The collection is arranged as 12 series: Series 1: Biographical and Family Records, 1879-1984 (Box 1, OV 36; 0.2 linear ft.) Series 2: Letters, 1929-1990 (Boxes 1-25, 35, 43, OVs 36-38; 14.5 linear ft.) Series 3: Project Files, 1933-1975 (Boxes 25-26; OVs 36-37; 1.03 linear ft.) Series 4: Financial and Legal Records, 1934-1988 (Boxes 26-27, 35; 0.81 linear ft.) Series 5: Notes and Writings, circa 1933-1988 (Boxes 27-28, 43; 1.72 linear ft.) Series 6: Artwork, circa 1930s-1965 (Boxes 28, 35; 11 folders) Series 7: Source Files, circa 1900s-1960s (Boxes 28-30, 35; 1.81 linear ft.) Series 8: Printed Material, 1912-1988 (Boxes 30-33, 35, OV 39; 3.22 linear ft.) Series 9: Photographs, circa 1900-1969 (Boxes 33-35; 0.86 linear ft.) Series 10: Interview Transcripts, 1943-1968 (Box 34; 0.25 linear ft.) Series 11: Audio and Video Recordings, 1959-1968 (Box 34; 0.25 linear ft.) Series 12: Artifacts, circa 1930s-circa 1960s (Box 34; 2 items)
Access Note / Rights:
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
Researchers interested in accessing audiovisual recordings in this collection must use access copies. Contact References Services for more information.
The papers of social realist painter, photographer, printmaker, and teacher Ben Shahn (1898-1969) measure 25.1 linear feet and date from 1879-1990, with the bulk of the material dating from 1933-1970. The bulk of the collection consists of over 14 linear feet of incoming letters from artists, writers, colleagues, publishers, art organizations, galleries, and universities and colleges. Also found are biographical materials, project and source files, printed material, artwork by Shahn and others, photographs taken of and by Shahn, interview transcripts, sound recordings of interviews and a motion picture film.
Ben Shahn papers, 1879-1990, bulk 1933-1970. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2010 and 2022 and is available on the Archives of American Art website. Items not digitized include negatives, oversized material that could not be digitized due to format, some routine financial and tax records, some large groups of clippings in the source files for which samples have been digitized, the full text of some printed material for which only the title and/or relevant pages have been digitized, and the bulk of the artifacts.
Material lent for microfilming is available on 35mm microfilm reel N70-6 at the Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art
The Archives of American Art holds four oral history interviews with Ben Shahn: 1964 Apr. 14 interview conducted by Richard K. Doud for the Archives of American Art New Deal and the Arts Project in which Shahn speaks of his travels and work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the American image as portrayed by FSA; 1965 Jan. 17 interview; 1965 Oct. 3. interview conducted by Harlan Phillips for the Archives of American Art New Deal and the Arts Project; and 1968 Sept. 27 interview conducted by Forrest Selvig. Most of these interviews have transcripts available online.<br /> The Archives also holds the Bernarda Bryson Shahn papers, circa 1947-2005, and two oral history interviews with Bernarda Bryson Shahn: 1983 Apr. 29 and 1995 July 3. The Archives of American Art also holds material lent for microfilming (reel N70-6) including addresses and essays by Shahn, seven royalty statements, and three letters from publishers. Many of the writings found on this reel were included in subsequent donations. All other lent material was returned to the lender and is not described in the collection container inventory.
Ben Shahn (1898-1969) was a social realist painter, muralist, printmaker, photographer, illustrator, and educator who worked primarily in Brooklyn, New York and New Jersey. He was most active in the 1930s through the 1950s and worked on several federally funded arts projects, including the Farm Security Administration's photographic documentation project of rural America during the Depression.
The Ben Shahn papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in several installments between 1967-1991 by Shahn's widow, Bernarda Bryson Shahn who also lent materials for microfilming in 1969. Jean Shahn, Ben Shahn's daughter-in-law and estate representative, donated additional material in 2018 and 2021.
This site provides access to the papers of Ben Shahn in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 42,144 images.
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 750 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001