The papers of sculptor and painter Fletcher Benton measure 8.2 linear feet and 1.47 GB and date from 1934 to 2014. They document his career as a sculptor with international presence through certificates, personal photographs, legal papers, correspondence, exhibition and commission documentation, clippings, exhibition-related printed materials, broadcast materials, publications about his work, an editioned kinetic Christmas card, and photographs, sound and video recordings, and motion picture film documenting his work and career.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of sculptor and painter Fletcher Benton measure 8.2 linear feet and 1.47 GB and date from 1934 to 2014. They document his career through personal photographs, legal papers, correspondence, exhibition and commission documentation, clippings, exhibition-related printed materials, broadcast materials, publications about his work, an editioned kinetic Christmas card, photographs, sound and video recordings motion picture film, some of which also appears in digitized form.
Biographical Materials include personal photographs, legal documents related to a court case with book designer Ed Marquand, biographical texts, interview transcripts, and a home video made by the artist. Correspondence is with other artists, friends, galleries, museums and other institutions, including George W. Neubert, André Emmerich Gallery, Pieter Sanders, Pol Bury, George Rickey, Ulfert Wilke, Marlene Louchheim, DeWain Valentine, Lillian E. Jones, and Edward Lucie-Smith. Interviews include sound recordings of interviews with Benton by academics and journalists, including Edward Lucie-Smith, Dan Tooker, and Dan De Wilde.
Exhibition and Commission Files consist of correspondence with galleries, museums and commission patrons; financial records; shipping and subcontracting documentation; motion picture film, video, and sound recordings related to exhibitions and installations; and planning and design materials. Series includes a significant amount of oversized drawings and plans for site-specific work. There is a large volume documentation from the Folded Circle-Arc commission by Stanley Consultants, Inc. in Muscatine, Iowa; the California/International Arts Foundation Traveling Sculpture Exhibition; Double Folded Circle Ring in Brussels and Double Circle Folded by Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Printed Materials include news clippings related to Benton's career, as well as brochures, exhibition catalogs, posters and other printed materials related to exhibitions and commissions. Broadcast materials include television news footage, radio and television interviews, documentaries, and promotional materials made by galleries and other cultural institutions.
Photographic and Moving Image Materials include art-related images showing Benton in his studio and images of exhibitions, installations and inaugurations. Also found are still photographs and motion picture films of artworks, including paintings, sculptures, and kinetic drawings, and a series of photographs of sculptures taken by David Finn.
Artwork consists of an editioned art Christmas card created by Benton for Galeria Bonino in New York from 1969. An American Artist Moving Image Materials consist of 13 videocassettes (VHS) which document the production process of the documentaryFletcher Benton: An American Artist by Morgan Cavett. There is footage from interviews with Benton and with curator George W. Neubert, footage of San Francisco with comments from Benton about his time there, interviews with the artist's studio assistants, images of his studio in Dore street and a couple of almost finished rough versions of the documentary.
This collection is arranged as nine series.
Series 1: Biographical Material (0.3 linear feet; boxes 1, 9)
Series 2: Correspondence (1 linear foot; boxes 1, 2, OV 10)
Series 3: Interviews (0.3 linear feet; box 2)
Series 4: Exhibition and Commission Files (2 linear feet, 0.50 GB; boxes 2-4, OV 11-13, RD 14, FC 15, ER01)
Series 5: Printed Materials (2.3 linear feet; boxes 4-6, OV 10)
Series 6: Broadcast Materials (1.1 linear foot; boxes 6-7)
Series 7: Photographic and Moving Image Materials (0.5 linear feet, 0.97 GB; boxes 7, 9, FC 16-17, ER02)
Series 8: Artwork (1 item; box 7)
Series 9: -- An American Artist -- Video Recordings (0.6 linear feet; boxes 7-8)
Biographical / Historical:
Fletcher Benton was born in Jackson, Ohio in 1931 to Fletcher and Nell Cavett Benton and was the oldest of three children. Benton graduated from Jackson High School in 1949. After serving in the Navy he graduated from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in 1956 and moved to San Francisco, where he started working as an instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1959. He was in San Francisco during the flourishing of the Beat generation, where he had a studio in the North beach area and exhibited at coffee house galleries.
After travelling around Europe in 1960, Benton moved to New York City where he tried to make his living through painting and teaching privately. During those years he was supported by Jackson's local arts patron and family friend, Lillian E. Jones. In 1960 he had his first solo exhibition at Gump's gallery in San Francisco, but his work was taken down after one day because it was considered obscene for including female nudes. He returned to San Francisco in late 1961.
In 1966 Fletcher started teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute and established himself as a primary figure of American kinetic art. In 1966, Peter Selz included his work in the exhibition Directions in Kinetic Sculpture at the University Art Gallery in Berkeley, CA. During the exhibition Benton met the artists Pol Bury and George Rickey with whom he became friends. The exhibition, along with an article "The Movement Movement" that appeared in Time magazine the same year, established Benton's reputation as a significant American Kinetic artist. He also started teaching at the California State University in San José in 1967 where he continued working until 1986.
By 1974 Benton abandoned kinetic art to continue exploring sculpture in three dimensions in a style that became known as "new constructivism." The artworks were conceived in the series Folded Circles and Folded Square Alphabets and were produced in bronze, aluminum and steel. It was also during the 1970s that he started doing large-scale commissions such as the 1977 IBM commission.
Between 1981 and 1984 Benton constructed his studio in Dore Street in the Market district of San Francisco where he continues to work today. During the 1980s Benton started his Balanced/Unbalanced series, which introduced the idea of gravity using geometric forms in different formats and sizes.
From 1984 he began to show more work in Europe, especially in Germany, where in 1993 he got a major commission to create a colossal public sculpture in Cologne entitled Steel Watercolor Triangle Ring. It was also in Germany where Benton encountered the work of Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, and he began work on his Construct Relief series in reponse, which he dedicated to Kandinsky. These geometric constructions are flat, canvas-like steel structures that combine features of painting and sculpture. As the series evolved, the work became more like painting, constructed to hang on the wall without a back piece, so they seem to be floating in the space.
Benton continues to live and work in San Francisco and is represented by multiple galleries in the United States and Germany.
Also found in the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Fletcher Benton conducted by Paul J. Karlstrom, 1989 May 2-4 is available on the Archives of American Art website.
Donated 2005-2006 and 2014 by Fletcher Benton. Benton's wife, Bobbie Benton, organized the material by subject matter and date.
Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of audiovisual material without a duplicate copy requires advanced notice.
The Fletcher Benton 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.