The Biesel Family papers measure 2.9 linear feet and date from circa 1859-1983, with bulk dates from 1919-1983. The papers document the careers of a Chicago family of artists, which included Charles Biesel, his son Fred Biesel and Fred Biesel's wife Frances Strain Biesel. Materials include biographical summaries, Fred and Frances Biesel's personal and professional correspondence, writings, and professional records documenting Fred Biesel's involvement with the Federal Arts Project and Frances Biesel's tenure as the director of the Renissance Society at the University of Chicago. Also found are scrapbooks with news clippings, printed materials, photographs of the Biesel family and their artwork, and artwork in the form of handmade Christmas cards, sketchbooks and loose figure sketches and small paintings.
Scope and Contents:
The Biesel Family papers measure 2.9 linear feet and date from circa 1859-1983, with bulk dates from 1919-1983. The papers document the careers of a Chicago family of artists, which included Charles Biesel, his son Fred Biesel and Fred Biesel's wife Frances Strain Biesel. Included in the papers are biographical material; correspondence; writings; professional files; personal business records; printed material; scrapbooks; photographic material and artwork. Correspondence contains letters to Frances and Fred Biesel regarding exhibiting artwork, project consultation, club membership and speaking engagements. Writings contains a notebook with addresses and price list notes; lecture notes and essay drafts by Fred Biesel on printmaking and art movements such as modernism and cubism, as well as essay typescripts and lectures by others. Also found is a short story about a meeting with Charles Biesel. Professional Files contain correspondence, funding proposals, business records and other materials related to the Biesel's management and participation in various organizations and project such as The Renaissance Society and Artist Union Chicago in Frances Biesel's case and Fred Biesel's involvement with the WPA's Federal Art Project's Illinois chapter, as well as his time as an art professor. The personal business records series contains Charles Biesel's deed lists, and printed material includes several exhibition catalogs related to the Biesel family and other artists, along with clippings and materials related to the Federal Arts Program. The papers also include two scrapbooks of clippings, photographs of the Biesel family, their friends and art associations, artwork, and exhibitions. Artwork is in the form of sketches, etchings, handmade christmas cards and small paintings.
The collection is arranged as nine series
Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1949-1961 (2 Folders: Box 1)
Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1927-1963 (0.1 Linear feet: Box 1)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1921-1960 (0.1 Linear feet: Box 1)
Series 4: Professional Files, circa 1939-1962 (0.5 Linear feet: Box 1)
Series 5: Personal Business, circa 1928-1961 (2 Folders: Box 1)
Series 6: Printed Material, circa 1897-1983 (1.5 Linear feet: Box 1-3)
Series 7: Scrapbooks, 1915-1931 (0.1 Linear feet: Box 3, OV 1)
Series 8: Photographic Material, circa 1919-1960 (0.3 Linear feet: Box 3)
Series 9: Artwork, circa 1876-1945 (0.4 Linear feet: Box 4)
Biographical / Historical:
The Biesel Family papers measure 2.9 linear feet and date from circa 1859-1983, with bulk dates from 1919-1983. The Biesel Family were a family of artists comprised of Charles Biesel, his son Fred Biesel, and Fred's wife Frances Strain Biesel.
Charles Biesel (1865-1945) was a marine painter who spent time apprenticing and working with the American Lithography Company in New York and Philadelphia before relocating to Newport, Rhode Island where he co-founded the Newport Art Association in 1912. In 1918, Charles Biesel moved to Chicago where he lived at the 57th street artist colony and was a member of the Arts Club of Chicago and the Chicago Society of Artists. He also helped found the Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists where he served as the organization's first secretary. Biesel exhibited work in several solo exhibitions across the United States; as well as with a group of other Chicago painters who exhibited work annually at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Fred Biesel (1893-1954) was a painter and art administrator born in Philadelphia in 1893 and raised in Newport, Rhode Island where he went on to study at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1913 to 1915. After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1916 to 1919, Biesel followed his father to Chicago and continued studying at the Art Institute of Chicago where he met his wife Francis Strain and painter John Sloan who wound up influencing them significantly and becoming a lifelong friend. Biesel exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Society of Artists, and the Society of Independent Artists. He also participated in museum exhibitions in Rhode Island, New York, New Mexico, and New Jersey. From 1935–1943, Biesel worked under the Federal Art Project, and served as director of Illinois Art and Craft Project from 1941–1943, as well as on the faculty of the Layton Art School in Milwaukee 1946–1953.
Frances Strain Biesel (1898-1962) was a painter and director of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. A native of Chicago, Frances Strain Biesel was an important figure in the art scene of 1920s-1930s Chicago where she was involved in almost every independent exhibition and exhibition group that emerged during that time. Two of these groups included the Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists and the Ten Artists of Chicago, a collective characterized by their commitment to modernist ideals. Her work has been shown across the country, including the Chicago Society of Artists, the Whitney Museum and the Newark Museum.
Microfilmed material was donated in 1985 by Garnett Biesel, son of Fred and Frances Biesel. He later donated unmicrofilmed material in 1990, after it had been used in preparation for the book The Federal Art Project in Illinois, 1935-1943 (1990), by George Mavigliano and Richard Lawson.
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
Biesel Family Papers, circa 1859-1983. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The processing of this collection received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.