The papers of graphic artist, muralist, and activist Hugo Gellert measure 6.9 linear feet and date from 1916 to 1986. They document his career as an artist and organizer for the radical political left through an interview, legal papers, financial records, family papers, artifacts, correspondence, writings, organizational records, extensive printed materials (many of them illustrated by Gellert), photographs, and artwork.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of graphic artist, muralist, and activist Hugo Gellert measure 6.9 linear feet and date from 1916 to 1986. They document his career as an artist and organizer for the radical left through an oral interview conducted by Sofia Sequenzia, legal papers, financial records, family papers, artifacts, correspondence, writings, organizational records, clippings, exhibition catalogs, various printed materials illustrated by Gellert, pamphlets, periodicals, mass mailings, photographs, and artwork.
Biographical Material includes an audio interview with Gellert; official documents related to memberships, property, and legal matters; financial documents that include bills, receipts, and contracts related to professional activities; papers of Gellert's brothers, Lawrence and Ernest; and artifacts. Correspondence is with other artists, writers, publishers, activists, friends, and family, including Ernest Fiene, Rockwell Kent, Harry Gottlieb, William Gropper, Philip Evergood, Howard Fast, and Jonas Lie. Writings include essays, book projects, notes, and notebooks written by Gellert; and stories and articles by other authors, including typescripts of early twentieth-century Hungarian short stories collected by Gellert.
Organizational Records are related to political and art organizations in which Gellert was an active organizer, officer, and in some cases, a founder. Because of his central role in many of these organizations, records often contain unique documentation of their activities. Records are found for the American Artists Congress, the Art of Today Gallery, the Artists Committee of Action, the Artists Coordination Committee, the Artists Council, Artists for Victory, Inc., the Committee to Defend V.J. Jerome, Hungarian Word, Inc., the National Society of Mural Painters, and other organizations.
Printed materials include a variety of political publications and periodicals with illustrations by Gellert, including New Masses, Art Front, Magyar Szo, and American Dialog; clippings related to his career, exhibition catalogs, political pamphlets, Hungarian literature, and mass mailings received from political organizations. Photographs contain a few personal photographs but are mostly news and publicity photographs, many of which depict prominent Communists and other newsmakers. Artwork includes sketches, drawings, designs, prints, and production elements for Gellert's artwork, as well as prints and drawings by Philip Reisman, Gyula Derkovits, and Anton Refregier.
The collection is arranged into 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1917-1982 (Box 1 and OV 9; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1920-1986 (Boxes 1-2, 8; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1916-1970 (Boxes 2 and 8; 0.7 linear feet)
Series 4: Organizational Records, circa 1920-1977 (Boxes 3, 8, and OV 9; 1 linear foot)
Series 5: Printed Materials, circa 1920-1986 (Boxes 4-6, 8, and OV 9; 3 linear feet)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1920-1959 (Boxes 6-7; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, 1927-1981 (Box 7, OV 10; 0.4 linear feet)
Graphic artist, muralist, and activist Hugo Gellert was born Hugo Grünbaum in Budapest, Hungary in 1892, the oldest of six children. His family immigrated to New York City in 1906, eventually changing their family name to Gellert.
Gellert attended art school at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. As a student, he designed posters for movies and theater, and also worked for Tiffany Studios. A number of student art prizes with cash awards enabled him to travel to Europe in the summer of 1914, where he witnessed the outbreak of World War I, an experience which helped shape his political beliefs. Aesthetically, he was also influenced by a folk revival among Hungarian artists at the time of his trip, and was more impressed, he later said, with the street advertising in Paris than he was with the cubism he saw in the Louvre.
Returning to the United States, Gellert became involved in the Hungarian-American workers' movement, and contributed drawings to its newspaper, Elöre (Forward). He remained involved in Hungarian-American art and activism throughout his life, including membership in the anti-fascist group, the Anti-Horthy League. When members of the fascist Horthy government unveiled a statue of a Hungarian hero in New York in 1928, Gellert hired a pilot and dropped leaflets on the group, a stunt for which he was arrested. In the 1950s, Gellert served as director of Hungarian Word, Inc., a Hungarian-language publisher in New York.
Gellert's political commitment and art remained deeply intertwined throughout his life, as he continually sought to integrate his commitment to Communism, his hatred of fascism, and his dedication to civil liberties. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, he contributed artwork to several magazines of the radical left, including Masses and its successors Liberator and New Masses, both of which featured Gellert's artwork on their inaugural issue. Through Masses, he came to know other radicals such as Mike Gold, John Reed, Louise Bryant, Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Anton Refregier, William Gropper, Harry Gottlieb, Bob Minor, and Art Young, and with them he followed the events of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia with sympathy and growing political fervor.
His brother, Ernest Gellert, also a socialist and activist, was drafted into the military but refused to serve. He died of a gunshot wound under suspicious circumstances while imprisoned at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, as a conscientious objector. Traumatized by this event, Gellert fled to Mexico to avoid conscription. In 1920 to 1922, he taught art at the Stelton School in New Jersey, a radical, utopian community school. He participated in the cultural scene of Greenwich Village, working on set designs, publications, and graphic art for political productions. He founded the first John Reed Club in 1929 with a group of Communist artists and writers including Anton Refregier, Louis Lozowick, and William Gropper. Initially, the group held classes and exhibitions, and provided services for strikes and other working-class activism. Later, John Reed Clubs formed around the country and became a formal arm of the United States Communist Party (CPUSA).
In the late 1920s, Gellert became a member of the National Society of Mural Painters (which, partly due to Gellert's activism in the group, became the Mural Artists' Guild local 829 of the United Scenic Artists Union of the AFL-CIO in 1937. Other members included Rockwell Kent, Anton Refregier, Arshile Gorky, and Marion Greenwood). In 1928, he created a mural for the Worker's Cafeteria in Union Square, NY. Later murals include the Center Theater in Rockefeller Center, the National Maritime Union Headquarters, the Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union Building, NYC, the interior of the Communications Building at the 1939 World's Fair, and the Seward Park Housing Project in 1961.
In 1932, Gellert was invited to participate in a mural exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and submitted a political mural about the robber barons of contemporary American politics and industry called Us Fellas Gotta Stick Together - Al Capone. The museum attempted to censor the mural, along with the murals of William Gropper and Ben Shahn. Other artists threatened to boycott the exhibition over the censorship and were successful in restoring them to the show.
The cooperation of artists in this controversy foreshadowed a larger protest in 1934, organized by Gellert, Saul Belman, Stuart Davis, and Zoltan Hecht, when Diego Rivera's pro-labor mural was destroyed at Rockefeller Center. After the incident, the group formed the Artists' Committee of Action and continued to fight censorship and advocate for artists' interests and welfare. They also co-published the magazine Art Front with the Artists' Union, a labor organization. Gellert served for a time as editor of Art Front, and chairman of the Artists' Committee of Action.
Gellert was active in producing both art and strategic policy for the cultural arm of the CPUSA, and he worked to mobilize the non-communist left, often referred to as the Popular Front. In 1933 he illustrated Karl Marx's Capital in Lithographs, and in 1935, he wrote a Marxist, illustrated satire called Comrade Gulliver, An Illustrated Account of Travel into that Strange Country the United States of America. Other published graphic works include Aesop Said So (1936) and a portfolio of silkscreen prints entitled Century of the Common Man (1943).
Other artist groups he helped to found and/or run include the American Artist's Congress, a Communist organization founded with Max Weber, Margaret Bourke-White, Stuart Davis, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Harry Sternberg, and others, which held symposia and exhibitions between 1936 and 1942; the Artists' Coordination Committee, an umbrella group of national organizations which sought protections for federally-employed and unionized artists; Artists for Victory, Inc., which formed in 1942 to mobilize artists in support of the war effort; and the Artists' Council, formed after the war to advocate for artists' welfare and employment.
Gellert maintained his loyalty to the Communist party throughout the post-war period despite growing disillusionment in the Popular Front over the actions of Josef Stalin, and despite the intense anti-communist crusades in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was investigated by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and was nearly deported. He spent a number of years during this period in his wife's native Australia. Returning to the United States in the early 1950s, he threw his efforts into the defense of others who faced prison, deportation, and the blacklist following the HUAC hearings. He established The Committee to Defend V.J. Jerome in 1951 when Jerome, the cultural commissioner of CPUSA, was convicted under the Smith Act. The writer Dorothy Parker was the group's treasurer.
In 1954, Gellert established the Art of Today Gallery in New York City with Rockwell Kent and Charles White to provide an exhibition venue for blacklisted artists. Exhibitions included Maurice Becker, Henry Glintenkamp, Harry Gottlieb, Kay Harris, and Rockwell Kent. Gellert served as the gallery's secretary until it closed in 1957.
In the 1960s until his death in 1985, Gellert continued his activism through involvement in grassroots political organizations. Unlike many of his radical contemporaries, Gellert lived to see the revival of some of the ideas of the progressive era of the thirties in the countercultural years of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were retrospectives of his work in Moscow in 1967 and in his native Budapest in 1968, and he appeared in Warren Beatty's film Reds in 1981.
Sources used for this essay include James Wechsler's 2003 dissertation "The Art and Activism of Hugo Gellert: Embracing the Spectre of Communism," his essay "From World War I to the Popular Front: The Art and Activism of Hugo Gellert," ( Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts number 24, Spring 2002), and Jeff Kisseloff's biographical essay for the 1986 Hugo Gellert exhibition at the Mary Ryan Gallery.
Among the holdings of the Archives of American Art are an oral history with Hugo Gellert from 1984, a recording of a lecture Gellert gave at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1985, and additional records of Artists for Victory, Inc., 1942-1946.
The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University holds additional papers of Hugo Gellert.
A portion of the papers were donated in 1970 by Hugo Gellert. Additional papers were donated by Gellert and his wife, Livia Cinquegrana, in 1983 and 1986.
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.
Biographical material, correspondence, journals, notebooks, address books, business records, writings, sketchbooks, exhibition announcements and catalogs, clippings, photographs, and subject files relating to the artistic careers of Wood Gaylor and Adelaide Lawson, to Gaylor's work as a fashion pattern desiger, and, more broadly, to the New York art scene from the 1913 Armory Show through the 1930s.
Included are reminiscences and biographical documents; letters and postcards, some illustrated, from family, friends, artists, galleries, museums, and art organizations; letters of condolence to Adelaide upon Gaylor's death and letters to her concerning his work; original holiday and greeting cards to the Gaylors; a page from Wood's 1952 journal recording names of people attending Kenneth Hayes Miller's funeral and journals kept by Adelaide recording books read, plays attended, travels, and other activities, 1906, 1910 and 1915; a notebook kept by Gaylor regarding his work organizing the 1924 Women's Club exhibition in Jacksonville, Florida, listing artists (among them Pop Hart, Marsden Hartley, Picasso, and Kuniyoshi), titles, and prices of works shipped; business records, including receipts for Gaylor's work consigned or sold to the Downtown Gallery, 1929-1934, tax returns, and other business records, 1922-1979; writings by Wood, including speeches, lectures, and articles on American art and commercial patterns, scripts for New York radio station programs, 1932 and 1949, including a discussion with Salons of America members Alexander Brook, Robert Laurent, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, David H. Morrison, and Peggy Bacon, 1932; writings by others, including 19 poems by Lillian Byrnes, the introduction to the Hamiliton Easter Field Memorial Exhibition catalog by Elsa Rogo, and an organizational memo for the Modern Artists of America with annotations by Wood; four sketchbooks by Wood, 1916, 1923, and undated, and four by Adelaide, 1920-1922 and undated, done while traveling through Europe; and loose sketches by Wood and Adelaide.
Also included are exhibition catalogs and announcements of Wood and Adelaide's group and one-person shows, among them the Wanamaker Gallery of Modern Decorative Art, Friends of the Young Artists, 1915, Thumb Box Gallery, 1916, the MacDowell Club, 1918, the Dialis at the Civic Club Gallery, 1922, the Colony Club, 1922, Gallery 134 W. 4th, 1925, Downtown Gallery, 1930 and 1932, First Municipal Art Exhibition, Rockefeller Center, 1934, Kew Gardens Art Center, 1951, and the initial exhibition of the Museum of Art of Ogunquit, 1953; catalogs and announcements for other New York artists at Mrs. H. P. Whitney's Studio, 1917, Hamilton Easter Field Memorial Show at the American Art Galleries, 1922, Rockwell Kent at the M. Knoedler & Co., 1919, Walt Kuhn at the Grand Central Art Galleries, 1927, The Wanamaker Regional Art Exhibition, 1934, Yasuo Kuniyoshi at the Municipal Art Galleries, 1939, Kenneth Hayes Miller Commemoration Exhibit at the Art Students League 1949, a hand lettered announcement for the sale of George Overbury "Pop" Hart's watercolors by the Junior Art Patrons of America, undated, and catalogs from exhibitions held at the Gaylor's Barn; newspaper and magazine clippings, mostly photocopies, 1910-1979; a book, "The Technique of Oil Paintings and other Essays" by Hamilton Easter Field, 1913, and issues of the Pagan, 1918 and the Quill, 1918, containing drawings by Wood; photographs, circa 1887-1977, of Wood, Adelaide, family, homes, friends, travel, exhibitions, works of art and works of art by others, including a photograph of Wood by Emil Ganso, of Adelaide in an art class, possibly at the Art Students League, of Adelaide's art classes at the Gaylor Barn, of Jules Pascin, Hermine L. David-Pascin, Gustaw Gwozdecki, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Katherine Schmidt-Shubert, Robert Laurent, Frank and Alice Osborn and David H. Morrison, the Armory Show, the Carnegie Institute International in Pittsburgh, and the construction and installation of the Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection at the Museum of Art, Ogunquit, Maine; subject files containing, correspondence, business records, writings, printed material, and photographs, on: Samuel Hawk, 1877; Penguin Club, 1917-1919; Wood's trusteeship of the Jules Pascin Estate, 1930-1956; Salons of America, 1923-1953 (including a group photo of Fiorella La Guardia, Holger Cahill, Robert Laurent, David H. Morrison, and Wood from the 1935 exhibition opening at Rockefeller Center); Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation, 1930-1966; New York City Municipal Art Committee, 1934-1937; Armory Show 50th Anniversary Exhibition, 1962-1963; and the New York Society of Women Artists, 1928-1976. The collection also contains biographical documents and correspondence of and relating to the Gaylor's daughter, Isabel Dale Gaylor.
Correspondents include Josephine Baker, Robert J. Coady, Evelyn Cutler, Margaret Di Silver, John and Betty Dos Passos, Hugo Gellert of the Artists Coordination Committee, Edith Halpert, Isabella Howland, Stefan Hirsch, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Robert Laurent, John Howard Lawson, Jonas Lie, Gus Mager, Alice Newton, William Schack, Henry Strater, and Dr. Martin G. Vorhaus among others.
One postcard July 1916, sent from Charleston, South Carolina, from Jules Pascin To Samuel Wood Gaylor.
A circa 100 page typescript of a record of reminiscences on Gaylor's early art career. This is one of 4 parts dictated by Gaylor in 1953. This recording was used as the basis for Jean Lipman's article "Wood Gaylor: Diary of the Carefree Years," published in Art In America, December 1963.
Biographical / Historical:
Painter and lithographer Samuel Wood Gaylor (1883-1957) was born in Stamford, Connecticut and studied at the National Academy of Design, New York, under Walt Kuhn. He exhibited at the Armory Show, the Penguin Club, and the Downtown Gallery and participated in many art organizations including the Kit-Kat Club, the Penguin Club, Modern Artists of America, American Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers. He served on the board for the Salons of America, the Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation, the New York City Municipal Art Committee, and the Museum of Art, Ogunquit, Maine.
Material on reel D9 was donated in 1958 by T. J. McCormick. Material on reel D160 was donated in 1964 by Adelaide Lawson Gaylor. The remainder was donated in 1986 by the Gaylors' sons, Wynn L. and Randall Gaylor. 16 items, mostly cards and letters to Gaylor were donated in 2008 by Christine Oaklander in honor of Dr. William Innes Homer, Art Historian and Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware. Oaklander purchased the letters from Wyn Gaylor. An additional 21 documents, mostly cards and letters to Gaylor, were donated in 2015 by Wynn Gaylor.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Microfilmed materials must be consulted on microfilm.