The Wallace Berman papers date from 1907 to 1979 (bulk 1955-1979). The collection measures 5 linear feet and presents a cursory overview of Berman's career as an assemblage artist and poet. The collection contains business correspondence, letters from other artists and writers of the Beat movement, writings by others, scattered artwork by Berman, photographs by Robert F. Heinecken, and sound recordings of poetry readings.
Scope and Content Note:
The Wallace Berman papers, 1907-1979 (bulk 1955-1979), measure 5 linear feet and present a cursory overview of Berman's career as an assemblage artist and poet. The collection is valuable not only for its documentation of the work of Wallace Berman, but for its documentation of the California beat movement of the late 1950s through the early 1970s.
Found are numerous letters, writings, poems, and other published material which portray the thoughts, attitudes, and trends popular in a prominent underground culture which eventually led to radical changes in America and American art. The collection contains business correspondence, letters from other artists and writers of the beat movement, writings by others, scattered artwork by Berman, and photographs by Robert F. Heinecken. In addition, the collection contains files for Berman's mail art publications Semina and S.M.S. Also of note is the large volume of printed material (2.7 feet), much of it in the form of books and other published material. Sound recordings include poets Michael McClure, Kenneth Patchen, David Melzer, and another unidentified writer performing their work.
The collection is arranged into nine series which generally reflect material type.
With the exception of the letters in Series 1, each series is arranged chronologically. The original arrangement of the letters has been maintained, with a chronological arrangement of miscellaneous business letters and an alphabetical arrangement of the letters from Berman's more prominent colleagues.
Series 1: Letters, 1957-1979, undated (box 1, 0.5 linear feet)
Series 2: Notes from Interview, 1967 (box 1, 1 folder)
Series 3: Writings by Others, 1972, undated (box 1, 6 folders)
Series 4: Artwork, 1956-1976 (box 1, 4 folders)
Series 5: Semina, 1955-1967 (boxes 1-2, 26 folders)
Series 6: S. M. S., 1968 (box 2, 1 folders)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1907-1976 (boxes 2-5, 2.7 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographs, 1956-1976 (box 5, 6 folders)
Series 9: Sound Recordings, 1962-1965 (box 5, 6 folders)
Wallace Berman was born in 1926 in Staten Island, New York. In the 1930s, his family moved to the Jewish district in Los Angeles. After being expelled from high school for gambling in the early 1940s, Berman immersed himself in the growing West Coast jazz scene. During this period, he briefly attended the Jepson Art School and Chouinard Art School, but departed when he found the training too academic for his needs.
In 1949, while working in a factory finishing antique furniture, he began to make sculptures from unused scraps and reject materials. By the early 1950s, Berman had become a full-time artist and an active figure in the beat community in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Many art historians consider him to be the "father" of the California assemblage movement. Moving between the two cities, Berman devoted himself to his mail art publication Semina, which contained a sampling of beat poetry and images selected by Berman.
In 1963, permanently settled in Topanga Canyon in the Los Angeles area, Berman began work on verifax collages (printed images, often from magazines and newspapers, mounted in collage fashion onto a flat surface, sometimes with solid bright areas of acrylic paint). He continued creating these works, as well as rock assemblages, until his death in 1976.
The Wallace Berman papers were donated by Tosh Berman, Wallace Berman's son, in 1992.
The collection is open for research. Patrons must use microfilm copy. Use of audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.
The Wallace Berman 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.