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.
The papers of Woodstock area painter, muralist, and designer, Anton Refregier (1905-1979) date from circa 1900 to circa 1990 and measure 35.9 linear feet. The collection records Refregier's early commercial work and murals for the Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) and documents his career through to the 1970s with records of commissions for many public and private buildings, exhibitions in the United States and abroad, teaching positions, essays and publications, and extensive travel, particularly to the Soviet Union and Mexico. The collection contains scattered biographical material, personal and business correspondence, notes and writings, 15 diaries and journals, mural and tapestry files, exhibition files, personal business records, printed material, 10 scrapbooks, artwork including sketches and cartoons for murals, and photographs of Refregier, his friends, family and travels.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of Woodstock area painter, muralist, and designer, Anton Refregier (1905-1979) date from circa 1900 to circa 1990 and measure 35.9 linear feet. The collection records Refregier's early commercial work and murals for the Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) and documents his career through to the 1970s with records of commissions for many public and private buildings, exhibitions in the United States and abroad, teaching positions, essays and publications, and extensive travel, particularly to the Soviet Union and Mexico. The collection contains scattered biographical material, personal and business correspondence, notes and writings, diaries and journals, mural and tapestry files, exhibition files, personal business records, printed material, scrapbooks, artwork including sketches and cartoons for murals, and photographs of Refregier, his friends, family and travels.
Biographical material contains legal records such as Refregier's will and marriage and death records, passports, resume material and 2 interview transcripts.
Correspondence, both chronological and alphabetical, constitutes almost a third of the collection and documents all aspects of Refregier's career including his work for the WPA, private commissions, representation by ACA Galleries, his involvement with groups such as the Woodstock Artists Association and his teaching work for institutions such as Bard College. Also documented are his involvement with local political groups and international organizations such as the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship and the World Peace Council, and travels including visits to the Soviet Union. Notable correspondents include Henry Dreyfuss, Philip Evergood, Rockwell Kent, Emmy-Lou Packard, and Byron Randall. Correspondence also includes family letters written primarily by Refregier to Lila Refregier, in addition to greeting cards received by the Refregier family, many of which contain original arwork.
Writings are primarily by Refregier and include drafts of many essays and autobiographical writings, in addition to copies of published works including Natural Figure Drawing, An Artists Journey and Sketches of the Soviet Union.
The collection contains diaries and journals from 12 years in various formats including published and handmade day planners and typed and handwritten journal entries. They include sketches and primarily record travel and daily activities including specific projects such as the New York World's Fair mural (1938-1939).
Mural and Tapestry files document individual commissions bid on and/or completed by Refregier. The creation of the Rincon Annex Post Office mural and subsequent controversies over its subject matter are well-documented here, as are many of Refregier's commissions for banks, hospitals, hotels, shopping centers, and schools.
Exhibition files document at least 15 of Refregier's exhibitions, including his first one-man show at ACA Galleries (1942) and his exhibition of paintings at the Hermitage Museum (1967) in what was then Leningrad.
Personal business records contain addresses of contacts. Scattered records referencing market values for Refregier's work can be found throughout the series in records such as bills and receipts, financial notes and tax records.
Printed material provides extensive coverage of Refregier's entire career through announcements, invitations, catalogs, and news clippings. His interests in art, literature, music, theater and politics are also well-represented in these files.
The collection contains 10 scrapbooks, mostly in fragmented condition, which contain a mixture of photographs, sketches and other artwork, notes and fragments of writings, and printed material. The scrapbooks document a variety of subjects including Refregier's family life, travels to Guatemala and the Soviet Union, and the artist at work.
Artwork consists primarily of artwork by Refregier in the form of mural design sketches and cartoons in various media, including pencil, ink and pastel, in addition to 21 sketchbooks, many of which also contain journal entries and notes. Also found here are prints and reproductions of Refregier's "Peace card" block engravings for every year from 1950-1973, with the exception of 1970.
Photographs document all phases of Refregier's career and include family photographs dating from circa 1900, photos of Refregier in the studio including work for the WPA, Refregier and other artists and individuals at events and parties from the 1940s-1970s, travel snapshots probably taken in Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, and the Soviet Union, and photographs of artwork and installations. Individuals pictured include Julio de Diego, Marion Greenwood, Rockwell Kent, Pablo O'Higgins and David Siqueiros; also, a series of press photographs by Albert A. Freeman pictures Refregier with Howard Fast, Norman Bel Geddes, Marion Greenwood, John Kingsbury, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Harry Stockwell. One photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 2 by Eugene Morley and 4 by Max Yavno can also be found here.
The collection is arranged as 11 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1925-1980 (Box 1; 0.25 linear ft.)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1912-circa 1990s (Boxes 1-11, 36, OVs 38, 45; 10.2 linear ft.)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1930s-circa 1970s (Boxes 11-14, OV 45; 3.3 linear ft.)
Series 4: Diaries and Journals, 1923-1979 (Box 15; 0.6 linear ft.)
Series 5: Mural and Tapestry Files, circa 1930s-circa 1970s (Boxes 15-18, 36, OVs 38, 45, 46, RD 42; 3.65 linear ft.)
Series 6: Exhibition Files, 1942-1981 (Boxes 18-19; 0.6 linear ft.)
Series 7: Personal Business Records, 1920s-1980s (Boxes 19-20; 1.8 linear ft.)
Series 8: Printed Material, circa 1920s-1980s (Boxes 21-28, 36; 7.4 linear ft.)
Series 9: Scrapbooks, 1930s-1960s (Boxes 28, 37, BV 47; 1.1 linear ft.)
Series 10: Artwork, circa 1930s-circa 1970s (Boxes 28-30, 36, OVs 40, 41, RDs 42-44; 3.5 linear ft.)
Series 11: Photographic Material, ca. 1900-1980s (Boxes 31-35, 39; 4.5 linear ft.)
Russian-born Woodstock painter Anton Refregier (1905-1979) immigrated to the United States in 1920. Refregier was well-known for his sometimes controversial social realist murals for the WPA.
After an apprenticeship to the sculptor, Vasilief, in Paris, Anton Refregier attended the Rhode Island School of Design from 1920-1925 and studied with Hans Hofmann in Germany in 1927. He had his first one-man show at ACA Galleries in New York City in 1942 and settled in Woodstock, New York, with his wife, Lila, and three children Anton, Jr., Brigit and Aleksandre, where he became a prominent member of the artist community.
Refregier completed several social realist murals for the federal Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) program, including one at the New York Worlds Fair in 1939 and the controversial Rincon Annex Post Office mural in San Francisco begun in 1941. He also completed interior design installations for businesses such as the nightclub, Cafe Society Uptown, and the restaurant, The Cookery, in New York City. In addition to being an easel and mural painter Refregier worked in tapestry, mosaic, ceramic, and collage, and completed many commissions for hotels, banks, hospitals, restaurants, synagogues, supermarkets and deparment stores throughout the country.
Refregier taught at various institutions including Stanford University, the University of Arkansas, and Bard College and his publications inlcude Natural Figure Drawing (1948), An Artist's Journey (1965), and Sketches of the Soviet Union (1978). He traveled regularly to the Soviet Union to explore and exchange ideas about art and culture and as a representative of the World Peace Council.
Anton Refregier died in Moscow in October 1979 while visiting the Soviet Union. His work can be found in many museums including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Also found in the Archives of American Art are an oral history interview with Anton Refregier, 1964, Nov. 5 by Joseph Trovato; and Papers regarding Anton Refregier mural controversy, 1953.
Donated 1983 by Lila Refregier, widow of Anton Refregier, and in 1992 by Brigit R. Sutton, Refregier's daughter.
Use of original papers requires an appointment.
Authorization to quote or reproduce for purposes of publication requires written permission from Bridget R. Sutton via Bridget's son, Tim Sutton. Contact Reference Services for more information.