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FLEET LIBRARY | Research Guides

Rhode Island School of Design

Object Research

A guide to researching art and design objects, utilizing museum and library resources

Object Page Sections

The object page on the museum’s website may have some or all of the following sections. Here’s what they mean and what you can learn from this information.


What does this mean? How can this be useful to my research?

Many, but not all, objects in the museum’s collection have been photographed. Some photographs are professional and some were taken for internal reference. For access and transparency, all photos in the museum’s records are published on the website.

Start with a formal analysis of the work. What can you learn by examining its composition, subject matter, color, shape, texture, and size? What attributes are visible in the image? Is there information the image doesn’t provide, like scale, smell, or dimensionality?

A “now on view” indicator under the image


This tells you whether the work is in the galleries or in storage. If you’re browsing the collection online, you can filter to see only works on view.

If the work is on view, spend time with it in person. Does its setting impact your interpretation of it?

A “recent acquisition” indicator under the image


This means that the museum has acquired the work within the last 5 years.  

Description, which encompasses:


This might include the artist, when known, or you might see “unknown” or “attributed to.” You might also see names of collaborators, like publishers, design houses, manufacturers, etc. When known, artists’ nationalities (citizenships) and dates of birth and death are listed after their name. RISD alum affiliations are also listed when known: for example, “Kara Walker, b. 1969, American, (RISD MFA 1994, Printmaking).”

If the work has a known maker, look for resources that will tell you more about that maker’s life and context and resources that will show you more of that maker’s work. Click the hyperlinks to see more works by the same artist in the museum’s collection. If there are multiple makers, look into their working relationship and their roles in the creation of the work.


When an artist/maker is unknown, then a culture is specified. This field contains the culture, people, or nationality from which the work originated: for example, “Japanese ” or “Chimú.”

Look for resources that will tell you more about the culture and the role of objects like this within that culture.


In cases where there is no documentation of a unique title given to the work by the artist or an art historian, or you  will  see an object type in this field: for example, “textile” or “shoes.”

If a work has a unique title, you may be able to find mentions of it by searching this term in online databases.


This might be a specific date (“2017”), an approximate date (“around 100 BCE” or “ca. 1890”; ca. is an abbreviation for circa), a date range (“1850-1900”), or a century (“900s”).

Look into other works made around the same time as the object you’re researching, and what was happening in the world at this time.


This is a descriptive phrase: for example, “Polychrome wood block print”


These are specific descriptors of materials and techniques that are chosen from a limited list and are hyperlinked. The object described as a “polychrome wood block print” in the example above is tagged with the following materials and techniques: “materials: ink and color”; “techniques: wood block, woodcut”; “supports: paper”.

Click the hyperlinks to see other works that use the same materials or techniques. Look for books, videos, and other resources on the histories and uses of these materials and processes. You may look into where the materials come from, how they were produced, and how the artist acquired them.


Places may include historical and/or contemporary definitions of place and may be broad or narrow; for example, “Japan” or “Providence; Rhode Island.”

Look into your object’s place of origin, especially around the time it was made. Consider political, social, and environmental contexts and histories.



In addition to individual artists’ markings, this field may also include marks like manufacturers’ stamps. For example, Gorham Manufacturing Company’s stamp on a silver spoon is described as: “[lion] [anchor] G STERLING.” A more complex example on a 1984 print by Susan Rothenberg reads: “Inscribed in graphite, recto LL: 20/32; recto LR: S Rothenberg '84. Embossed in sheet, recto LL: ULAE blind stamp.” Abbreviations, like “LL” for “lower left,” and terminology like “recto,” meaning the front of a loose page or the right page of a bound book, are used frequently.

An inscription may provide you with more information than what the museum has included in the other fields. In the second example, you can learn through an easy Google search that “ULAE” stands for United Limited Art Editions, and conclude that even though there isn’t a publisher included in the “Maker” field, ULAE was the publisher of that print. Similarly, the materials/techniques field might simply include “silver,” but a “sterling” mark gives you more information and may prompt you to learn more about silver standards and their origins.


This field often provides more information about print materials. For example, “first edition” of a book or “edition: 20/32,” meaning the print in the museum’s collection is the 20th one made in a run of 32. The term “state” (example: “state: 1st of 3”) indicates which form of a print the museum’s copy is; an artist might make a set of prints from a plate, then make a change to the plate and print again, creating a second state.

If the museum has one edition or state of a work, look for other editions or states to compare and contrast. What changes have been made between states?


Like materials and techniques, the information found in this field is selected from a specified list and terms are hyperlinked so you can see similar works. There are often categories and sub-categories listed together: for example, “Works on Paper, Prints” or “Fashion, Costume Accessories.”

Click the hyperlinks to see other works classified in the same way. Compare and contrast your object with works by other makers working in the same media.


This is a formal designation that tells you something about how the work entered the collection. If the credit line contains a word like “fund” (for example, “Museum Appropriation Fund”), the object was purchased, rather than received as a gift. If the credit line contains the phrase “gift of [xxx],” you have the name of the donor. Donors determine how they want their gift to be credited.

Credit lines tell you about the nature of the moment when an object entered the museum’s collection. You might be able to learn more about the donor and consider the donor’s choices in collecting that object and in giving it to the museum. See the guidelines below about researching donors. Remember that a credit line does not tell you about an object’s life prior to the moment of acquisition; for that, read more about provenance research.

Object Number  

The number you see here is officially called an accession number. It is an identifying number given to each object when it’s accessioned, or formally brought into the collection. Learn more about the definition of accessioning in the provenance and collecting histories section. Although it may appear to be random, this number actually contains multiple pieces of information. 

Let’s use the number 19.023A as an example. This number belongs to an ancient Roman earring. 

The first part of the number represents the year of acquisition. In this case, “19” indicates that this object was accessioned in 1919. Beginning in 1986, the acquisition year is identified by four digits, so you can’t confuse this with something acquired in 2019.

The second part of the number tells us that this earring was part of the 23rd accession that took place in 1919. In this case, it’s one of a pair, so the pair of earrings is assigned the number 19.023 and the left earring is assigned the number 19.023A. The right earring, of course, is 19.023B. 

This system of letters at the end of an accession number is also used for objects that are parts of a whole, like the lid of a teapot, or each sheet of a triptych print. You might also see a third segment of numbers. This is used when the object is part of a group, like one print in a portfolio. For example, 47.719 is the number assigned to a portfolio of prints.

Under the “Related” section on this object page, you’ll see a link to each individual object within the portfolio, starting with 47.719.1 and ending with 47.719.40.

The accession number tells you the year the object was brought into the museum’s collection. You can use this information to look into whether anything was written about it at the time. Start by looking at the museum bulletins from that year or the following year; often, short articles about new acquisitions were written for these publications.

Projects and Publications  

The museum produces a wide range of digital and printed content: books, online articles, teacher resources, videos, audio soundwalks, and more. Much of this content is created by students, faculty, artists, and scholars, in addition to museum staff. 

This section is not always complete. Many historic museum publications have not been indexed, or have not been linked to the object records in our database. In addition, the museum’s own digital content and event records are not always linked to the relevant object pages.

This section of an object page should link you to any content that relates directly to the specific object in question. 

Each print publication is hyperlinked to WorldCat. By clicking this link and clicking the link to “RISD,” you will find the link to the publication’s call number in the library. 

To find digital content and events not linked here, start by searching the website using the “search the rest of the site” option with a keyword to find additional content. For example, if you do this search using the keyword “Nesmin,” you will find two online articles, a video, two recent publications, and more content that is not linked to the object page.

Learn about strategies for finding print publications not linked here in the museum-specific publications guide.

Exhibition History  

This section lists exhibitions that have included the object. You may also see times the object has been on view in permanent collection galleries. There may also be interpretive text associated with these exhibitions; typically, this is the text that appeared/appears on the object label, the term for the text on the wall or case next to an object on display. This text is written by curators or interpretation staff at museums, and is purposely concise for the purposes of accessibility.

Keep in mind that label text provides one perspective on an object, often focused on the themes and narrative of the exhibition in question. That being said, it is a rich source of leads to explore further. Look into the names, time periods, contexts, and connections mentioned. Consider the themes of past exhibitions and think about what other themes could be linked to the object.


See Object Number, above.


You can download, print, and share object images. We register our images and content under a Creative Commons license.

This section provides a link to a form through which you can request larger images of an object.


The information on these object pages is a public display of parts of the museum’s internal database. The data housed in databases are put there by humans, and humans can be fallible, messy, inconsistent, and biased. This section acknowledges this and allows anyone visiting the site to contact the museum with corrections to typos, errors, or omissions in a record.

If you do in-depth research on an object, you might uncover new information, or notice a cataloging error. Perhaps you’ve found a publication reference that isn’t included in the object page, or a typo in an object’s title. Let the museum know!