A busy pandemic for the Portman Archives

by Jill Sweetapple, SGA Blog Contributor

Westin Peachtree Plaza; ca.1976
© 1976 Alexandre Georges courtesy of the Portman Archives Interior of the Westin Peachtree Plaza by John C. Portman, Jr. with Olga De Amaral’s commissioned work, ‘El Gran Muro’, hanging within the central atrium.

Tell us a bit about the Portman Archive, for those who may not know about it.
The Portman Archives is the repository for the architectural and artistic contributions of John C. Portman, Jr. serving to promote and preserve his architectural philosophy and legacy. We are centrally located in the heart of Peachtree Center, one of his lasting contributions to the architecture of downtown Atlanta. The Portman Archives act to provide resources for research, digitization, and circulation of information and assets from our collections, internally, locally, and internationally.

What is your staffing, are you a lone arranger or are you a team?
Here at the Portman Archives, we are a team of three, directed by the leadership of the Portman Foundation. In addition to myself, the visual materials archivist, there are two other wonderful archivists, Becca Brown and Katie Twomey.

What kinds of collections do you have in your archive?
Our collections include architectural drawings, paintings, sculptures, artifacts, photographic materials, and marketing materials all related to Mr. Portman’s career as an architect and developer.

What were some of the changes in your job due to the pandemic and lockdown, and how did these changes reveal new opportunities?
During the pandemic we shifted our focus to digital projects, while also using the time away from our physical assets as an opportunity to revamp our archival policies and procedures. During this initiative, we streamlined our mission statement and collection policy and began working on a collaborative deaccession project that focuses on reducing our physical footprint, while ensuring retention and expansion of our digital collections. This exercise has been both challenging and rewarding!

My favorite example from our deaccession project has been working to rehome a beautiful set of Olga De Amaral weavings titled, ‘El Gran Muro’ that were commissioned by Mr. Portman in the 1970s to hang in the central atrium of the Westin Peachtree Plaza. While these weavings help to tell the story of Mr. Portman’s Westin Peachtree Plaza, we have come to realize that keeping the physical items is outside of our collection policy due to their scale and our inability to display them, especially with our move to smaller square footage on the horizon.

While the pandemic certainly made it more of a challenge to handle and show the weavings in-person to interested institutions, our deaccessioning initiative has really proven to create a new and exciting opportunity to build relationships with institutions who share our goal of making these assets accessible and able to be enjoyed by the public once again!

What prompted your move?
Our move represents a new direction for the Portman Archive as we aim to be more outward facing in our promotion of Mr. Portman’s legacy. Our new space will also position us closer to our sister companies within the Portman Companies so that we can collaborate more efficiently. We are excited about what the future holds for The Portman Archives and look forward to sharing with SGA in the future. If interested, please visit our website at www.portmanarchives.com!

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