The papers of painter Joan Semmel measure 5.9 linear feet and span the dates of 1949-2013 with the bulk of the material dated circa 1960s-2013. The papers reflect her career and activities as a painter, writer, feminist, and educator through biographical materials, correspondence, interviews, writings, project files, teaching files, printed material, and photographic materials.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of painter Joan Semmel measure 5.9 linear feet and span the dates of 1949-2013 with the bulk of the material dated circa 1960s-2013. The papers reflect her career and activities as a painter, writer, feminist and educator through biographical materials, correspondence, interviews, writings, project files, teaching files, printed material, and photographic materials.
Among the biographical materials are awards, educational records,and audiovisual recordings about Joan Semmel and her work.
Professional correspondence concerns exhibitions, publication permissions, panel discussions, symposia, and visiting artist and summer school appointments. Also included are letters of recommendation for colleagues and students. A scattering of personal letters are from novelist David Markson and José Antonio, both of whom had personal relationships with Semmel. There are also a few letters from friends of a purely social nature and a few letters concerning routine personal affairs.
There are two interviews with Joan Semmel on video recordings, one was conducted for a television broadcast and the other is unidentified.
Writings by Semmel include the manuscript, illustrations, research material, and letters relating to her unpublished book about women's erotic art. Also found are articles, artist's statements, and notes for talks about her work. The writings about Semmel consist of several student papers.
Project files relate to two exhibitions curated by Semmel, Contemporary Women: Consciousness and Content (1977) at The Brooklyn Museum of Art School and Private Worlds (2000). One file is related to a project in which Semmel was involved to document the role and status of women in the arts.
Scattered teaching files concern a course about contemporary women artists developed and taught by Semmel for the women's studies program at Rutgers University, circa 1978. Also documented are summer programs at Skowhegan and Sommerakademie in Austria where Semmel served as an instructor.
Binders (now unbound) of printed materials were compiled by Semmel consisting of exhibition catalogs and announcements for solo and group shows, reviews, posters, and miscellaneous printed matter.
Photographs of people include Joan Semmel, friends and colleagues. Among the individuals pictured are: writer David Markson, painter John Hardy, José Antonio Nieto; and feminist artists: Judy Bernstein, Mary Beth Edelson, Eunice Golden, Nancy Grossman, Harmony Hammond, Miriam Schapiro, Sylvia Sleigh, and May Stevens. There are slides, photographs, color photocopies and digital images of Semmel's paintings. Of particular interest are photographs, photocopies of photographs, and digital images that served as source material for paintings, including portrait commissions.
The collection is arranged in 8 seres:
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1949-2013 (Box 1; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1973-2013 (Boxes 1-2; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 3: Interviews, circa 1970s-1986 (Box 2; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings, 1970s-2009 (Box 3; 0.7 linear feet)
Series 5: Project Files, 1972-2000 (Box 3; 3 folders)
Series 6: Teaching Files, 1970s-2000 (Box 3; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 7: Printed Material, circa 1960s-2013 (Boxes 4-6, OV 8; 2.2 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographic Materials, circa 1965-2013 (Boxes 6-7; 0.6 linear feet)
Biographical / Historical:
Joan Semmel (1932- ) is an abstract painter working in New York City and Easthampton, N. Y. Semmel's work explores erotic themes and the female body. She taught painting at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University from 1978-2000.
Born in New York City in 1932, Joan Semmel studied at the Cooper Union, the Art Students League of New York, and received her BFA in 1963 and MFA in 1972 from Pratt Institute. Semmel moved to Spain in 1963 and exhibited her abstract expressionist work in galleries and museums there before returning to New York in 1970.
Upon Semmel's return to New York, she became involved in the feminist art movement. One of the original Guerrilla Girls, Semmel was involved with several feminist activist art groups devoted to gender equality in the art world. Semmel spent years researching a book about women's erotic art. At the same time, her painting style shifted to incorporate more figurative imagery and she began working on series that explored the themes of the female body, desire, and aging. Each series consisted of 10-30 paintings, produced over several years, among them First and Second Erotic Series, Self Images, Portraits, Figure in Landscape, Gymnasium, Locker Room, Overlays, and Mannequins.
In addition to her teaching career at Rutgers University as a tenured Professor of Painting, Semmel taught briefly at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, Skowhegan, and the Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg, Germany. Over the years she served as a visiting artist, critic, and lecturer at many colleges, and participated in numerous symposia, panel discussions and conferences. She has received several grants and awards including Macdowell Colony and Yaddo residencies.
Semmel has exhibited widely and prolifically in the United States, Spain, the Netherlands, and South America, in addition to curating two exhibitions, Contemporary Women: Consciousness and Content (1977) at The Brooklyn Museum of Art School and Private Worlds - Art in General (2000). Her work is represented in the permanent collections of many museums including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Chrysler Museum, Guild Hall, Museum of Women in the Arts, Parrish Art Museum, and Vassar College Museum.
Joan Semmel continues to live and work in New York City and Easthampton, NY.
Donated by Joan Semmel in 2014.
Use of original material requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.
The Joan Semmel 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