This collection, which measures 3.02 linear feet and dates from circa 1900 to 1986, documents the lives of painter and educator Leon Berkowitz and his first wife, poet Ida Fox Berkowitz, and provides insight into the cultural and artistic climate in 1940s and 1950s Washington D.C. through correspondence, notes, sketches, photographs, printed material, and audio cassettes.
Scope and Content Note:
The collection measures 3.02 linear feet and dates from circa 1900 to 1986. In addition to documenting the artistic development of Leon Berkkowitz and, to a lesser extent, Ida Fox, the collection provides insight into the cultural and artistic climate in Washington D.C. during the 1940s and 1950s.
The collection includes correspondence, primarily between Leon and Ida Fox Berkowitz, notes, sketches, personal photographs, printed material, and a cassette tape. There are notes on Leon Berkowitz's philosophy of painting, reports from a 1940s U.S. Army art therapy project in which he participated, and scattered correspondence, financial records, and promotional materials from the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts and WCFM radio. Also found here are lecture notes and administrative materials relating to Leon's Berkowitz's teaching career, papers he wrote for several education courses, his master's thesis, sporadic business records concerning shipments and sales of paintings and gallery exhibitions, and drafts of catalogs.
Series 4: Exhibitions, 1944-1985, undated (box 2, MMs, 10 folders)
Series 5: Washington Workshop Center for the Arts, 1940s-1950s (boxes 2-3, 14 folders)
Series 6: Other Projects, 1944-1985 (box 3, 4 folders)
Series 7: Notes and Writings, 1940s-1971, undated (box 3, 8 folders)
Series 8: Artwork, circa 1950s, undated (box 3, 5 folders)
Series 9: Photographs, circa 1900-1970s (box 3, 5 folders)
Series 10: Interview on Audio Cassette, [1974?] (box 3, 1 folder)
Leon Berkowitz (1911-1987), a painter associated with the Washington Color School, was born in Philadelphia (the 1919 birth date given by Berkowitz in Who's Who in American Art is incorrect). He met and married his first wife, Ida Fox, between 1935 and 1937. Berkowitz received a B.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and an M.A. from George Washington University in 1948.
From 1943 to 1945, he served as a private in the U.S. Army, participating in a psychiatric program involving art therapy at Camp Lee, Virginia. Berkowitz taught art at Eastern and Western high schools in Washington, D.C. from 1945 to 1956 and taught at Western again in the late 1960s. In 1969 Berkowitz became chairman of the Corcoran School of Art's painting department and taught there until his death.
In 1945, the Berkowitzes founded the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts with Helmuth Kern. The Center, an important part of the city's cultural life during the 1940s and 1950s, offered courses in art, music, theatre and dance. Many of the artists who later became prominent in the Washington Color School taught at the center, including Morris Louis, Ken Noland, Gene Davis, Jacob Kainen and Jack Perlmutter. The center also sponsored a retrospective for Willem de Kooning in 1953. The Berkowitzes and Kern were also active in establishing the shortlived (1949-1953) cooperative radio station WCFM.
The center collapsed in 1956, shortly after the Berkowitzes' departure on a sabbatical painting trip to Spain. They spent much of the next decade abroad, including a two-and-a half year stay in Wales and a visit of several months to Jerusalem. During this period, Berkowitz expanded his interest in light, creating paintings by priming canvases with a white ground, then using multiple layers of thin oil paint washes.
Berkowitz had his first one-man museum show at the Corcoran in 1966. Ida Fox died during the 1970s and Berkowitz then married his second wife, Maureen. He continued to paint and exhibit until his death from cancer in 1987.
Poet Ida Fox (1913-197?) was born in Philadelphia. She married Leon Berkowitz between 1934 and 1937 and moved with him to Washington, D.C. where she attended American University from 1942 to 1945. During World War II she worked as a statistician for the U.S. government. In 1945 she cofounded the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts. Fox became its director in 1947, resigning the position in 1955 to accompany her husband to Spain. She published poetry in several literary and artistic periodicals, including a series, "Painting Thru a Poet's Eye," inspired by works of art. In 1970 she published a collection of poetry, In the Wind: An American Poet in Wales (St. David's, Wales: Antiphon Press, 1970), illustrated by Arthur Okamura.
Also available in the Archives of American Art are two audio cassettes of a transcribed oral history interview with Leon and Ida Fox Berkowitz, June 5, 1979.
Leon Berkowitz donated the papers of his first wife, Ida Fox, in 1987. After his death in 1987, his second wife, Maureen Berkowitz, donated his papers to the Archives of American Art. In addition to these two accessions, one folder of material on Leon Berkowitz was donated in 1979. This material was microfilmed on reel 2786.
The collection is open for research. Microfilmed portion must be consulted on microfilm. Use of unmicrofilmed material requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington, D.C. research facility.
The Leon Berkowitz and Ida 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.