An interview of Merry Renk conducted 2001 January 18-19, by Arline M. Fisch, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, in Renk's home and studio, San Francisco, California.
Renk speaks of her family background; growing up during the Depression; her father's creativity and encouragement; early inspiration from "the structure of nature"; attending the School of Industrial Arts in Trenton, N.J., and later the Institute of Design in Chicago; student life at the Institute of Design; establishing a studio and gallery, 750 Studio, at 750 North Dearborn, in Chicago, in 1947, with two other students, Mary Jo Slick [Godfrey] and Olive [Bunny] Oliver; managing 750 Studio and organizing exhibitions of Harry Callahan, Henry Miller, Lazlo Maholy-Nagy, Warren and Ethel MacKenzie, Doris Hall, and others; working with enamels; early "primitive" spirals; decision to be a jeweler; the importance of the "wearability" of jewelry; moving to San Francisco in 1948; living in Paris, 1950-1951; relationship with Shinkichi Tajiri; visiting Constantin Brancusi; traveling with Lenore Tawney through Spain and Morocco; settling in San Francisco; friendship with sculptor and neighbor Ruth Asawa; learning about Josef Albers from Asawa, resulting in experiments with folded metal; meeting her second husband, potter Earle Curtis on Halloween 1954; purchasing and remodeling their home; teaching part-time at the University of California, Berkeley and in workshops; her children, Baunnie and Sandra; managing motherhood and jewelry making in a two-artist household; drawing as a form of inventory; the influence of Lee Nordness; learning the plique-à-jour technique of enameling through trial and error; early influence of Doris Hall's work; working with wire; use of natural forms and interlocking forms; the process of making Wedding Crown (1968) for the exhibition Objects USA; making wedding crowns for her daughters; her shift from non-objective art to portraiture and symbolic imagery in the early 1970s; making large-scale sculpture in 1974, then "drifting back" to jewelry; importance of working independently; her "memory paintings" in the 1980s; evolution of her name from Mary Ruth Gibbs to Merry Renk Curtis (married Stanley Renk in 1941); her involvement with local guilds such as the Metal Arts Guild of San Francisco and national organizations such as the American Craft Council (ACC); lack of critical writing about her work; the value of exhibitions; various pieces in museum collections; early ACC conferences; her long friendship with photographer Imogen Cunningham; posing for Cunningham; becoming an ACC fellow; her jewelry tools; the process of painting compared to jewelry making. She also mentions Kenneth Bates, Trude Guermonprez, Irena Brynner, the Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and her mentor Margaret de Patta.
Biographical / Historical:
Merry Renk (1921-2012) was a jeweler, painter, and sculptor from San Francisco, California. Arline M. Fisch (1931-) is a metalsmith from San Diego, California.
Originally recorded on 3 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 6 digital wav files. Duration is 3 hr., 9 min.
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.
The papers of artist Kenneth Snelson measure 21.8 linear feet and date from 1947-2016. While primarily known for his sculptures incorporating the structural principle of tensegrity, Snelson was also a prolific photographer and forerunner of computer art. The collection document's the artist's life and work through chronological files, correspondence, project files, gallery and exhibition files, photographic material, and printed material. Chronological files detail seven decades of personal and professional activities, beginning with Snelson's summers at Black Mountain College where he studied with Buckminster Fuller. Project files comprise nearly half of the collection and extensively document his sculptures, towers, atom model, computer art, patents, and cataloging and publishing projects.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of artist Kenneth Snelson measure 21.8 linear feet and date from 1947-2016. While primarily known for his sculptures incorporating the structural principle of tensegrity, Snelson was also a prolific photographer and forerunner of computer art. The collection document's the artist's life and work through chronological files, correspondence, project files, gallery and exhibition files, photographic material, and printed material.
Chronological files detail seven decades of personal and professional activities, beginning with Snelson's summers at Black Mountain College where he studied with Buckminster Fuller. Files contain a diverse array of material including personal photographs, photographs of artwork, printed material, correspondence, life documents, resumes, exhibition records, drawings and sketches, supply receipts, and professional files.
Correspondence in Series 2 is primarily with artists and friends. Notable correspondents include artists Buckminster Fuller, Anthony Hill, Todd Siler, and Shinkichi Tajiri.
Project files comprise nearly half of the collection and extensively document Snelson's sculptures, towers, atom model, computer art, patents, and cataloging and publishing projects. Files include a great deal of photographic material of artwork, models, and installations, as well as sketches, notes regarding specifications, material samples, supply receipts, invoices, and correspondence with dealers, contractors, institutions, and companies commissioning work.
Exhibition and gallery files document dozens of exhibitions and galleries that have represented Snelson over the years in the Unites States, Europe, and Japan. Items include correspondence, photographic material of artworks, installations, and openings, exhibitions lists, floorplans, shipping receipts, invoices, contracts, and printed material including exhibitions catalogs, announcements, and clippings.
Photographic material includes photographic prints, slides, negatives, contact sheets, and transparencies, as well as notes that Snelson kept about camera types and photographic processes. Although personal photographs are included here, the bulk of the material pertains to Snelson's fine art photography in which he experiments with panoramic photography and stereoscopic photography.
Printed material is predominantly comprised of exhibition catalogs, although a few articles and clippings are filed here as well.
The collection is arranged as six series.
Series 1: Chronological Files, 1948-2015 (Boxes 1-6; 5.1 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1948-2009 (Box 6; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 3: Project Files, 1947-2016 (Boxes 6-17; 10.8 linear feet)
Series 4: Exhibition and Gallery Files, 1963-2016 (Boxes 17-20; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 5: Photographic Material, 1951-2004 (Boxes 20-22; 1.8 linear feet)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1960-2015 (Boxes 22-23; 0.7 linear feet)
Biographical / Historical:
Kenneth Snelson (1927-2016) was a New York City based artist best known for his sculptures incorporating the structural principle of tensegrity, or tensional integrity.
Born in Pendleton, Oregon, Snelson enrolled in college in his home state, studying painting, sculpture, and engineering. In the summers of 1948 and 1949, he attended Black Mountain College and studied with Buckminster Fuller and Joseph Albers. Snelson then attended the Chicago Institute of Design from 1949-1950, and moved to New York City in 1952.
For the next decade, Snelson worked as a cameraman for documentary films, often travelling internationally. In the early 1960s, Snelson began exhibiting his sculptures, and gained representation by Dwan Gallery. Snelson completed several commissions and installations of his sculptures over the next decade, including
Tower of Light, a contribution to the 1964 World's Fair, and Needle Tower, first erected in New York's Bryant Park in 1968. While continuing to work in sculpture throughout his career, Snelson began experimenting with panoramic and stereoscopic photography in the 1970s, and became a forerunner of computer art in the 1980s, using the Silicon Graphics computer to create digital sculptures.
In addition to Dwan Gallery, Snelson has shown with Sonnabend Gallery, Zabriskie Gallery, Marlborough Gallery, and the artist-run ConStruct Gallery.
Snelson has been the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including an Honorary Doctorate from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a prize for sculpture from the National Academy of Design.
The collection was donated to the Archives of American Art in 2017 by Katherine Snelson, Kenneth Snelson's widow.
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
Tajiri: sculptures, drawings, graphics, books, video tapes, films. [Catalog of an exhibition held at] Museum Boymans-van Beuningen Rotterdam, 5 April to 19 May 1974 [and] Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht, 1 June to 13 July 1974. [Catalog by Tajiri and Leo Marks