstance arose during the collection of documentation about Schafer: In 1991 the World-Wide Web appeared on the scene with the promise of becoming a useful method of disseminating exactly the kind of information that I was collecting. A catalog of paintings supplemented with biographical information continually evolves as new information comes to light, and the opportunity to update a web site as needed seemed to provide a nearly perfect match. In addition, as an engineer I wanted to learn first-hand just what was involved in the development, set up, and management of this new technology, and what makes some web sites more effective than others, so I decided that a web site should be the primary method of dissemination of the evolving catalog. I began moving materials on-line in the summer of 1995, and the first version of this web site came up that fall.

Dating the undated painting was only partly successful--Schafer left few dating clues and for the painting in question those clues point only to a five-year period--but this project has been very successful in two significant ways: First, it has led to creation of this preliminary catalog, which contains information that may be of some value to future students, collectors, and historians. Second, its preparation did, as hoped, lead me into many public and private libraries, archives, reading rooms, and other sources of information, supplying me with much insight into how the high-tech libraries of the future might be organized. In fact, the World-Wide Web has itself become a kind of high-tech research library, and both the content and the form of this catalog are now contributions to that library. In addition, this work has introduced me to a group of very friendly, encouraging, and supportive people both in the world of libraries and in the world of nineteenth-century American art. Virtually everyone I encountered in both of these worlds has cheerfully offered information, encouragement, and patience to an amateur dabbling in their specialties. The names of many of these people will be found in an undoubtedly incomplete list of Acknowledgements.

Jerry Saltzer

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Mar 10, 2024, 11:47 MDT Accessibility