Berta Briggs papers, 1930-1976

A Finding Aid to the Berta N. Briggs Papers, 1908-1976, in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald

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Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Berta N. Briggs (née Nabersberg) was born June 5, 1884 in St. Paul, Minnesota, daughter of John William and Rosina (Reinfrank) Nabersberg. After her graduation from Central High School, she moved to New York to study art at the Art Students League under Kenyon Cox, at the Pratt Institute under Ralph Johannot, and at the Teachers College of Columbia University under Arthur W. Dow.

Upon her return to St. Paul in 1905, Briggs was appointed the first Supervisor of Handicrafts in the public schools, a position she held for three years. From 1908-1911, she organized and directed the Department of Crafts at the St. Paul Institute School of Art and taught woodblock printing, leather work, metal work, and pottery. During these years, she attended the summer school of the Minneapolis Handicraft Guild, working under Ernest Batchelder and Bertha Lum.

In 1911, Briggs moved to New York to become the head of the art department in the Charlton School, a private school for girls, where she taught art and lectured on the history of art and architecture for two years. On June 18, 1913, she married William Harlowe Briggs, an editorial executive for Harper Brothers publishers.

From 1918 to 1928, Berta Briggs lectured on the history of art at Miss Chandor’s School for girls in New York. With nine other craft workers, she founded an outlet for craftwork, the Noank Studio Guild.

In 1928, Briggs began to paint landscapes and specialized in paintings birds. From 1930 to 1932, she was President of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. She was Vice-President of the Society of Woman Geographers from 1939 to 1942, and was a member of the National Association of Women Artists.

Briggs’s book Charles Willson Peale, Artist and Patriot was published in 1952, followed by To the Shores of Tripoli, published in 1955.

Berta N. Briggs died November 12, 1976 in New York City.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of painter, writer and educator Berta N. Briggs measure 1.3 linear feet and date from 1908-1976. Found in the collection are biographical material such as curriculum vitae and awards, and scattered letters primarily discussing Briggs's activities with various arts organizations. Notes and writings include notebooks for Briggs's two books Charles Willson Peale: Artist and Patriot (1952) and To the Shores of Tripoli (1955). The papers also contain artwork by Briggs including sketchbooks and drawings of birds, scrapbooks and printed material including exhibition catalogs and announcements, and photographs of Briggs's artwork.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection has been arranged as 7 series. Documents within each series are arranged chronologically.

Subjects and Names

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


  • Peale, Charles Willson, 1741-1827


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

Types of Materials:

  • Sketchbooks
  • Drawings
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks


The Berta N. Briggs papers were donated in 1977 by Mrs. Malcolm Fooshee, Briggs’s niece.

How the Collection was Processed

The papers were processed to an intermediate level in February 2006 by Jean Fitzgerald.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Berta N. Briggs 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.

How to Cite this Collection

Berta N. Briggs papers, 1908-1976. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1932-1975
(Box 1; 3 folders)

Biographical material consists of curriculum vitae and awards.

Box Folder
1 1 Curriculum Vitae, circa 1932-1943
1 2 National Association of Women Artists Award Medal, 1954
1 3 National Association of Women Artists Award Certificate, 1975

Series 2: Letters, 1932-1961
(Box 1; 2 folders)

Letters primarily discuss Briggs’s activities with various arts organizations, and include one letter signed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mabel Conkling, Gail Sherman Corbett, Elisabeth Sturtevant Theobald, and other artists.

Box Folder
1 4-5 Letters, 1932-1961
(2 folders)

Series 3: Notes and Writings, 1950-1954
(Box 1; 19 folders)

This series includes two notebooks concerning Briggs’s book Charles Willson Peale: Artist and Patriot (1952) and one notebook concerning her other book To the Shores of Tripoli (1955). Additional writings describe Briggs’s artwork and consist of typescripts by Briggs and others.

Box Folder
1 6-16 Notebooks Concerning Book Charles Willson Peale: Artist and Patriot, 1950-1954
(11 folders)
1 17-22 Notebooks Concerning Book To the Shores of Tripoli, 1954
(6 folders)
1 23 Writings by Briggs, undated
1 24 Writings by Others, 1953, undated

Series 4: Artwork, 1931-1942
(Boxes 1-2; 6 folders)

Artwork by Briggs includes three sketchbooks of birds drawn at the Bronx Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Also included are miscellaneous undated drawings, and a block print.

Box Folder
1 25 Sketchbook of Birds in Bronx Zoo, 1931-1936
1 26 Sketchbook of Birds in San Diego Zoo, 1940
1 27 Sketchbook of Birds in Washington Zoo and Bronx Zoo, 1941-1942
1 28 Miscellaneous Drawings, undated
(see also Box 2)
1 29 Block Print of the Crucifiction, undated
Box Folder
2 (sol) 30 Oversized Drawing of a Cat, undated
(see also Box 1)

Series 5: Scrapbooks, 1908-1968
(Boxes 1-2; 7 folders)

Scrapbook 1 contains letters, clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs and miscellaneous programs. Scrapbook 2 consists of only a few pages containing clippings. Scrapbook 3 concerns Briggs’s books Charles Willson Peale: Artist and Patriot and To the Shores of Tripoli and contains letters, clippings, a press release, and an exhibition announcement.

Box Folder
1 31-32 Scrapbook 1, 1908-1963
(2 folders; see also Box 2)
1 33 Scrapbook 2, 1931-1939
1 34-36 Scrapbook 3, 1950-1968
(3 folders)
2 (sol) Oversized Scrapbook 1, 1908-1963

Series 6: Printed Material, 1932-1976
(Box 1; 12 folders)

This series contains clippings including Briggs’s obituary, press releases, and exhibition announcements and catalogs that document Briggs's career.

Box Folder
1 37-44 Clippings, 1932-1976
(8 folders)
1 45 Press Releases, 1932-1943, undated
1 46-47 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1932-1963
(2 folders)
1 48 Miscellaneous Printed Material, 1939-1956, undated

Series 7: Photographs, 1929-1943
(Boxes 1-2; 4 folders)

All photographs are of artwork.

Box Folder
1 49 Photographs of Landscape Paintings, undated
1 50-51 Photographs of Paintings of Birds, undated
(2 folders)
2 (sol) Photograph Album of Artwork, 1929-1943