The papers of New York artist Lillian Kiesler and architect and sculptor Frederick Kiesler measure 49.1 linear feet and 0.001 GB and date from circa 1910s-2003, with the bulk of the material from 1958-2000. The collection documents their personal and professional lives and the legacy of Frederick Kiesler's work through biographical material, correspondence, legal, financial and business records, teaching files, exhibition and performance files, artwork, subject files, printed and digital material, writings and interviews, monographs, photographic material, and sound and video recordings. Also found are papers related to Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann and the papers of artist Alice Hodges.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of artist, performer, and arts educator Lillian Kiesler and sculptor, architect, set designer, educator, and writer Frederick Kiesler measure 49.1 linear feet and 0.001 GB and date from circa 1910s-2003, with the bulk of the material from 1958-2000. The collection documents their personal and professional lives and the legacy of Frederick Kiesler's work through biographical material, correspondence, legal, financial and business records, teaching files, exhibition and performance files, artwork, subject files, printed and digital material, writings and interviews, monographs, photographic material, and sound and video recordings. Also found are papers related to Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann and the papers of artist Alice Hodges.
The collection is arranged into two series: the Lillian Kiesler Papers (Series 1) and the Frederick Kiesler Papers (Series 2). Measuring 41.1 linear feet, the Lillian Kiesler Papers (Series 1) make up the bulk of the collection and document her personal life and professional career as an artist, actor, teacher, arts benefactor and promoter of Frederick Kiesler's legacy. The series spans her lifetime, although most of the material is dated after 1965. Among her papers are biographical materials, correspondence, legal and financial records, teaching files, exhibition and performance files, artwork, subject files, printed material, monographs, papers related to Frederick Kiesler and his legacy, papers of and related to Hans Hofmann, papers of Alice Hodges, photographic material, and sound and video recordings.
Found among Lillian Kiesler's personal papers are address books, numerous calendars and appointment books, and diaries and journals. Her correspondence is extensive and contains business correspondence with John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The University of Iowa Museum of Art, and Erick Hawkins Dance Foundation, and personal letters and greeting cards from friends, family, artists, scholars, and researchers, including Etel Adnan, Alcopley, Fritz Bultman, Steve Buscemi, Mike Diamond, Burgoyne Diller, Lucia Dlugoszewski, Piero Dorazio, Jean Dubuffet, Jay Gottlieb, Erick Hawkins, Burgess Meredith, Henry Miller, James Purdy, and Herrel Thomas. Of interest is a letter from Harry Holtzman postmarked March 13, 1935 describing his initial meeting with Mondrian, and a letter from E.B. Gordon describing Henry Miller in Paris.
Materials related to Lillian Kiesler's estate and last wishes can also be found, as well as teaching plans, student work, and writings by Lillian Kiesler's mentor and friend, New York University professor Chandler Montgomery. Various printed material, correspondence, scripts, and rehearsal schedules from Lillian Kiesler's exhibitions and performances are also found, and among the directors, artists and writers represented are Jo Andres, Steve Buscemi, Cindy Lugar, Tim Miller and James Purdy. Artwork contains photographs by Bob Del Fredici, drawings by Piero Dorazio, and notes to Frederick Kiesler from Lillian Kiesler.
Subject files about artists, friends, colleagues, performances, and organizations in which she supported, such as the Anthology Film Archives, include printed materials and research materials. Signed exhibition catalogs of Loren MacIver, Dina Ghen, Lenore Tawney, and Toshiko Takaezu, and a reprint article inscribed by Alcopley can be found, as well as numerous inscribed monographs, including books inscribed by Max Weiler and Piero Dorazio, an inscribed first edition of Henry Miller's Black Spring (1936), and a 1937 monograph by Harry Holtzman titled American Abstract Artists.
Series 1 also includes materials related to her husband Frederick Kiesler, papers of and related to Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann, and the personal papers of artist Alice Hodges. The Papers Related to Frederick Kiesler were primarily created or compiled by Lillian Kiesler and document her work on behalf of Frederick Kiesler's legacy. Of interest are letters from Frederick Kiesler to Lillian Kiesler and Alice Hodges; a bound volume of correspondence to Piero Dorazio; an inventory of objects in the Frederick Kiesler estate; photographs of artwork; an interview (sound recordings and transcript) with Lillian Kiesler about Frederick Kiesler for "Music of the Age," included on the tape is a portion of a Frederick Kiesler interview (1965); a recording of Lillian Kiesler interviewing Richard Kamler about Frederick Kiesler; and Frederick Kiesler's dialogue with Leo Castelli (undated).
Lillian Kiesler was a student of Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts, as well as an enthusiastic volunteer promoter and assistant to The Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts. The bulk of the papers of and related to Hans Hofmann were created or compiled by Lillian Kielser and are about Hofmann's career and legacy. However, also found are some papers of Hans Hofmann, including letters from Hofmann to Lillian Kiesler and Alice Hodges describing his artwork, life in Provincetown, and issues with The Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, typed and handwritten lectures given by Hofmann, Hofmann's 1941 address to the American Abstract Artists (AAA), three boxes of card files on students of the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in New York City and Provincetown, and photographs of Hofmann and his house in Provincetown taken by Wilfrid Zogbaum and Tom Milius.
The artist Alice Hodges (b. unknown-1965) was a close friend of Lillian Kiesler, a former secretary to Frederick Kiesler, and a student of Hans Hofmann. Included among her personal papers is some correspondence from Hans Hofmann and Katherine Drier and numerous postcards from Hodges and Lillian Kiesler's trip to Europe in 1950, posters and printed material from her exhibitions, an oversized scrapbook chronicling Lillian Kiesler's teaching career, records from the United States Treasury War Bond Art Auction in 1945, original artwork and greeting cards made by Hodges and Lillian Kiesler, and 31 rolled negative strips in metal canisters of Frederick Kiesler sculptures, Provincetown and Hans Hofmann, Wellfleet, Empire State Music Festival (1955), and travels to Colorado and Europe, some of which may be printed and found in this subseries.
Photographs found in the Lillian Kiesler Papers are mostly black and white and color snapshots of Lillian Kiesler's friends and family at events and at home, including candid photos of Hans Hofmann, Alice Hodges, Frederick Kiesler, and Alcopley. Slides prepared by Lillian Kiesler for a lecture on Frederick Kiesler and her lecture notes on index cards are found. Sound and video recordings include recordings of productions in which Lillian Kiesler performed, and music, film, or live stage performances written, directed, or performed by friends.
Measuring 7.1 linear feet, Frederick Kiesler's personal papers (Series 2) document his professional career and date from 1923-1992. Biographical materials include his curriculum vitae, four passports, and numerous appointment books and notes from late in his life. Correspondence with architects, publishers, editors, universities, museums, galleries, manufacturers, artists and friends includes letters from L. Alcopley, Leopold Arnaud, Armand P. Bartos, Piero and Virginia Dorazio, George Howe, Kay Johnson, Jane Owen, and others. There are also photocopied letters from Katherine Dreier, Marcel Duchamp, and Piet Mondrian. Business and financial records from the 1940s to mid-1960s comprise a significant bulk of this series and are primarily tax returns and receipts and statements used to file tax returns. Materials on the publication of "Inside the Endless House" (1966), the International Theatre Exposition (in German) in 1924 and other exhibits from shortly after his death are found, as well as student artwork and papers from Kiesler's classes in the mid-1950s. A bound copy of the "Bibliography of Writings of and About Frederick Kiesler" compiled by Lillian Kiesler is found, as well as printed material about Frederick Kiesler and a handful of photographs of artwork.
Users should note that Lillian Kiesler's and Frederick Kiesler's papers contain similar types of material that often overlap in subject matter, especially among the Papers Related to Frederick Kiesler (Subseries 1.10) in Series 1 and the Frederick Kiesler Papers (Series 2). This collection contains limited material related to Lillian Kiesler prior to the 1940s and Frederick Kiesler prior to his arrival in the United States in 1926.
The collection is arranged into two series. Each series is divided into several subseries, with the arrangement described in detail in the series descriptions.
Series 1: Lillian Kiesler papers, circa 1910s-2003 (Box 1-39, 47-52, OV 53-55; 41.1 linear feet, ER01; 0.001 GB)
Series 2: Frederick Kiesler papers, 1923-1992 (Box 40-46, OV 53; 7.1 linear feet)
Frederick Kiesler (1890-1965) was a sculptor, architect, set designer, educator, and writer active in New York and Connecticutt. Lillian Kiesler (1911-2001) was a performer, arts educator, and painter married to Frederick Kiesler. She was also active in the administration of the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts.
Frederick Kiesler was born in Romania in 1890, although he gave various other dates for his birth and regularly cited Vienna as his birthplace. He arrived in the United States with his wife Steffi in 1926 for the International Theatre Exposition at Steinway Hall in New York City. They stayed in the United States and were granted citizenship in 1936.
Kiesler secured a teaching position at Columbia University's School of Architecture in 1930, and from 1934 through 1957 he was the scenic design director at The Juilliard School of Music. He also lectured at Yale University from 1950-1952. Often labeled a Surrealist, Kiesler's work was experimental and frequently described as ahead of its time. He published, lectured, and participated in numerous exhibitions throughout his career. He is known for his theory of "coreallism;" "The Space House" (1933), a full-scale model of a single family home; an installation designed for Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery in 1942; "The Endless House" drawings and model (1950); "The Universal Theatre" (1961) model; and the Shrine of the Book (1965), a building to exhibit the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem. He died in New York City in December 1965.
Lillian Olinsey met architect and sculptor Frederick Kiesler in 1934. After years of friendship, they were married in 1964, a year and a half before Frederick's death in 1965.
Lillian Kiesler studied art at the Art Students League, Cooper Union, and the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, where she also assisted Hofmann and the school administration. She taught art to children and young adults for twenty years in New York City. From 1945 to 1955, she taught at the Greenwich House Art workshops and the Woodward School, followed by the Brooklyn Museum (1948-1958), Barnard School (1953-1963), New York University School of Education (1955-1966), and Juilliard School of Visual Arts (1963-1965). Lillian was involved in the performing arts and between the late 1970s through the 1990s she performed in New York City with numerous directors, notably Jo Andres, Steve Buscemi, Richard Foreman, John Jesurun, Cindy Lubar, and Tim Miller. She frequently performed with her close friend, painter Maryette Charlton, who was the executor of the Lillian Kiesler estate.
Lillian Kiesler tirelessly promoted Frederick Kiesler's work and legacy after his death in 1965. From the late 1980s through the 1990s, she delivered lectures about his work at universities and museums, gave interviews, corresponded with researchers, and organized his papers to donate to the Harvard Theatre Collection, Yale School of Art and Architecture, and the Archives of American Art. In 1997, she helped found the Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Foundation in Vienna, Austria. She endowed the Austrian Frederick Kiesler Prize, an award given to a notable contributor to the field of architecture. The first recipient was Frank Gehry in 1998. Lillian Kiesler passed away in 2001 in New York City.
The holdings of the Archives of American Art include the Hans Hofmann Papers, 1904-1978 and the Maryette Charlton Papers, 1929-1998. Additional Frederick Kiesler papers are available at the Museum of Modern Art, the Harvard Theater Collection, and the Yale School of Art and Architecture.
Some of the materials related to Frederick Kiesler were initially loaned for microfilming on reels 57 and 127-128. This material is not described in the container listing of this finding aid. Most, but not all, of the loaned material was later donated and has been merged with the other accretions.
The collection was donated by Lillian Kiesler and Maryette Charlton, executrix of her estate, in several accessions between 1980-2002. Some of the papers related to Frederick Kiesler were originally loaned for microfilming in 1971, most of which was later donated in 1980. Additional papers related to Frederick Kiesler were donated in 1993. Papers related to Hans Hofmann were given in 1981. Lillian Kiesler's papers were donated in 2000 by Lillian Kiesler, and in 2002, by Maryette Charlton.
Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.
The Lillian and Frederick Kiesler papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
An interview of Paulus Berensohn conducted 2009 March 20-21, by Mark Shapiro, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at Berensohn's home and studio, in Penland, North Carolina.
Berensohn speaks of growing up in New York City and his family; his brother Lorin Bernsohn, cellist with the New York Philharmonic; his problems with dyslexia as a child and yet his interest in reading and learning; an early interest in dance and the lack of support he received from his family; his admittance into Yale University, from where he quickly removed himself to attend Goddard College in Vermont; after Goddard attending Columbia University, Juilliard, and Bennington College while studying dance; studying under both Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham; his relationship with M.C. Richards; his first teaching job at Pendle Hill in Pennsylvania that lead to teaching at Swarthmore College for four years; his want to become a production potter while living on a farm in rural Pennsylvania where he created an artist commune; working with pinched pots and moving to Penland, North Carolina to teach workshops at the Penland School of Crafts; his book, "Finding Your Way With Clay," which started as a journaling and teaching project while at Penland; his interest in book art via his interest in journaling; the importance of clay as a healing material that connects humanity and the earth and his role as an advocate for clay; his work in and travels to Australia; recent photography projects and his busy and active schedule. Berensohn also recalls Remy Charlip, June Ekman, Fleur Cowles, John Cage, Robert Dunn, Yvonne Rainer, Carolyn Brown, Mary Oliver, Karen Karnes, Burt Supree, Toshiko Takaezu, Ann Stannard, Gerry Williams, George Kokis, Joe Bennion, Bill Brown, Jane Pieser, Ron Garfinkel, Jenny Mendes, Ian Anderson, Verne Stanford, Meg Peterson, and others.
Biographical / Historical:
Paulus Berensohn (1933-2017) was a poet, ceramic artist, dancer, and educator in Penland, North Carolina. Mark Shapiro (1955- ) is executive director of Lumina Art Gallery, in New York.
Originally recorded on 4 SD memory cards. Reformatted in 2010 as 7 digital wav files. Duration is 4 hr., 13 min.
The Archives of American Art also holds the papers of Paulus Berensohn.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art 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 administrators.