Alice Trumbull Mason papers, 1921-1977

A Finding Aid to the Alice Trumbull Mason Papers, 1921-1977 , in the Archives of American Art, by Erin Corley

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Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Alice Trumbull Mason was born in 1904 in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her mother, Anne Leavenworth Train, was an accomplished artist before she met Alice's father, William Trumbull, a descendent of the Revolutionary War era painter, John Trumbull. Alice spent much of her childhood in Europe with her family. From 1921 to 1922 they lived in Florence and Rome where she studied at the British Academy. In 1923 she continued her studies with painter Charles W. Hawthorne at the National Academy of Design in New York and from 1927 to 1928 attended courses at the Grand Central Art Galleries taught by Arshile Gorky. Gorky inspired her interest in abstract painting, and Mason painted her first non-objective works in 1929. In 1928 she returned to Italy and Greece and was greatly influenced by ancient art, Byzantium, and Italian primitives. She married Warwood Mason, a merchant seaman, in 1930 and her daughter Emily was born in 1932 and her son Jonathan in 1933. During this period she stopped painting and devoted her creative energy to writing poetry inspired by American avant-garde writers.

Mason began painting again in 1934 and was recognized as a key figure of American abstraction. In 1935 she met and became close friends with fellow artist Ibram Lassaw, and they, along with several other artists, began to meet on a regular basis which led to the first American Abstract Artists group exhibition in 1937. Mason remained very active in the group and served as treasurer in 1939, secretary from 1940 to 1945, and president from 1959 to 1963. She was also an activist for abstract art, protesting the decisions of the Museum of Modern Art several times for excluding abstract artists from exhibitions. During the 1940s her paintings and concept of "architectural abstraction" was influenced by the arrival of Piet Mondrian in New York. Also in the 1940s she had two one-woman shows, but throughout her career she felt there was a bias against women in the New York art world and most often she participated in AAA group shows. Her work would be viewed as an important bridge for future abstract and conceptualist artists. In 1958 her son died, and though she continued to paint and participate in exhibitions, she never recovered from this tragedy and in the late 1960s withdrew into seclusion until her death in 1971.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of abstract artist Alice Trumbull Mason date from 1921 to 1977 and measure 1.3 linear feet. The collection documents her career as a painter, particularly her role as one of the founders of the American Abstract Artists group, through biographical materials; correspondence with family, friends, fellow artists, art galleries, museums, and organizations; writings and notes, including notebooks of poetry and other creative writings; a small amount of printed material; photographs of Mason, friends, and her artwork; and original artwork, including five sketchbooks.

Biographical material consists of resumes, passports, exhibition files, as well as documentation of her membership and active participation in art organizations, including her work as an officer in the American Abstract Artists group. Also found here are scattered personal financial and legal records. Personal and professional correspondence is with family members, including many detailed letters between her and her husband Warwood, fellow artists, including Paul Kelpe, art organizations, curators, museums, galleries, and others. Professional correspondence generally discusses selection of exhibition and awards, sale of artwork, and art events. Writings and notes, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s, consist of Mason's notes on art history and her creative writings, including poetry and "abstract writing." Also found are a few writings about abstract art and various notes and lists.

Printed material includes news clippings on topics of interest to Mason, and other miscellaneous items such as brochures, and exhibition announcements. Photographs include several portraits of Mason with her artwork, photographs of friends including artist Ibram Lassaw, photographs of an American Abstract Artists exhibition, and artwork by her and others. Original artwork found in this collection includes five sketchbooks belonging to Mason, including two that document her travels through Greece and Italy, and other loose drawings.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 6 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects:

  • Lassaw, Ibram, 1913-, Photographs
  • American Abstract Artists

Subjects-Topical:

  • Women painters -- New York (State) -- New York

Types of Materials:

  • Poetry
  • Photographs
  • Sketchbooks

Names:

  • Kelpe, Paul, 1902-1985

Provenance

A portion of this collection was donated by Alice Trumbull Mason in 1969. Additional material was donated from 1972 to 1977 by Mason's daughter, Emily Mason Kahn.

Separated and Related Materials

A portion of the material donated by Alice Trumbull Mason in 1969 relating to her involvement with the American Abstract Artists was separated and filed with the American Abstract Artists records at the Archives of American Art. Files of news clippings and exhibition catalogs were transferred to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery Library after microfilming.

Also found in the Archives of American Art is a collection of interviews by Ruth Bowman of members of the American Abstract Artists group conducted between 1963-1965, that includes an interview with Alice Trumbull Mason. The Archives of American Art also houses 2.3 linear feet of the records of the American Abstract Artists group.

How the Collection was Processed

Portions of the collection received a preliminary level of processing at some point after donation. The collection was microfilmed in accretions on reels N69-137, 629, 630, and 3134. The entire collection was fully merged, processed, arranged, and described by Erin corley in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is partially microfilmed. Use of material not microfilmed requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Alice Trumbull Mason 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.

Available Formats

The collection is available on 35 mm microfilm reels N69-137, 629, 630, and 3134 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the collection as described in this finding aid may not reflect the exact order of the collection on microfilm but an effort has been made to include reel numbers when known.

How to Cite this Collection

Alice Trumbull Mason papers, 1921-1977. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1925-1968
(Box 1, OV 3; 0.2 linear feet)

This series consists of scattered documentation of Alice Trumbull Mason's career as an artist and her active membership in many art organizations. Included are brief resumes and biographies that provide information about her memberships, exhibitions, awards, representation in permanent collections, and other professional information. Also found here is her Guggenheim fellowship application. Other professional records include scattered exhibition records and records of her work as an officer in the American Abstract Artists group that includes letters to members written by Mason, lists of members, press releases, reports, and letters to her from the vice president, Esphyr Slobodkina. Mason's active participation in other art organizations, such as the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors and the International Association of Plastic Arts, is documented here through reports to members, brochures, newsletters, meeting minutes, and other membership information. This series also includes some of Mason's personal financial records as well as a few legal documents.

Microfilm reel and frame numbers are noted at folder headings.

Box Folder
1 1 Resumes & Biographies, circa 1955-1966
(Reel 629:241-249)
1 2 Fellowship Application Form, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1948
(Reel 629:250-252)
1 3 Passports, 1925, 1928
(Reel 629:253-260, 267-273)
1 4 Certificates of Service and Discharge, Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, 1939-1940
(Reel 629:261-266)
1 5 Exhibition Records, 1945-1968
(Reel 630:398-452)
1 6 Price Lists, 1952-1968
(Reel 630:113-119)
1 7 American Abstract Artists Records, 1939-1968
(See also OV3; Reel 630:265-330)
1 8 Art Organizations, 1953-1961
(Reel 630:260-261, 351-397)
1 9 Personal Budget Lists, 1932-1934
(Reel 630:237-252)
1 10 Personal Budget Notebook, 1937-1939
(Reel 629:1025-1044)
1 11 Personal Budget Notebook, 1938-1941
(Reel 629:997-1024)
1 12 Checkbook Ledger and Deposits Book, 1949-1950
(Not microfilmed)
1 13 Legal Documents, 1933
(Reel 630:254-258)
Box
OV 3 Oversize American Abstract Artists Records, 1939-1968
(See also Box 1, F7; Reel 630:265-330)

Series 2: Correspondence, 1922-1977
(Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)

This series contains Alice Trumbull Mason's personal and professional correspondence. Almost all of the letters prior to 1940 are to and from family and friends; the earliest are from friends she made while in Europe during 1921 and 1922. Also found is correspondence with her sister Edith, also known as "Edi" and "Buddah", her brother Jack, and her parents, sharing family news during Mason's travels abroad. There are letters to and from her sister Margaret (Margie), also an artist, discussing Mason's views on art, including her opinions on surrealism, her desire to paint, and other intimate thoughts. Also found here are numerous letters between Mason and her husband Warwood written while he was working as a merchant seaman. These very detailed letters discuss news of their children Emily and Jonathan (Jo), her current paintings, early meetings of the American Abstract Artists group in 1937, political problems within the group, and her participation in exhibitions. One interesting letter describes her reaction to Orson Welles 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds. In their later correspondence, Warwood is often called "Po".

Professional correspondence includes some letters regarding Mason's work within the American Abstract Artists Group, including two letters from Josef Albers about AAA exhibitions. Other letters concern the selection of her artwork for exhibitions or prizes, exhibition venues and schedules, curators' visits to her studio, and the sale of her artwork to galleries and museums. Additional correspondence also discusses her participation in other art organizations, such as the Society of American Graphic Artists and the Print Club. Also found are numerous letters from friend and fellow founding member of the American Abstract Artists, Paul Kelpe, dating from 1953 to 1970. In these letters Kelpe discusses his current artwork, his teaching career, participation in exhibitions, and professional and financial struggles. Most of the correspondence after 1967 is of a personal nature with Kelpe, her husband, and her daughter Emily. There are many letters between Mason and her daughter Emily and son Jonathan, discussing their activities, including Emily's early career as an artist.

Correspondence is arranged chronologically. Microfilm reel and frame numbers are noted at folder headings.

Box Folder
1 14-27 Correspondence, 1922-1970
(14 folders; reel 629:275-906)
1 28 Correspondence, Undated, circa 1922-1970
(Reel 629:907-995)
1 29 Emily Mason letter to the New York Times, 1977
(Reel 3134:1044-1046)

Series 3: Writings and Notes, 1921-1965
(Box 1; 6 folders)

Writings and notes by Alice Trumbull Mason include four notebooks. One notebook is entitled "History of Art" and contains her notes about famous artists, and the others contain poems, stories, and other creative writing. Also found are notes and lists, including various lists of artwork and address lists. This series also contains other writings, such as artist statements, brief writings about abstract art, a draft of a lecture on art, several poems, and creative writings identified as "abstract writing."

Microfilm reel and frame numbers are noted at folder headings.

Box Folder
1 30 Notebook, "History of Art", circa 1920s
(Reel 629:1068-1123)
1 31 Notebook, 1921-1922
(Reel 629:1124-1160)
1 32 Notebook, 1922, 1928
(Reel 629:1161-1225)
1 33 Notebook, 1927
(Reel 629:1045-1067)
1 34 Notes and Lists, 1950s-1960s
(Reel 630:120-168, 212-236)
1 35 Writings, Poetry, and Artist Statements, circa 1920s-1965
(Reel 630:169-211)

Series 4: Printed Material, 1936-1974
(Box 1; 2 folders)

Scattered printed material on various topics includes news clippings from magazines and newspapers on topics such as art, music, literature, and events that were of interest to Mason. Also found are a few exhibition announcements, brochures, unsent postcards, and a 1936 issue of Art Front.

Researchers should note that the collection originally housed news clippings about Alice Trumbull Mason and several exhibition catalogs and announcements for her solo and group shows. These items were transferred to the Library and are available on microfilm on the reels listed below.

Microfilm reel and frame numbers are noted at folder headings.

Box Folder
1 36 News Clippings, 1940-1969
(Not microfilmed)
1 37 Miscellaneous Printed Material, 1936, 1947-1974
(Not Microfilmed)
Reel Frames
630 729-767 News Clippings about Alice Trumbull Mason, 1940-1967
630 453-667 Exhibition Catalogs and Announcements, 1937-1971

Series 5: Photographs, 1920s-1967
(Box 1, OV 3; 5 folders)

This series contains photographs of Alice Trumbull Mason, including portraits, a photograph of Mason with her husband Warwood, and photographs of her in her studio in 1954. Photographs of others include one of her friend and fellow artist, Ibram Lassaw, and several photographs sent to her from friends in Europe. Also found are photographs of the 26th Annual Exhibition of the American Abstract Artists group. There are several photographs of artwork by Alice Trumbull Mason, including many in color, and a few photographs of artwork by others, including one sculpture by Ibram Lassaw and two by Richard Lippold.

Photographs are arranged by subject and chronologically within each folder. Microfilm reel and frame numbers are noted at folder headings.

Box Folder
1 38 Photographs of Alice Trumbull Mason, circa 1939-1954
(Reel 630:686-694, Reel N69-137:210-219)
1 39 Photographs of Others, 1920s, 1937
(Reel 630:695-705)
1 40 Photographs of 26th Annual Exhibition, American Abstract Artists, 1962
(Reel 630:331-349)
1 41 Photographs of Artwork by Alice Trumbull Mason, 1942-1967
(Reel 630:706-721, Reel N69-137:180-208)
1 42 Photographs of Artwork by Others, 1937, undated
(See also OV 3; Reel 630:722-728)
Box
OV 3 Oversize Photographs of Artwork by Others, 1937, undated
(See also Box 1, F42; reel 630:722-728)

Series 6: Artwork, 1924-1963
(Box 1-2, OV 3; 0.4 linear feet)

Artwork by Alice Trumbull Mason includes loose drawings and five sketchbooks, most of which date from the 1920s when she was studying painting and traveling in Europe. Loose drawings are of her family, various abstract images, architecture, landscapes, and other studies. A sketchbook dating from circa 1925 to 1928 includes portraits, seated figures, and anatomy drawings. Two sketchbooks dating from 1928 to 1929 document her trips to Italy and Greece, and include descriptions and dates for each drawing. Other sketchbooks from the 1920s include various sketches similar to those found in the loose drawings. This series also includes a signed etching by Mason's friend Letterio Calapai and a small painting by her granddaughter, Cecily Kahn.

Microfilm reel and frame numbers are noted at folder headings.

Box Folder
1 43-44 Drawings, 1924-1932, 1962-1963
(2 folders; see also OV3; reel 630:42-111)
1 45 Sketchbook, circa 1925-1928
(Reel 629:1226-1313)
1 46 Sketchbook, 1928-1929
(Reel 629:1314-1437)