The papers of New York City and Gainesville, Florida based painter Arnold Mesches (1923-2016) measure 13.6 linear feet and date from 1939-2015. The collection documents Mesches' politically-engaged career and work process through biographical material, correspondence, writings, gallery and exhibition files, project files, subject files, teaching files, personal business records, printed material, and photographic material. Project files comprise a bulk of the collection and include grant files, activism files, project notebooks, and over 100 art project files containing drawings, source material, and photographic material for individual artworks.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of New York City and Gainesville, Florida based painter Arnold Mesches (1923-2016) measure 13.6 linear feet and date from 1939-2015. The collection documents Mesches' politically engaged career and work process through biographical material, correspondence, writings, gallery and exhibition files, project files, subject files, teaching files, personal business records, printed material, and photographic material.
Biographical material includes addresses, family papers, interview transcripts, life documents, identification cards, a residency file, resumes, biographical statements, and travel records. Correspondence is both personal and professional in nature and is with wife, novelist Jill Ciment, family, friends, artists, museums, galleries, and magazines. Notable correspondents include Arthur Danto, Robert Storr, June Wayne, and Howard Zinn. Single items of correspondence are from Kerry James Marshall, Henry Miller, Robert Motherwell, and Ben Shahn.
Writings include manuscripts of unpublished novels and short stories, autobiographical writings, recordings of dreams, introductions to artists, a journal, memorials, project proposals, statements on art and politics, notes from Mesches' psychotherapy sessions, as well as numerous outlines, fragments, and notes.
Gallery and exhibition files document dozens of Mesches' gallery and museum exhibitions, including his 2013 retrospective at Miami Dade College, Arnold Mesches: A Life's Work.
Project files consist of grant files, activism files, project notebooks, and art projects. Activism files pertain to the Los Angeles Peace Tower, Arts Coalition for Freedom of Expression, and the pardon of muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Project notebooks contain preliminary sketches, technical notes including color palette and paint formulas, Polaroids of in-process works, and source material. Over 100 art project files further detail individual works, and include preliminary drawings in pen, pencil and charcoal, as well as collages, source material, and Polaroids. Several of Mesches' serial works are well represented here, including Anomie, Comings Attractions, and The FBI Files.
Subject files consist of a sequence of alphabetical files maintained by Mesches as reference material. Teaching files document posts at New York University and other institutions and include course descriptions, lists of materials, course notes, newsletters, reference articles, and correspondence.
Personal business records include documentation related to donations, Mesches' estate, gallery representation, inventories, properties, artwork shipment, supplies, and website design.
Printed material documents Mesches' career as both political illustrator and fine artist. Found here are brochures, leaflets, and Frontier and The Nation magazines featuring illustrations by Mesches. Calendars, newsletters, clippings, announcements, exhibition catalogs, and press releases document Mesches' gallery and museum exhibitions.
Photographic material includes hundreds of photographic prints, contact sheets, slides, and negatives of Arnold Mesches, Mesches' family and friends, studio, and artworks from his seven decade long career.
The collection is arranged as ten series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1960s-2012 (0.2 linear feet, Box 1)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1949-2014 (0.8 linear feet, Box 1)
Series 3: Writings, 1958-2013 (1.1 linear feet, Box 2-3)
Series 4: Gallery and Exhibition Files, 1979-2015 (0.8 linear feet, Box 3)
Series 5: Project Files, 1950s-2014 (5.3 linear feet, Box 3-8, 15, OV 16-19)
Series 6: Subject Files, 1939-2000s (1.3 linear feet, Box 8-9)
Series 7: Teaching Files, 1992-2004 (0.2 linear feet, Box 9-10)
Series 8: Personal Business Records, 1983-2015 (0.5 linear feet, Box 10)
Series 9: Printed Material, 1950s-2000s (1.5 linear feet, Box 10-11, 15, OV 20)
Series 10: Photographic Material, 1940s-2010s (1.9 linear feet, Box 12-15)
Biographical / Historical:
Arnold Mesches (1923-2016) was a painter in New York, New York and Gainesville, Florida. Born in the Bronx and raised in upstate Dunkirk, New York, Mesches studied advertising design in high school before moving to Los Angeles in 1943 to study art at the Jepson Art Institute and Chouinard Art Institute.
Mesches began his career as a scenic painter for Hollywood while honing his own style as a fine artist and illustrator influenced by the political landscape and social realism. As a result of his political activity and involvement in the Communist Party, the FBI opened a file on Mesches in the 1950s, and began tracking his activities. The file, obtained by Mesches through a Freedom of Information Act request in 1999, became the basis for one of his most famous series, The FBI Files.
Throughout his life, Mesches was a socially-oriented figurative painter working in an expressionist style, mining the daily news and the current political landscape for subject matter, including the Cold War, the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and the Vietnam War. Mesches was also one of the organizers of the 1966 Peace Tower artwork in Los Angeles and contributed illustrations to Frontier magazine throughout the 1950s, and The Nation magazine from 1960s-1980s.
In the early 1980s, Mesches relocated to New York City with wife, novelist Jill Ciment.
Mesches held several teaching posts over the course of his career, including at the New School, New York University, and the University of Florida.
Donated to the Archives of American Art in 2017 by Jill Ciment, Mesches' widow.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
The Arnold Mesches papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.