The papers of Holger Cahill (1887-1960) date from 1910 to 1993, with the bulk of the material dating from 1910-1960, and measure 15.8 linear feet. The collection offers researchers fairly comprehensive documentation of Cahill's directorship of the Works Progress/Projects Administration's (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP) in addition to series documenting his work as a writer and art critic. Material includes correspondence, reports, artist files, scrapbooks, printed material, and photographs.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of Holger Cahill (1887-1960) date from 1910 to 1993, bulk 1910-1960, and measure 15.8 linear feet. The collection offers researchers fairly comprehensive documentation of Cahill's directorship of the FAP in addition to series documenting his work as a writer and art critic. FAP records include national and state administrative reports, records of community art centers, photographic documentation of state activities, artist files, divisional records about teaching, crafts, murals, and poster work, files concerning the Index of American Design, scrapbooks, and printed material.
The collection is arranged into nine series:
Series 1: Biographical Material and Personal Papers, 1931-1988 (Box 1; 19 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence Files, 1922-1979, 1993 (Boxes 1-2; 1.5 linear ft.)
Series 3: Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, 1934-1970 (Boxes 2-14, 18, MMs009; 10.75 linear ft.)
Series 4: Writings, Lectures and Speeches, 1916-1960 (Boxes 14-15, 18; 1.0 linear ft.)
Series 5: Minutes of Meetings and Panel Discussions, Non-FAP, 1939-1947 (Box 15; 5 folders)
Series 6: Notes and Research Material, 1935-1970 (Boxes 15-16; 0.25 linear ft.)
Series 7: Artwork, undated (Boxes 16, 18; 2 folders)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1910-1985 (Boxes 16-17; 1.8 linear ft.)
Series 9: Photographs, circa 1917-1960 (Box 17; 6 folders)
Holger Cahill was born Sveinn Kristjan Bjarnarson in Iceland in a small valley near the Arctic Circle, on January 13, 1887. His parents, Bjorn Jonson and Vigdis Bjarnadottir, immigrated to the United States from Iceland sometime later in the 1880s. In 1904, his father deserted the family, forcing Sveinn to be separated from his mother and sister to work on a farm in North Dakota. He ran away and wandered from job to job until settling in an orphanage in western Canada, where he attended school and became a voracious reader.
As a young man, he worked at many different jobs and attended night school. While working on a freighter, he visited Hong Kong, beginning his life-long interest in the Orient. Returning to New York City, he eventually became a newspaper reporter, continued his studies at New York University, and changed his name to Edgar Holger Cahill. In 1919 he married Katherine Gridley of Detroit. Their daughter, Jane Ann, was born in 1922, but the couple divorced in 1927.
Cahill met John Sloan circa 1920, and they shared a residence. Cahill also wrote publicity (until 1928) for the Society of Independent Artists, through which he made many friends in the arts. From 1922 to 1931, he worked under John Cotton Dana at the Newark Museum, where he received his basic experience in museum work, organizing the first large exhibitions of folk art.
From 1932 to 1935, he was the director of exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art. In 1935, Cahill was appointed director of the Works Progress/Projects Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP), until its end in June 1943. In 1938, Cahill organized a countrywide exhibition "American Art Today" for the New York World's Fair. He also married MoMa curator Dorothy Canning Miller in that year.
Profane Earth, Cahill's first novel, was published in 1927, followed by monographs on Pop Hart and Max Weber, miscellaneous short stories, and a biography of Frederick Townsend Ward, entitled A Yankee Adventurer: The Story of Ward and the Taiping Rebellion. Following the end of the Federal Art Project, Cahill wrote two novels, Look South to the Polar Star (1947) and The Shadow of My Hand (1956).
Holger Cahill died in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in July 1960.
The Holger Cahill papers were donated to the Archives of American Art through a series of gifts by Cahill's widow, Dorothy C. Miller, between 1964 and 1995.
The microfilm of this collection has been digitized and is available online via the Archives of American Art website.
Interview of John Walter Stephan, conducted by Robert F. Brown for the Archives of American Art, at Newport, Rhode Island, on May 20, 1986 and May 7, 1987.
Stephan speaks of Chicago childhood and adolescence; life during the Depression; the Art Institute of Chicago; the 1930s Chicago leftist movement; the WPA and PWAP; The Tiger's Eye art magazine; Rome artistic and literary society; the New York School of artists; Betty Parsons Gallery; the Surrealists; teaching at Fairleigh Dickenson University; Hunter College; and his critiques of Pop and contemporary artists. Stephan also recalls Ruth Walgreen, Dart Stephan, Rainey Bennett, Clyfford Still, Juan de Diego, Caleb Harrison, Aaron Bohrod, Dudley Crafts Watson, Jack Jones, George Constant, Connie Moran, CJ Bulliet, Rudolph Weisenborn, Inez Cunningham, Eva Watson-Schütze, Jesus Torres, Edgar Miller, Katherine Kuh, Increase Robinson, Peterpaul Ott, Mitchell Siporin, Raymond Breinin, Holger Cahill, John Fabian, Eddie Millman, Winn Nathanson, Fairfield Porter, Norman MacLeish, Ossip Zadkine, Betty Parsons, Alfonso Ossorio, Max Ernst, Julien Levy, Peggy Guggenheim, Bill de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Barney Newman, Nicolas Calas, Bob Motherwell, Monroe Wheeler, Myra Shapiro, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Alfred Knopf, Robert Flaherty, Jaime Sebartés, Frederick Kiesler, Robert Matta, Mario Praz, Bill Denby, Ben Johnson, Milton Gendel, Walter Auerbach, Jerry Wilhelm, Eugene Goossens, and others.
Biographical / Historical:
John Walter Stephan (1906-1995) was a painter.
Originally recorded on 6 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 10 digital wav files. Duration is 6 hr., 54 min.
These interviews are 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 others.
Biographical material, letters, business records, notes, writings, art works, scrapbooks, printed material, and photographs.
REEL 856: Biographical sketches; eighteen letters from colleagues, 1948-1965; records of expenditures, 1956-57; a travel log from a trip to Arizona; essays "The Freedom of the Artist" and "Diorama on Soil Erosion and Soil Conservation for the Tennessee Valley Administration" by Weisenborn, a poem "Fritzi and Rudolph"; 2 typed drafts of "Weisenborn and the American Vision" by John Thwaites (1946); notes from an exhibition at the Werner's Books Gallery.
16 sketchbooks, undated and 1947, and 15 sketches by Weisenborn; three scrapbooks, 1921-1956, containing clippings and art reviews written by Weisenborn's wife, Fritzi, exhibition announcements and catalogs, letters, and an autographed guest list from a party; clippings, 1937-1965; catalogs from 10 No-Jury Society exhibitions, 1922-1941; lecture announcements 1934, brochures; and photographs of Weisenborn, his studio, art-related events, and his works of art.
UNMICROFILMED: 4 biographical sketches and his marriage certificate; letters, 1919-1977; business and financial records, 1931-1972; 3 address books; essays by and about Weisenborn, including sections of "Weisenborn and the American Vision" by John Thwaites (1946); 2 children's drawings, a caricature sketch, and a print by Weisenborn; scrapbooks and scrapbook pages, containing clippings and reviews by his wife, 1938 and 1945-1946; clippings, 1920-1973; exhibition announcements and catalogs, 1922-1965, and other printed material; photographs and a photo album of Weisenborn, his family, studio, and works of art, including designs for department store windows; and a metal printing plate showing a newspaper photograph of Weisenborn and his wife.
Biographical / Historical:
Painter and art instructor; Chicago, Illinois. Died 1974. Taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, 1922-1934. Co-founder of Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists. Weisenborn's wife Fritzi, was art critic for Chicago's Sunday Times.
Material on reel 856 was lent for microfilming in 1974 and subsequently donated 1985 by Gordon Weisenborn with additional unmicrofilmed material. (Several items from 2 of the scrapbooks were not returned.)
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Microfilmed materials must be consulted on microfilm. Contact Reference Services for more information.