Intuit’s Robert A. Roth Study Center was established in 1995 on the occasion of the organization’s fifth anniversary. It was named in honor of Bob Roth, who published the Chicago Reader from 1971–1994, and who served as Intuit’s Board President for those first five years, from 1990–1995. Roth made the acquaintance of Princeton-trained art historian Dr. John MacGregor when he was in Chicago over the summers researching artist Henry Darger.As their friendship developed over the decade Dr. MacGregor spent researching, so did his project, culminating in the now-classic Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal (Delano Greenidge Editions, 2002), the first comprehensive critical investigation of Darger's writings and illustrations available.
In 2007, 12 years after the creation of The Study Center collection, Dr. MacGregor graciously donated his private collection, in its 700-piece entirety, of books and papers on outsider art and art brut. These were added to the many other materials that had been donated through the years by artists, such as Robert Amft and the estate of Clay Morrison, and art educators, such as Lisa Stone and writer Michael Bonesteel. Funds were secured to construct the present library, and The Study Center now boasts a collection of more than 1000 monographs, 500 serials, and many more CDs, DVDs, videos, slides, photographs, microfilm, ephemera, and special and rare books.
Some of the most unique items housed in The Study Center include a complete set, on microfilm, of all volumes of The Realms of the Unreal, The History of My Life, and The Vivian Girls in Chicago by Henry Darger, generously donated by Kiyoko Lerner. Other rarities include 100-year-old psychiatric studies, an ephemera collection containing posters, postcards and newspaper clippings, and a handful of artist books.
The Study Center is a non-circulating research library, but the stacks are open for browsing, and Intuit welcomes patrons to schedule an appointment to use the collection. With a focus on art brut, outsider, naïve, and folk art, artists, and art organizations, the Study Center is a one-of-a-kind resource that complements Intuit itself by enriching its exhibitions, educational programming, and special events and performances.
The readership of the Study Center runs the gamut, including a host of educators, art historians, scholars, students, and the general public. The British filmmaker Mark Stokes conducted research in The Study Center for the new feature-length documentary he directed on the life and work of Henry Darger; classes from The School of the Art Institute drop in on field trips; and it also accommodates the casual visitor flipping through large color reproductions of Darger drawings after having just viewed The Henry Darger Room Collection itself, a re-installation of his original one-room apartment. An archive of a different kind, The Study Center is lucky to share a wall with this absolutely electric artist’s environment.
Because of both its content and its context (being housed within Intuit), the Study Center fosters lots of creative cross-pollination; the texts come alive in the galleries through the objects displayed within them, and, conversely, the objects themselves are given a voice, through scholarly texts, interviews with the artists caught on film and exhibition post cards and news paper clippings from the ephemera collection.
Future collaborations with local library and literary not-for-profits are in the works, so please check Intuit’s website for upcoming programming, or contact us to propose a collaboration.
Written in Spring 2010.
Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator, and writer who lives and works in Chicago. Along with managing Intuit’s Study Center, she also works at the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at The Art Institute of Chicago and 65GRAND.