The Betty Parsons Gallery records and personal papers measure 61.1 linear feet and date from 1916 to 1991, with the bulk of the material dating from 1946-1983. Records provide extensive documentation of the gallery's operations from its inception in 1946 to its closing in 1983 and of the activities of Betty Parsons as one the leading art dealers of contemporary American Art in the latter half of the twentieth century, particularly the work of the Abstract Expressionists. Over one third of the of the collection is comprised of artists files containing correspondence, price lists, and printed materials. Additional correspondence is with galleries, dealers, art institutions, private collectors, and the media. Also found are exhibition files, exhibition catalogs and announcements, sales records, stock inventories, personal financial records, and photographs. Betty Parsons's personal papers consist of early curatorial files, pocket diaries, personal correspondence, and evidence of her own artwork, including sketchbooks, and files documenting her personal art collection.
Scope and Content Note:
The Betty Parsons Gallery records and personal papers measure 61.1 linear feet and date from 1916 to 1991, with the bulk of the material dating from 1946-1983. Records provide extensive documentation of the gallery's operations from its inception in 1946 to its closing in 1983 and of the activities of Betty Parsons as one the leading art dealers of contemporary American Art in the latter half of the twentieth century, particularly the work of the Abstract Expressionists. Over one third of the of the collection is comprised of artists files containing correspondence, price lists, and printed materials. Additional correspondence is with galleries, dealers, art institutions, private collectors, and the media. Also found are exhibition files, exhibition catalogs and announcements, sales records, stock inventories, personal financial records, and photographs. Betty Parsons's personal papers consist of early curatorial files, pocket diaries, personal correspondence, and evidence of her own artwork, including sketchbooks, and files documenting her personal art collection. Personal papers also include personal photographs.
Artists files, the largest and most extensive series, consist of a wide variety of documents, including biographical materials, correspondence with or related to the artist, exhibition catalogs and announcements, sales and expense invoices, clippings, price lists, and photographs of the artist, exhibitions, and artwork. The files reflect Parsons's close personal relationships with certain artists, particularly Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Barnett Newman. Extensive documentation is also found for Forrest Bess, William Congdon, Paul Feeley, Thomas George, Alexander Liberman, Seymour Lipton, Richard Pousette-Dart, Jesse Reichek, and Jack Youngerman. Historians and researchers will find these files to be an invaluable resource both in tracing Betty Parsons's role in promoting Abstract Expressionism and researching individual artists.
Exhibition files primarily document the gallery's infrequent group or themed exhibitions. Of particular note are the files on The Ideographic Picture, which was organized by Barnett Newman and included his work, as well as that of Pietro Lazzari, Boris Margo, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Theodoros Stamos, and Clyfford Still. Price lists, artist biographies and exhibition schedules are housed in the general exhibition files. Loan exhibition files provide documentation of artwork borrowed by other galleries or institutions for exhibitions, as well as shows outside of the gallery that were organized by Betty Parsons. Also found are gallery exhibition guest books, and announcements and catalogs.
Gallery correspondence is primarily with galleries and dealers, museums, arts organizations, and collectors. Scattered letters from artists are also found, although the bulk of the artists' correspondence is filed in the Artists Files. Also found here are memoranda and letters between Betty Parsons and her staff that contain detailed information concerning Parsons's schedule and gallery activities. Similar correspondence is found amongst the correspondence files within the series Betty Parsons papers.
Appraisal and conservation files include correspondence, appraisal invoices, forms, and appraisal requests and other information from the Art Dealers Association of America, and conservation invoices and reports. The majority of the appraisal records contain information about the specific works of art, including artist, title, date, current owner and the estimated value at the time of the request. Conservation records document conservation treatments undertaken by outside conservators to gallery stock.
Sales, purchases, stock and inventory are well documented in the sales and inventory records. The records provide detailed information about individual sales, prices of individual pieces of artwork, consignments, and loans. Most sales records also include detailed information about the buyer and are a valuable resource for provenance research. Files documenting the general administration, routine business operations, and financial transactions (not individual sales) of the gallery are housed in the general business and financial records. These records include ledgers, receipts, tax records, and banking records. There is some limited information about works of art scattered amongst the receipts and in the "in/out slips" files. Legal records house general legal documents and those concerning specific lawsuits. Of particular note is the file detailing the lawsuit between Betty Parsons and Sidney Janis over the fifth floor of 24 West 57th Street.
The remainder of the collection consists of Betty Parsons's personal papers which document her career prior to opening her own gallery, her work as an artist, and her personal art collection.
Some information about Parsons's work prior to opening her own gallery is found in the early curatorial files she retained from her curatorial and administrative work at the Wakefield Gallery and the Mortimer Brandt Gallery. Clippings, correspondence, announcements, exhibition lists and exhibition files are found. For both positions, she kept only the exhibition files for a small group of exhibitions organized around a specific theme, the most notable being the exhibition of Pre-Columbian Sculpture at the Wakefield Gallery.
Biographical materials include copies of her biography, family genealogies, photographs of Parsons, interviews with Colette Roberts and WYNC radio, memberships, photographs, and ephemera, including a collection of programs and invitations from events that she attended. Throughout her life Parsons gave generously of her time to various cultural and charitable institutions and was awarded for her contributions. There are also a number of files that document her speaking engagements, her participation as a juror in numerous juried exhibitions, charitable work, and awards that she received.
Parsons's personal correspondence files reflect how deeply Parsons's life was intertwined with the gallery. There are letters from museum directors, dealers, artists seeking representation, and personal letters from artists with whom she had close personal relationships, most notably Larry Bigelow, Alexander Calder, William Condon, and Ad Reinhardt. There are also letters from the English artist Adge Baker, with whom Parsons was romantically involved. Correspondence also includes several files of postcards and Christmas cards.
Pocket diaries and engagement calendars, spanning from 1933-1981, record social engagements, meetings, vacations, and telephone numbers. Also found are circa two linear feet of notebooks and sketchbooks, many of which are annotated with addresses, poetry, journal entries, and other observations of people, places, and travels. Writings by others include writings about Betty Parsons or the Betty Parsons Gallery, such as Lawrence Alloway's unpublished typescript titled "An American Gallery" and other topics.
Printed material consists of exhibition announcements and catalogs, art magazines, and newspaper and magazine clippings about Betty Parsons, her family and acquaintances, artists, and other art related topics, coupled with a miscellaneous selection of clippings, and a video recording, on topics that presumably captured Parsons's attention.
Personal art work records document Betty Parsons's career as an artist through inventories, group and solo exhibitions files, price lists, appraisals, sales and consignment invoices. Photographs are primarily reproductions of her works of art, although there are scattered photographs of exhibition installations.
Betty Parsons's private art collection files document her extensive personal collection of art that included works by Jackson Pollock, Agnes Martin, Romare Bearden, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, in addition to Amlash sculpture from ancient Persia and primitive sculpture from New Hebrides. These files include inventories, lists, exhibition records, sales and purchase invoices, and photographs. There are also files for donations and loans from Parsons's personal collection to museums and fund raising auctions for several non-profit institutions.
Finally, the personal financial records provide information about the Parsons's family finances and her personal financial success as an art dealer. In addition to her own investments, Parsons inherited shares in family investments through the estates of her parents, J. Fred Pierson, Jr. and Suzanne Miles Pierson, and younger sister, Emily Rayner. Real estate files include correspondence, utility bills, receipts, area maps, and land plots for houses in Sheepscot, Maine and St. Maartens, Netherlands Antilles. Tax returns, ledger worksheets, receipts, banking statements, deposit slips, and cancelled checks are among the other financial records.
The collection is arranged as seven series. Many of the series are further divided into subseries.
Series 1: Artists Files, 1935-1983 (19.4 linear feet; Boxes 1-18, 51, 55-56, OVs 53, 65)
Series 2: Exhibition Files, 1941-1983 (2.9 linear feet; Boxes 18-21, 51, 55, OVs 54, 66)
Series 3: Correspondence Files, 1941-1983 (3.9 linear feet; Boxes 21-24, 52, 56)
Series 4: Appraisal Files, 1954-1983 (0.7 linear feet; Box 24)
Series 5: Sales and Inventory Records, 1946-1983 (3.9 linear feet; Boxes 25-28, 51)
Series 6: General Business and Financial Records, 1946-1983 (9.3 linear feet; Boxes 28-38, 51, 56)
Series 7: Betty Parsons Personal Papers, 1916-1991 (21 linear feet; Boxes 38-51, 55-64, OVs 65-67)
Betty Parsons (1900-1982) was one of the leading art dealers in New York City specializing in modern art, particularly the work of the Abstract Expressionists, and an abstract painter and sculptor in her own right. She opened Betty Parsons Gallery in 1946 at 15 E. 57th St., later moving to 24 W. 57th St.
The history of the Betty Parsons Gallery is inextricably bound to the life and experiences of its founder. Betty Parsons was born Betty Bierne Pierson on January 31, 1900 in New York City. She enjoyed a privileged childhood, which included vacation homes in Newport and Palm Beach. Her only formal education was a five-year stint at the prestigious Chapin School from 1910-1915, where she met many of the women who would become life-long friends and supporters. In the spring of 1920, she married Schuyler Livingston Parsons from one of New York's oldest families. The marriage ended after only three years and the couple traveled to Paris where they could obtain a divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. She retained her married surname and purchased a house on the rue Boulard in Paris, where she remained for ten years, pursuing studies in painting and sculpture.
Financial constraints forced Parsons to return to the United States in 1933. She first traveled west to California, but it was her return to New York in 1935 that marked the start of her career as an art dealer. Her first opportunity to connect with the New York art world came after a successful exhibition of her watercolors at the Midtown Galleries where the owner, Alan Gruskin, noted Parson's faithful and wealthy group of supporters and offered her work installing exhibitions and selling paintings on commission. Her work for the Midtown Galleries led to a second position in the Park Avenue gallery of Mary Sullivan, one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art. Here, Parsons learned the business of running a gallery. By 1940 Parsons was ready to take on more independent responsibility and agreed to manage a gallery within the Wakefield Bookshop. In this job, she exercised full curatorial control by selecting artists and organizing exhibitions. She championed then unknown contemporary American artists and the gallery's roster soon included Saul Steinberg, Hedda Sterne, Alfonso Ossorio, Joseph Cornell, Walter Murch, and Theodore Stamos. Although the majority of the exhibitions were solo shows, there were a few group shows and themed exhibitions, such as Love in Art (1941) and Ballet in Art (1942). Under Parson's direction, the gallery hosted an important exhibition of Pre-Columbian sculpture, curated by Barnett Newman.
When the owners of the Wakefield Bookshop decided to close the gallery late in 1944, Mortimer Brandt, a dealer who specialized in Old Master paintings and drawings, offered her a position as head of the newly created contemporary section of his gallery. Many of the artists who had shown with Parsons at the Wakefield Gallery followed her to her new gallery, where they were joined by Ad Reinhardt, Boris Mango, and Hans Hofmann. While the exhibitions garnered attention from the press and the interest of contemporary artists, the contemporary section was not a financial success and Brandt opted to close his gallery in 1946.
Using $1000 of her own money and an additional borrowed $4000, Parsons sublet the space that previously housed Mortimer Brandt's contemporary section, on the fifth floor of 15 East 57th Street, and opened the Betty Parsons Gallery.
In many respects the early years of the Betty Parsons Gallery were the most vital, as it was during the period of 1947-1951 that the gallery became linked with the Abstract Expressionists and the history of post-WWII American Art. In an unpublished history of the gallery, noted art critic Lawrence Alloway stated that the significance of the gallery's early exhibitions ranks with Durand-Ruel's Impressionists exhibitions or Kahnweiler's shows of the Cubists. Betty Parsons Gallery quickly became one of the most prestigious galleries in New York City associated with new American Art of all styles. Her close friend Barnett Newman organized the gallery's inaugural exhibition of Northwest Coast Indian Art and he soon began to exhibit his own work at the gallery. When Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery closed, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, and Mark Rothko joined Parsons' growing stable of artists. Although Parsons continued to promote and exhibit many of the artists whom she had previously discovered, these four artists dominated this period. Newman, Pollock, Still, and Rothko worked closely together, holding themselves apart from the other artists somewhat. They were actively involved in the curatorial process and often hung their own shows. For these artists, the exhibition itself was an artistic act of creation.
Parsons provided a supportive environment and allowed her artists enormous freedom in planning and designing their exhibitions. She was not, however, an aggressive salesperson. During this early period the gallery ledgers document sales to an impressive array of museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as important collectors such as Edward Root and Duncan Phillips. Nevertheless, the art that the gallery promoted was not yet widely accepted. Sales were few, prices were low and the business would not turn a profit for several years. Meanwhile, there was mounting pressure from Pollock, Newman, Still, and Rothko to drop some of the other artists from Parsons' stable and focus all resources on them. They wanted to be promoted to a larger audience and have their work sold at higher prices, but Parsons enjoyed discovering new artists and did not want to be restricted in this endeavor. The year 1951 marks the last time that Pollock's drip paintings or the monumental works of Newman, Rothko or Still were shown at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
In the following years the Betty Parsons Gallery continued to attract a diverse group of talented artists. Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Tuttle, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jack Youngerman had their first New York exhibitions at the Betty Parsons Gallery. Parsons opened Section Eleven in 1958, a short-lived annex to the main gallery, so that she could promote younger, less well-known artists. It closed in 1960 due to the administrative difficulties in running two essentially separate galleries.
In 1962, Sidney Janis, another prominent art dealer, started proceedings to evict Parsons from the floor that they shared on 15 East 57th Street. The Betty Parsons Gallery moved to 24 West 57th Street in 1963, where it remained until it closed in 1983, following Parsons' death the preceding year. Throughout the gallery's history, Parsons continued to promote faithful artists such as Hedda Sterne and Saul Steinberg, who had been with her from the beginning and to seek out new talent, both for her main gallery and for other venues, such as the short-lived Parsons-Truman Gallery, which she opened in 1974 with former Parsons Gallery director Jock Truman to show works on paper by emerging artists.
In addition to being an art dealer, Betty Parsons was a respected artist and collector. With her connoisseur's eye and connections, Parsons amassed an impressive private collection of art. She bought her first piece while an art student in Paris in the 1920s, a small gouache by Zadkine, but did not begin acquiring works in earnest until she was established as an art dealer. Partial inventories of her personal collection show that the majority of her collection contained works by artists associated with the gallery. Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Ad Reinhardt, Agnes Martin, and Kenzo Okada were among the artists represented. Many were gifts from the artists, such as an ink drawing by Jackson Pollock, inscribed "For Betty." Selections from her collection appeared in small museums across the United States, including a traveling exhibition organized by Fitch College, New York, in 1968. In her role as a promoter of contemporary American art, Parsons lent generously from her collection, particularly to the federal Art in the Embassies Program. Throughout her life she also donated works to a variety of museums, most notably, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark.
Parsons frequently claimed that her desire to pursue a career as an artist stemmed from a visit to the Armory Show when she was thirteen. In her late teens, after pressuring her father for art lessons, she studied with the sculptor Gutzon Burglum of Mount Rushmore fame. In Paris, she continued her studies first with Antoine Bourdelle, whose sculptures she had admired at the Armory Show, and later with Ossip Zadkine. The first exhibition of her work, figurative watercolors and sculptures, took place in Paris in 1927. As she matured as an artist, her art became more abstract. Her late works were painted wood sculptures that she pieced together from wood that she found near her studio in Long Island. Parsons's work was exhibited in more than thirty solo exhibitions, including, Betty Parsons; Paintings, Gouaches and Sculpture, 1955-1968, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. During her lifetime, she would not allow her works to be shown in her own gallery. Shortly after she died of a stroke in 1982, In Memoriam, Betty Parsons: Late Sculptures, opened at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
Also found in the Archives of American Art are oral history interviews with Betty Parsons, June 4-9, 1969, by Paul Cummings, and June 11, 1981 by Gerald Silk.
Some of the material originally loaned for microfilming in 1968 and 1969 was not included in later donations and can be viewed on microfilm reels N68/62-N68/74 and N69/105-N69/106. Loaned materials are not described in the container listing in this finding aid.
The gallery donated some records in 1974, many of which had been loaned earlier for microfilming. The bulk of the collection was donated in 1984 and 1986 by William Rayner and Christopher Schwabacher, executors of the Estate of Betty Parsons. Additional material was donated by William Rayner in 1998 and Christopher Schwabacher in 2017. Additional material was donated in 2018 by the Lee Hall estate via Carolyn Crozier and Deborah Jacobson, co-executors. Hall was Parsons's biographer and had the material in her possession at the time of Parsons's death. An additional photograph of Parons and Marie Carr Taylor by Henri Cartier-Bresson was donated in 2021 by Mary Carpenter, who inherited the photograph from her mother, Nan Thorton Jones, who received it as a gift from Taylor.
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.
Gallery owners -- New York (State) -- New York Search this
Art dealers -- New York (State) -- New York Search this
Family correspondence; personal and professional correspondence relating to Porter's career as a gallery owner, with Caresse Crosby, Eldzier Cortor, Worden Day, Edith Halpert, Adolph Gottlieb, Karl Knaths, Peggy Guggenheim, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and many others; diaries; notes; financial papers; clippings; publicity catalogs; and miscellany.
Biographical / Historical:
Painter, sculptor, gallery owner; Wainscott, N.Y. Porter opened the G Place Gallery with Caresse Crosby in 1943.
Lent for microfilming 1970 by Edwin David Porter.
The Archives of American art does not own the original papers. Use is limited to the microfilm copy.
The papers of sculptor, writer, and earthworks artist Robert Smithson and his wife, sculptor, filmmaker, and earthworks artist Nancy Holt measure 19.1 linear feet and date from 1905 to 1987, with the bulk of the material dating from 1952 to 1987. Also included is Smithson's personal library of books, vinyl records, and magazine, measuring 48.4 linear feet. The papers consist of Smithson's biographical material; business and personal correspondence, much of it with artists; interview transcripts; extensive writings and project files; financial records; printed material; a scrapbook of clippings; holiday cards with original prints and sketches; photographic material; and artifacts. Also found are project files related to Nancy Holt's motion picture film Pine Barrens and her seminal environmental work of art Sun Tunnels, including a video documentary about Sun Tunnels.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of sculptor, writer, and earthworks artist Robert Smithson and his wife, sculptor, filmmaker, and earthworks artist Nancy Holt measure 19.1 linear feet and date from 1905 to 1987, with the bulk of the material dating from 1952 to 1987. Also included is Smithson's personal library of books, vinyl records, and magazine, measuring 48.4 linear feet. The papers consist of Smithson's biographical material; business and personal correspondence, much of it with artists; interview transcripts; extensive writings and project files; financial records; printed material; a scrapbook of clippings; holiday cards with original prints and sketches; photographic material; and artifacts. Also found are project files related to Nancy Holt's film Pine Barrens and her seminal environmental work of art Sun Tunnels, including a video documentary about Sun Tunnels.
Biographical material includes Robert Smithson's curriculum vitae, personal identification and medical documents, eight engagement/day planners Smithson and Holt maintained from 1966 to 1973, and Smithson's funeral register.
Correspondence is primarily with Smithson's family, friends, fellow artists, and business associates discussing personal relationships, proposed art projects, and exhibitions. Correspondents of note include Carl Andre, the Dwan Gallery (Virginia Dwan), Dan Graham, Will Insley, Ray Johnson, Gyorgy Kepes, Sol Lewitt, Lucy Lippard, and Dennis Wheeler. There is also substantial correspondence received by Holt upon Smithson's death in 1973, and between Holt and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art regarding Smithson's retrospective exhibition in 1982.
There are nine interview transcripts with Smithson discussing his works and his general philosophy on art, and one transcript of the Andrew Dickson White Museum's Earth Art Symposium (1969) featuring the following artists: Mike Hiezer, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, Neil Jenney, Gunther Uecker, Jan Dibbets, Richard Long, and Hans Haacke.
Writings are substantial and include 73 drafts of published and unpublished essays by Smithson on art, artists, and works in progress. The series also includes poems by Smithson, six notebooks containing notes and sketches by Smithson, and drafts of writings sent to Smithson and Holt by friends and colleagues, including Carl Andre, Terry Atkinson, Dan Flavin, Dan Graham, and Jack Thibeau.
Project files contain correspondence, project instructions, diagrams and sketches, research materials, photographic material, and maps related to over 50 of Smithson's artworks. These include concepts, proposed projects, sculptures, non-sites, and earthwork projects, including Spiral Jetty, Broken Circle, and Spiral Hill.
Personal business records include gallery related loan arrangements and receipts for miscellaneous art supplies. Financial records include tax forms and preparation documents, including cancelled checks, receipts, statements, and related correspondence.
Printed materials include books, clippings, and periodicals related to Smithson, either containing writings or sketches by him, or containing articles reviewing his work. There are also exhibition announcements and catalogs of Smithson's group and solo shows from 1959 to 1985.
The scrapbook contains clippings of Smithson's published articles from 1966 to 1973 with annotated shorthand notes.
Artwork consists of Christmas cards collaged by Smithson, and sketches by Smithson and Leo Valledor.
Photographic materials include prints and negatives of Smithson with friends, promotional Hollywood movie stills, and original prints and copyprints of other artists' artwork.
Artifacts consist of a paper bag silkscreened with a Campbell's soup can (Warhol), promotional buttons (N.E. Thing Co.), various organic materials, and two art kits.
Nancy Holt's papers consist of correspondence, a grant application, printed materials, and project files and audio visual material related to her motion picture film Pine Barrens (1975) and her seminal environmental work of art Sun Tunnels (1975).
The collection is arranged as 14 series:
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1905-1974 (Box 1; 14 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1959-1987 (Boxes 1-2, OV 21; 1.7 linear feet)
Series 3: Interview Transcripts, 1966-1973 (Box 2; 11 folders)
Series 4: Writings, 1959-1975 (Boxes 2-3; 1.1 linear feet)
Series 5: Project Files, circa 1950s-1982 (Boxes 4-5, Boxes 17-18, OV 20, OV 22-26, OV 36, RD 28-30, RD 32-35; 6.5 linear feet)
Series 6: Personal Business Records, circa 1967-1970s (Box 5; 4 folders)
Series 7: Financial Records, 1962-1972 (Box 6; 1 linear foot)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1955-1985 (Boxes 7-11, Box 18, RD 31; 5.6 linear feet)
Series 9: Scrapbook, 1966-1973 (Box 11, Box 16; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 10: Artwork, circa 1950s-1970s (Box 11; 4 folders)
Series 11: Photographs, circa 1950s-1970s (Box 11, Box 18; 5 folders)
Series 12: Artifacts, circa 1950s-1970s (Box 11, Box 14, OV 19; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 13: Nancy Holt Papers, circa 1960s-1980s (Box 12-13, 15, OV 27, FC 37-38; 1.9 linear feet)
Series 14: Robert Smithson Personal Library (Boxes 39-87; 48.4 linear feet)
Robert Smithson (1938-1973) was the pioneer of land and earthworks art. He was also a noted sculptor, painter, writer, and lecturer working primarily in New York City. Smithson's wife, Nancy Holt (1938-) was a noted sculptor and filmmaker and also worked as an earthworks artist.
Born in Passaic, New Jersey, Smithson expressed an early interest in art, enrolling in classes at the Brooklyn Museum School and the Art Student's League in New York while still attending high school. Smithson's early works were primarily paintings, drawings, and collages. In 1959, he exhibited his first solo show of paintings at the Artists' Gallery in New York and had his first solo international show in Rome with the Galleria George Lester in 1961.
During the early to mid-1960s, Smithson was perhaps better known as a writer and art critic, writing numerous essays and reviews for Arts Magazine and Artforum. He became affiliated with artists who were identified with the minimalist movement, such as Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Nancy Holt, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris and others. In 1963, Smithson married sculptor and filmmaker Nancy Holt and a year later started to create his first sculptural works. In 1966, Smithson joined the Dwan Gallery, whose owner Virginia Dwan was an enthusiastic supporter of his work.
Smithson's interest in land art began in the late 1960s while exploring industrial and quarry sites and observing the movement of earth and rocks. This resulted in a series of sculptures called "non-sites" consisting of earth and rocks collected from a specific site and installed in gallery space, often combined with photographs, maps, mirrors, or found materials. In September 1968, Smithson published the essay "A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects" in Artforum that promoted the work of the first wave of land art artists. Soon thereafter, he began creating his own large scale land art and earthworks.
From 1967 to 1973, Smithson's productivity was constant as he wrote, lectured, and participated in several solo and group shows a year, both at home and abroad. He explored narrative art as essay in "The Monuments of Passaic" and fully committed to his idea of visiting sites and using them as the basis for creating non-sites, Non-Site, Pine Barrens, (1968); incorporated and documented the use of mirrors at sites in Mirror Displacement, Cayuga Salt Mine Project (1968-1969); and created his first site-specific works through liquid pours of mud, asphalt, and concrete, including Asphalt Rundown (1969). In 1969, he also completed his first earth pour at Kent State University with his project Partially Buried Woodshed. Later that year, he created the sculptural artwork for which he is best known, Spiral Jetty (1969) on the Great Salt Lake in Utah. This was the first of his pieces to require the acquisition of land rights and earthmoving equipment, and would be followed two years later by Broken Circle and Spiral Hill in 1971.
On July 20, 1973, while surveying sites in Texas for the proposed Amarillo Ramp, Smithson died in a plane crash at the age of 35. Despite his early death, Smithson's writings and artwork had a major impact on many contemporary artists.
Nancy Holt began her career as a photographer and video artist. Today, Holt is most widely known for her large-scale environmental works, Sun Tunnels and Dark Star Park. Holt has also made a number of films and videos since the late 1960s, including Mono Lake (1968), East Coast, West Coast (1969), and Swamp (1971) in collaboration with her late husband Robert Smithson. Points of View: Clocktower (1974) features conversations between Lucy Lippard and Richard Serra, Liza Bear and Klaus Kertess, Carl Andre and Ruth Kligman and Bruce Brice and Tina Girouard. In 1978, she produced a film about her seminal work Sun Tunnels.
The Archives also holds several collections related to Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt, including an oral history interview with Robert Smithson conducted by Paul Cummings in 1972; an interview with Robert Smithson conducted by Tony Robbin in 1968; Robert Smithson letters to George B. Lester, 1960-1963; and oral history interviews with Nancy Holt conducted by Scott Gutterman in 1992 and Joyce Pomeroy Schwartz in 1993.
The papers of Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt were donated by Nancy Holt in several accretions between 1986 and 2011.
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. Periodicals, and phonographs from Robert Smithson's personal library are currently stored offsite. Contact References Services for more information.
The donor has retained all intellectual property rights, including copyright, that they may own in the following material: two holiday cards found in box 11, folders 23-24.
An interview of Robert Smithson conducted 1972 July 14-19, by Paul Cummings, for the Archives of American Art at 799 Greenwich Street in New York on July 14 and 19 1972. Smithson speaks of growing up in Passaic, New Jersey; primary and high school; high school art education; going to New York Museums; writing and its impact on art work; the Artists Gallery; the Art Students League; his time in the army; the Cedar Bar; Quicksand; the Museum of Modern Art; art education; Sam Smithson; his father; traveling the U.S.; Brooklyn Museum School; impact of the Museum of Natural History; moving to New York; visiting Europe; psychology; show at the George Lester Gallery; the Broken Circle; Dallas-Fort Worth Airport; crystalline structures; meeting William Carlos Williams; cosmology; Enantiomorphic Chambers; mapping; painting and drawing; the Dwan Gallery; getting married; Aerial Art; earthworks; sculpture; the Cryosphere; Alogon; Rome; stratas; nonsites; When Attitudes Become Form; Attitudes; mining sites and quarries; light and reflection; the Spiral Jetty; coordination of large works; documentation; selection of sites; Gyrostasis; weather's impact and seasonal change of the Spiral Jetty; confines of the gallery and museum; mirrors; landscapes; artist materials; art education; traveling; art and vacations; documenta; Smithson also recalls Federica Beer-Monti , Hugh Stix , Danny Donohue, Joe Levin, Charlie Hasloff, John Cassavetes , Alan Brilliant, Irving Sandler, Barnett Newman, Richard Bellamy,John Groth, Lawrence Alloway, T. S. Elliot, Donald Judd, William Carlos Williams, Jackson Pollock, William Burroughs, Ad Reinhardt, Dan Flavin, Virginia Dwan, Rosalind Krauss, and others.
Biographical / Historical:
Robert Smithson (1938-1973) was a sculptor well known for his earthworks.
Originally recorded on 2 sound tape reels. Reformatted in 2010 as 3 digital wav files. Duration is 3 hr.
This interview is part of the Archives' Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and others.
Transcript available on the Archives of American Art website.
The Ralph Fabri papers measure 26.0 linear feet and are dated circa 1870s-1975, with the bulk of the material dated 1918-1975. Biographical information, correspondence, subject files, writings, art work, financial records, miscellaneous records, scrapbooks, printed material, a videotape of Fabri in his studio, and photographs document the professional career and personal life of the painter, printmaker, commercial artist, writer, and teacher.
Scope and Content Note:
The Ralph Fabri papers measure 26.0 linear feet and are dated circa 1870s-1975, with the bulk of the material dated 1918-1975. Biographical information, correspondence, subject files, writings, art work, financial records, miscellaneous records, scrapbooks, printed material, and photographs document the professional career and personal life of the painter, printmaker, commercial artist, writer, and teacher.
Biographical information includes awards and certificates, educational records, passports and travel documents.
Almost one-half of the collection consists of Fabri's correspondence. There is correspondence with friends and relatives, as well as professional correspondence. Much of the early correspondence with friends and family is written in Hungarian and also include small watercolors by Fabri that he used as postcards to send messages to family members. A number of later letters are illustrated with drawings by Fabri and other artists. Extensive correspondence - often daily missives - records romantic liaisons with Mabel Farrar, Mina Kocherthaler, Elly von Marczell, and Mavis Elizabeth Peat, as well as the travels and careers of Hungarian opera singer Maria Samson and composer and impresario Laszlo Schawrtz. In addition, there are large numbers of Christmas cards, many with original artwork, from artist friends and former students. Professional correspondence concerns teaching, writing and publishing, commercial work, exhibitions and sales.
Subject files relate mainly to organizations and institutions in which Fabri was active, and include his correspondence and some official records (minutes, reports, financial records), and printed material. Among the organizations and institutions are: Allied Artists of America, Inc., Artists for Victory, Inc., Audubon Artists of America, Inc., National Academy of Design, and Society of American Etchers. Other subject files concern the schools where Fabri taught and publications with which he was associated.
Among the writings by Fabri are drafts and completed manuscripts of articles, books (including two unpublished titles), music and lyrics, and a few poems. Diaries (75 vols.) covering the period 1918-1975, contain almost daily entries that record in varying degrees of detail his professional and personal activities, special and mundane events, and opinions. Prior to 1939, the diaries are in Hungarian or partially in Hungarian. Heavily illustrated notes from his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts survive, along with other miscellaneous notes and 7 notebooks containing lists of concerts, operas, and plays attended by Fabri between 1912 and 1974.
Writings by other authors include the manuscript of Pastel Painting published by Stephen Csoka, said to have been written by Fabri.
Art work by Fabri includes student work, early commercial work, drawings and sketches, a few early watercolor paintings, and two sketchbooks. Work by other artists consists of a watercolor by his uncle Miklos Fabri, a pencil drawing by Laszlo Schwartz, a gouache painting by Paul Mommer, and an ink drawing by Marantz.
Financial records mainly concern banking transactions and taxes. In addition there are receipts for personal and business expenses and packages sent to family in Hungary.
Included among the miscellaneous records and artifacts are art sales and donations, six medals awarded to Fabri, and guest books. A videotape (SONY Helical Scan recording) of Fabri in his studio, made by Jerome Bona and Rick Brown that aired on NYC public access television station Channel C in 1973, is also included.
Scrapbooks (10 vols.) contain reproductions of Fabri's early commercial work, clippings, printed material, and a few photographs documenting his career.
Printed material by Fabri includes articles, books, commercial designs, reproductions, and works translated by Fabri for publication in Hungarian. Also included are issues of Today's Art containing signed and unsigned articles and editorials by Fabri, and some pieces he wrote using pseudonyms. Exhibition related items include catalogs, announcements, and invitations for Fabri's group and solo exhibitions and exhibitions of other artists. Also included are posters, and prospectuses.
Photographs are of art work, people, places, and miscellaneous subjects. People pictured are Ralph Fabri, his family (including a few ancestors), friends, and unidentified individuals and groups. Places documented include exterior views of Pension Villa-Fabri in Hungary (the family's restaurant and hotel), as well as photographs of foreign lands visited by Fabri or sent to him by friends. An item of note filed with miscellaneous subjects is a parade float titled "Give a Thought to Music," designed and constructed by Fabri. Included in ten photograph albums are views of paintings and commercial work by Fabri, various friends, his studio, the Dreiser estate in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., and group portraits of City College of New York faculty.
The collection is arranged into 10 series::
Series 1: Biographical Information, 1919-1973, undated (Box 1, OV 31; 0.2 linear ft.)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1904-1975, undated (Boxes 1-12; 11.0 linear ft.)
Series 3: Subject Files, 1941-1975, undated (Boxes 12-14, 25; 2.1 linear ft.)
Series 4: Writings, 1911-1975, undated (Boxes 14-17; 3.8 linear ft.)
Series 5: Art Work, circa 1903-1970s, undated (Boxes 17, 26; 0.4 linear ft.)
Series 6: Financial Records, 1923-1973, undated (Box 18; 0.6 linear ft.)
Series 7: Miscellaneous Records and Artifacts, 1931-1975, undated (Box 18; 0.4 linear ft.)
Series 8: Scrapbooks, 1911-1971 (Boxes 27-30; 1.3 linear ft.)
Series 9: Printed Material, 1910s-1973, undated (Boxes 19-23, OV 32; 4.8 linear ft.)
Series 10: Photographs, circa 1870s-1973, undated (Boxes 23-25; 1.4 linear ft.)
Painter and printmaker, commercial artist, writer, and teacher Ralph Fabri was born Fabri Reszo in Hungary in 1894. He was educated in Budapest, first studying architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology from 1912 to 1914. He then enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, from which he graduated in 1918 with a Professor's Diploma (M.A.) "for teaching drawing, painting and geometry - including descriptive and projective geometry - in schools of higher education."
Fabri arrived in New York City in 1921 and soon adopted the anglicized version of his name, Ralph Fabri. He began doing commercial design work and during the academic year of 1923/24 was enrolled as an evening student at the National Academy of Design. After becoming an American citizen in 1927, he traveled extensively in Europe. Upon returning to New York that same year, Fabri decided his financial situation was stable enough to allow him to focus his attention on fine art.
During the Great Depression, Fabri's already inadequate portrait commissions and art sales further declined and he returned to commercial work. He established a workshop known as the Ralph Fabri Studios, that designed theatrical and movie sets, window displays, and retail interiors. But Fabri found the workshop dirty and distasteful, and eventually was able to concentrate on advertising work which could be done from home. The largest clients for his pen and ink drawings were The Stamp and Album Co. of America, Inc. (for which he designed covers for stamp albums and produced illustrations for envelopes housing sets of stamps sold to collectors), Geographica Map Co., and Joseph H. Cohen & Sons (for whom he designed and illustrated mail order catalogs). Another source of income during this period was the design and construction of an addition to "Iroki," Theodore Dreiser's estate in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., for which Fabri acted as architect and contractor.
Soon after arriving in the United States, Fabri began writing art reviews and articles on art and other topics for publication in Hungarian newspapers, and began submitting similar pieces to American newspapers and periodicals. Between 1949 and 1951 Pictures on Exhibit published a series of twenty articles by Fabri on materials and techniques, and from 1952 through 1961 he was a critic for that publication. Fabri contributed many articles on a variety of topics to Today's Art, starting in 1953, the year the magazine was established. In 1961, Fabri became associate editor of that monthly periodical and was named its editor in 1970, a position he held for the remainder of his life. During his tenure, every issue of Today's Art included signed and unsigned articles and editorials by Fabri, as well as some pieces written under pseudonyms. He also worked as a book reviewer for American Artist and art editor of Funk & Wagnall's New Encyclopedia.
Fabri may be best known for his books in the how-to-do-it vein, some of which were distributed through art supply stores. Among his many books are: Learn to Draw (1945), Oil Painting: How-to-Do-It! (1953), A Guide to Polymer Painting (1966), Sculpture in Paper (1966), Color: A Complete Guide for Artists (1967), Complete Guide to Flower Painting (1968), The First Hundred Years: History of the American Watercolor Society (1969), Painting Outdoors (1969), Painting Cityscapes (1970), and Artist's Guide to Composition (1971).
For nearly three decades, Fabri taught art in New York City. He was an instructor in the life and still life classes at the Parson's School of Design from 1947 through 1949. In 1951, Fabri was appointed associate professor at City College of New York, where he taught painting and art history until retiring in 1967. In addition, he was on the faculty of School of the National Academy of Design, teaching painting, drawing, and graphics from 1964 until his death.
Fabri was an active member of many artists' organizations. He was president of the National Society of Painters in Casein, Inc., an organization founded by Fabri in 1953 (it later became the National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic, Inc.); he also served as president of the Audubon Artists and the Allied Artists of America, Inc. As historian of The American Watercolor Society, Fabri wrote a book length history of that organization published on the occasion of its centennial. He was the secretary and treasurer of the National Academy of Design, as well as serving on many of its committees.
Paintings and prints by Ralph Fabri have been exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and, to a lesser extent, in Europe. A frequent lecturer, his painting demonstrations were quite popular. Fabri received numerous honors and awards, and his work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the National Academy of Design, the Norfolk Museum of Art and Science, Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery in Budapest, and many other public and private collections.
Ralph Fabri died in New York City in February 1975.
Ralph Fabri donated his correspondence with Theodore and Helen Dreiser, 1929-1955, to the University of Pennsylvania, where it is now part of the Theodore Dreiser papers.
The Ralph Fabri papers were donated by Ralph Fabri, 1971-1974. Additional papers were the gift of his estate, 1975-1976.
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.
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