Profile profile for wrighth

Helena E. Wright

Curator Emerita

M.S., Simmons College, 1975
A.B., Bryn Mawr College, 1968

Research Specialties: 
  • Visual culture, including photomechanical processes and the history of American printmaking
  • History of print collecting
  • Women’s work in graphic arts
  • Papermaking

Current Projects:

  • Research on American print exhibitions and collectors before 1900
  • Research on exhibitions of Japanese printmaking techniques in the West before 1900

Past Projects:

Awards, Honors, and Special Recognition: 
  • National Endowment for the Arts, Fellowship for Museum Professionals, 1973
  • Beta Phi Mu, Graduate Honor Society, 1975
  • Society for Industrial Archeology, General Tools Award for distinguished service, 1998
  • American Library Association, Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2015
  • Ewell L. Newman Award, American Historical Print Collectors Society, 2016
Professional Affiliations: 
  • American Printing History Association
  • Ephemera Society
  • Print Council of America
  • Printing Historical Society
  • Society for Industrial Archeology, past president
  • Society for the History of Technology


"Some French and American Lithographs at the Smithsonian: a Retrospective View," In With a French Accent, ed. Georgia B. Barnhill (Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 2012),  83-96.

Discusses several donations of French and American lithographs to the Smithsonian and their use in the development of the Graphic Arts exhibition before 1900.

“Slavic and Eastern European-Related Graphic Collections in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History" in Slavic & East European Information Resources, vol.11, nos. 2-3 (Apr.-Sept.2010), pp. 226-245.
A National Audience for Prints: The Smithsonian’s Exhibition Program, 1923-1948 pp. 26-59 in North American Prints, 1913-1947: an Examination at Century’s End. Ed. David Tatham (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006)

This essay describes the Smithsonian’s ambitious program of loan exhibitions that included many works by living artists. These exhibits introduced many new prints and printmakers to a broad national public between 1923 and 1948. Two appendices identify traveling group shows and the printmakers featured in solo exhibitions during this period.

“Photography in the Printing Press: The Photomechanical Revolution,” and “The Material Culture of Media: Museums of Printing and Photography,” Presenting Pictures, Bernard Finn, ed., London: Science Museum, 2004.

Two essays in Volume 4 of the Artefacts series, studies in the history of science and technology, a collaboration of the Deutsches Museum (Munich), the Science Museum (London), and the Smithsonian. One discusses the role of photomechanical processes in reproducing and distributing pictures in the 19th century. The other describes selected museums that collect and exhibit visual collections and their apparatus.

“Print Collecting in the Gilded Age,” Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society, 29:1 (Spring 2004), pp. 2–13.

This article discusses Americans’ growing interest in prints in the last quarter of the 19th century, including exhibitions, sales, and the formation of collections.

“Publishers Wave the Flag After ‘Day of Infamy’,” Ephemera News, 21:1 (Fall 2002), pp. 18–23.

This article presents some of the magazine covers produced in 1942 to celebrate the first Fourth of July after Pearl Harbor and the related exhibition at the National Museum of American History.

“The Smithsonian in Cincinnati: Exhibiting Prints at the Ohio Valley Centennial Exposition, 1888,” in Alice M. Cornell, ed. Art as Image: Prints and Promotion in Cincinnati, Ohio (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001), pp. 131–165.

This essay discusses the Smithsonian’s participation in a national exhibition, and describes the 1000 prints on view in the graphic arts section. It provides an appendix listing all artists and publishers included in the exhibition.

History of Photography special issue: “The Photographic History Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.” Guest editor, 24:1 (Spring 2000)

A special issue of the journal History of Photography featured the Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History. Essays on several aspects of collection including daguerreotypes, W. H. F. Talbot, J. W. Draper, Pictorialism, color photography, and photomechanical processes.

“Prints in the Sartains’ Circle,” Philadelphia’s Cultural Landscape: The Sartain Family Legacy, Katharine Martinez and Page Talbott, eds., (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), pp. 25–38.

In a volume that presents a number of conference papers, this essay discusses the importance of prints to artists and collectors in Philadelphia in relation to the Sartain family of artists and art educators.

Prints at the Smithsonian: the Origins of a National Collection. (Washington: NMAH, 1996)

Catalog of an exhibition celebrating 150 years of print collecting by the Smithsonian Institution. Essay examines the history of public attitudes and cultural changes that affected artists, collectors, curators, and audiences.