The collection measures 20.8 linear feet, dates from 1885 to 1991 (bulk dates 1908-1986) and documents the career of lithographer, teacher, and painter Prentiss Taylor. The collection consists primarily of subject/correspondence files (circa 16 ft.), reflecting Prentiss' career as a lithographer and painter, his association with figures prominent in the Harlem Renaissance, notably Carl Van Vechten and Langston Hughes, his activities as president of the Society of Washington Printmakers and other art organizations, his work in art therapy treating mental illness, and his teaching position at American University. The subject files contain mostly correspondence, but many include photographs and printed material. Also included are biographical, financial, legal and printed material; several hundred photographs; notes and writings; sketchbooks, drawings and a few prints by Taylor; and scrapbooks dating from 1885-1956.
Scope and Content Note:
The collection measures 20.8 linear feet, dates from 1885 to 1991 (bulk dates 1908-1986) and documents the career of Harlem Renaissance lithographer, teacher, and painter Prentiss Taylor. The collection consists primarily of subject/correspondence files (circa 16 ft.), reflecting Prentiss' career as a lithographer and painter, his association with figures prominent in the Harlem Renaissance, notably Carl Van Vechten and Langston Hughes, his activities as president of the Society of Washington Printmakers and other art organizations, his work in art therapy treating mental illness, and his teaching position at American University. The subject files contain mostly correspondence, but many include photographs and printed material. Also included are biographical, financial, legal and printed material; several hundred photographs; notes and writings; sketchbooks, drawings and a few prints by Taylor; and scrapbooks dating from 1885-1956.
The Langston Hughes files contain photocopies of letters from Hughes, greeting cards, ten original photographs of Hughes, and an autographed card printed with Hughes' poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers. In addition, there is a contract between Hughes and Taylor, witnessed by Carl Van Vechten, forming the Golden Stair Press, through which many of Hughes' poems were printed with illustrations by Taylor. A rare edition of their first publication, The Negro Mother, is found here. Also found in this file is a 1932 final copy of Scottsboro Limited, another collaborative effort between Taylor and Hughes that focused on a case where nine black youths were falsely accused of raping two white women. The collection contains extensive correspondence about Taylor's lithograph of the same title and the printing of the publication. Other rare Harlem Renaissance publications found within Taylor's papers include Golden Stair Broadsides, Opportunity Journal of Negro Life, The Rebel Poet, and Eight Who Lie in the Death House, several of which were also illustrated by Taylor.
Prentiss Taylor's long association with Langston Hughes and other figures of the Harlem Renaissance stemmed from his early friendship with Carl Van Vechten. Taylor's papers contain correspondence with Van Vechten, autographed copies of Van Vechten's booklets, and numerous photographs of notable Harlem Renaissance figures, many taken by Van Vechten, including Zora Neale Hurston, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Eugene O'Neill, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Paul Robeson, and many others. Also found are period photographs of Charleston, South Carolina and Harlem street scenes.
95 letters from Rachel Field, 75 letters from Langston Hughes, 3 letters from Armin Landeck, 46 letters from Josephine Pinckney, 1 letter from Gertrude Stein, 7 letters from Alice B. Toklas, 1 postcard from Mark Van Doren, and 25 letters from Carl Van Vechten are photocopies. Originals of the Hughes and Toklas letters are located at the Yale University Library. Location of the remaining original letters are unknown.
The Prentiss Taylor papers offer researchers insight into the rich cultural documentation of the Harlem Renaissance and the development of twentieth-century printmaking as an American fine art.
The collection is arranged into ten series. The largest series housing Subject Files is arranged alphabetically, primarily by name of correspondent, maintaining Taylor's original arrangement. The remaining series are arranged in chronological order. Oversized material from various series has been housed in Box 21 (Sol) and OV 22 and is noted in the Series Description/Container Listing Section at the appropriate folder title with see also/see references.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1918-1985, undated (Box 1; 6 folders)
Series 2: Miscellaneous Receipts, 1929-1986, undated (Box 1; 11 folders)
Series 3: Insurance Records, 1960-1976 (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 4: Notes, 1921-1984, undated (Box 1; 18 folders)
Series 5: Writings, 1924-1971, undated (Box 1-2; 51 folders)
Series 6: Art Work, 1916-1975, undated (Box 2; 14 folders)
Series 7: Scrapbooks, 1885-1956 (Box 2, 21; 10 folders)
Series 9: Photographs, 1908-1984, undated (Box 3, 23-24; 1.1 linear feet)
Series 10: Subject Files, 1885-1991, undated (Box 3-21, OV 22; 18.0 linear feet)
Prentiss Taylor was born in 1907 at the Washington, D. C. residence of his maternal grandmother, his birth assisted by his grandmother's cook, affectionately known as Cookie Belle.
In the 1920s, Taylor studied painting with Charles W. Hawthorne in Provincetown, but turned to lithography in the late 1920s to early 1930s during his enrollment at the Art Students League in New York City. He received further training in that medium at the George C. Miller workshop in New York. During this period, he also designed costumes for the American-Oriental Revue. Taylor worked primarily in the printmaking medium for the rest of his life, experimenting with various techniques and compositions and ultimately achieving a status as one this country's great lithographers. Taylor depicted mostly realistic and narrative scenes of subjects and themes that reflected his personal interests in music, architecture, religion and social justice.
During his time in New York, Taylor developed close friendships with poet Langston Hughes and writer Carl Van Vechten. He collaborated with Hughes in the formation of the Golden Stair Press to produce publications reflecting the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance. Taylor created a number of prints and illustration for the press and its publications.
After returning to Washington, D.C., Taylor's work was included in exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. He was represented by the Franz Bader Gallery in Washington, D.C., and by the Bethesda Art Gallery in Maryland. In 1942, Taylor was elected President of the Society of Washington Printmakers, a position he held for thirty-four years. He also worked as an art therapist for more than thirty years and taught oil painting at American University from 1955-1975.
Prentiss Taylor died October 7, 1991 in Washington, D.C.
Prentiss Taylor papers are also located at the Yale University Library.
The Archives of American Art also holds material lent for microfilming (reel 1392) including three notebooks detailing Taylor's lithographs, a gift and sales notebook, a guestbook, exhibition announcements, and a brochure. Lent materials were returned to the lender and are not described in the collection container inventory.
Prentiss Taylor lent the Archives of American Art material for microfilming in 1978. Papers were donated in 1978 and 1984 by Taylor, and in 1992 and 2004 by his companion, Roderick S. Quiroz, for the estate of Prentiss Taylor.
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.
Prentiss Taylor papers, 1885-1991. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Funding for the digitization of the microfilm of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Funding for the conservation of Prentiss Taylor's photograph album, 1929-1939, was provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.