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Frances Lichten Research Collection

Identifier: LIC

Scope and Contents

The Frances Lichten Research Collection contains a wide range of material: newspaper and magazine articles, manuscripts for articles and lectures, drawings and sketches, notes, photographs, painted images and fragile ephemera from the Victorian era, correspondence, and business and personal records. Though primarily made up of files compiled for research purposes, there is some overlap between her personal and professional research files. Much of the work contained in the Pennsylvania German series was completed well before Lichten came to work at the museum. She likely drew from this past research to inform her work as a Research Associate. This collection offers a view of a holistic method of thinking and conducting research.

Frances Lichten was a collector. She clipped articles and advertisements from magazines and newspapers that had relevance to the project she was working on at the time. It seems clear that few of these images were used for actual publication, but they connected to facilitate the development of larger ideas. Visual images played a crucial role in her thinking process, creating a catalyst for a concept that had yet to become a fully realized idea.

There are seeds for new projects everywhere in the pages of these files. She layered idea on top of idea, literally stapling small scraps of paper to larger ones to create a map of a concept. She attached drawings to photographs and news clippings. Interspersed with magazine articles and watercolor sketches are delicate objects from the Victorian era. There was less concern for the sanctity of a particular object than for the interweaving of ideas, images, and authoritative notes.


  • circa 1850-1961, undated


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Frances Lichten Research Collection is the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Biographical / Historical

Frances Lichten was a Research Associate in the Decorative Arts department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1955 until her death in 1961. She brought to the museum her expertise in Pennsylvania German folk art. She was involved in the development and opening of the Museum's Titus C. Geesey Collection.

Born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in 1889, Frances Lichten developed an early interest in art. At fourteen, she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. She studied design and interior decoration, while also developing an interest in landscape painting. She took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and began to travel around the countryside to practice her technique. She worked as a commercial artist after her graduation, and continued in this capacity for nearly ten years.

From 1936 until 1941, she utilized her design skills as the State Supervisor for the "Index of American Design," which sent artists into the field to document the richness and variety of American arts and crafts. Frances Lichten thrived in this position, compiling hundreds of sketches and drawings depicting folk art unique to the Pennsylvania German population. She later authored a number of books on Pennsylvania folk art, including "The Folk Arts of Rural Pennsylvania," which won her the National Art Club award in 1946. She also published "Pennsylvania German Chests" and "Folk Art Motifs of Pennsylvania," which drew from the sketches and illustrations she created while working with the Works Progress Administration. She published "Decorative Art of Victoria's Era" in 1950. She was also the author of many articles about decorative art, which appeared in local and national publications.

In addition to her position at the museum, Frances Lichten spent the last years of her life working as the archivist at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She was also a consultant on Pennsylvania folk art for Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and Historic Bethlehem, Inc.


8 linear feet

Language of Materials



The Frances Lichten Research Collection covers a broad range of styles and subjects within the broad category of "decorative arts." Lichten's work as a Research Associate at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was concentrated on Pennsylvania German folk art, the foundation of which was Ms. Lichten's work on the WPA Index of American Design project in the 1930s. This series contains many photographs and drawings, as well as magazine and newspaper clippings. Frances Lichten published numerous books, the last of which was "Decorative Arts of Victoria's Era." The Research Collection contains the majority of research files for this book, which are rich in illustrations, Victorian paper artifacts, and records of the social standards of this era. This collection contains also materials relating to general categories within decorative arts, mainly in the form of clippings from magazines and newspapers.


Due to the intermingling of materials, unusual preservation issues had to be addressed in order to maintain the intellectual content of the collection. It seemed important to stay as true to Frances Lichten's style of working as possible because without the interconnection of ideas and images, much would be lost. As a result of this decision, unique solutions had to be devised for the preservation of all the objects in the collection. Rather than creating a separate photo file to uniformly house the hundreds of photographs in these files, extensive interleaving with bond paper, as well as some encapsulation, was performed to maintain the collection's informational integrity. Fragile objects were segregated in envelopes and paper folders to preserve the delicate paper. Oversized objects are housed in separate boxes for their maintenance.

As much as was possible, the original order of the files was maintained. However, this proved difficult because they were housed and used in the Decorative Arts and American Art departments for nearly thirty years between Frances Lichten's death and their transfer to the Archives. Heavily used sections of the files, particularly in the area of Pennsylvania German folk art, were often in an order that was not necessarily the same as during their use by Frances Lichten. Comparisons between her card files and the research files were made to establish as accurate an order as possible. Lichten's own arrangement appeared to be alphabetical by project, which is why there is a new alphabetical series for each series in the final arrangement.

Although housed separately, oversized clippings, drawings and artifacts are intellectually arranged within appropriate series. Oversized clippings are in flat storage boxes 26 through 28. Oversized drawings and artifacts, including patterns taken from late 19th century magazines, are in flat storage box 29.

Custodial History

This collection is a product of work done by Frances Lichten during her employment as a Research Associate in the Decorative Arts department from 1955-1961. After her death in 1961, the Decorative Arts department retained the files and they remained in the department for use as reference files until they were inventoried in 1993 and transferred to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives.

Processing Information

These materials were arranged and described by Cathleen Miller.


Guide to the Frances Lichten Research Collection
Finding aid prepared by Cathleen Miller
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States