Florence Arquin papers, 1923-1985

A Finding Aid to the Florence Arquin Papers, 1923-1985, in the Archives of American Art, by Stephanie Ashley

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Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Painter, photographer, educator, writer, and critic Florence Arquin was born in 1900 in New York City and was widely known for her expertise in the field of Latin American studies. A graduate in art education from the Art Institute of Chicago, she also undertook post graduate studies at the National University of Mexico. From 1935 to 1939 she worked as administrator for the Federal Art Project in Illinois and joined the Art Institute of Chicago in 1939 to develop education programs aimed at secondary school students.

In the early 1940s Arquin traveled to Mexico to paint, where she developed friendships with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In 1943 a solo exhibiton of her paintings at the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City was highly praised by Rivera in the catalog introduction. Arquin's book Diego Rivera: The Shaping of an Artist, 1889-1921 about the artist's formative years, was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1971.

Arquin traveled extensively in South America, the United States, and Europe throughout her life. From 1945 to 1951 she traveled to Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador as Director of the Kodachrome Slide Project under the sponsorship of the Department of State. Arquin photographed aspects of life and culture and gave lectures at bi-national cultural institutions throughout those countries and in the United States. The project was part of an effort to provide educational agencies with visual aids in the field of Latin American studies.

Under another State Department grant, duplicates of Arquin's photographs were then made available for sale to institutions and individuals interested in the field of Latin American studies. The Metropolitan Museum of Art assumed responsibility for publicity, sale, and distribution of the slides from 1950 to 1955. Although few sales originated through the sales office of the Museum, Arquin managed to generate sales through her own efforts. In 1961 she applied for another grant to take control of the original slides and to add to the collection of slides that she had taken on other visits to Latin America, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and other European countries since then.

Florence Arquin died in 1974.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The Florence Arquin papers measure 6.9 linear feet and date from 1923 to 1985. The collection provides excellent coverage of many aspects of Arquin's career, particularly her role as a photographer and an educator for the Kodachrome Slide Project and her development as a painter in the early 1940s. Of particular note is a group of letters written by Arquin to her husband, Samuel Williams, that describes her first meetings with Diego Rivera and and Frida Kahlo, and the development of their friendship. The collection also includes scattered biographical material; letters that provide insight into Arquin's travels; writings including a draft of Arquin's book on Diego Rivera; notes including those documenting Arquin's research; photographs of Arquin and others including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; printed material; and scrapbooks.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into nine series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Names" when they are creators or contributors and under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents.


  • Kahlo, Frida
  • Rivera, Diego, 1886-1957
  • Wright, Frank Lloyd, 1867-1959
  • Federal Art Project (Ill.)


  • Women artists -- Illinois -- Chicago
  • Art -- Study and teaching
  • Art, Latin American
  • Art critics
  • Painters
  • Photographers

Types of Materials:

  • Works of art
  • Photographs
  • Sketchbooks


The collection was donated to the Archives of American Art by Samuel Williams, Arquin's husband, in 1991.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was processed by Olivia Evans in 1991. The finding aid was modified by Stephanie Ashley during conversion to EAD in 2002.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Microfilmed portion must be consulted on microfilm. Use of unmicrofilmed portion requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington, D.C. research facility.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Florence Arquin 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 partially microfilmed on reels 4711-4719. The microfilm is available for interlibrary loan.

How to Cite this Collection

Florence Arquin papers, 1923-1985. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1939-circa 1962, undated
(box 1; 8 folders)

This series contains a folder of travel documentation and biographical data on Arquin including résumés and a certificate for a sailfish caught by Arquin in 1942 with a photograph of Arquin and an unidentified woman standing beside the fish. Address books can be found in box 8 and Arquin's master of art education diploma from the Art Institute of Chicago and three San Francisco International Color Slide Salon awards of merit can be found in box 9.

Box Reel
1 4711 Résumés, circa 1939-circa 1962, undated
1 4711 Travel Papers, 1943-1953
1 unfilmed Sailfish Certificate and Card, 1942, [1951]
Box Reel
8 (pam) unfilmed Address Books, undated
(4 folders; 9 books)
Box Reel
9 (sol) unfilmed Awards, 1944-1945

Series 2: Sketchbook, undated
(box 1; 1 folder)

This series contains one sketchbook with several sketches by Arquin.

Box Reel
1 4711 Sketchbook, undated

Series 3: Scrapbooks, 1935-1951
(boxes 9-11; 4 scrapbooks)

This series contains four scrapbooks. One documents Arquin's exhibition at the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City in 1943 and contains photographs of the exhibition picturing Arquin, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Walter Pach, and others. There are also news clippings and a copy of the exhibition catalog. The other scrapbooks also contain photographs, magazine and news clippings, exhibition announcements, and other printed material and document work, travels, and public appearances by Arquin. Arquin's South America 1950-1951 scrapbook provides excellent coverage of her tour of South America and includes details of her itinerary and photographs of her public appearances.

Box Reel
10 (sol) 4711 Scrapbook of 1943 Exhibition, circa 1943
10 (sol) 4711 South America Scrapbook, 1950-1951
Box Reel
11 (sol) 4711 Federal Art Project Scrapbook, 1935-1938
11 (sol) 4711 Scrapbook, 1945-1948

Series 4: Correspondence, 1934-1985, undated
(box 1; 56 folders)

This series contains three groups of correspondence. Arquin's general correspondence primarily documents inquiries and transactions relating to the Kodachrome Slide Project, such as inquiries about the collection and arrangements for purchasing the slides. Interspersed with this material is more personal correspondence, including copies of several letters from Diego Rivera in 1946 and 1949 and Frida Kahlo in 1943 and 1952. There is also a 1957 letter written by Arquin, and apparently unfinished, recording her reaction to the death of Diego Rivera and some of her memories of their friendship.

Of particular note is a group of letters from Arquin to her husband, Samuel Williams, that documents her trip to Mexico in the early 1940s to paint and photograph the places that she visited and, later, to work as the Director for the Kodachrome Slide Project. These letters provide insight into her more personal impressions and experiences during this time period. The letters describe the developement of her friendships with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, whom she met around 1942. They document Rivera's paining of Arquin's portrait and various meetings and conversations that Arquin had with Rivera and Kahlo, including Arquin's impressions of Rivera's paintings, his ideas, and his working methods. The letters also document her friendships with Marc Chagall and Juan O'Gorman, and her relationship with Carlos Mérida. It should be noted that many of these letters are difficult to date and that although an attempt has been made to arrange them chronologically, this was not always possible and some events described in the letters may appear to be out of sequence.

The series also contains two folders of Samuel Williams's correspondence.

The letters are arranged by category and then chronologically.

Box Reel
1 4711 Arquin, General Correspondence, 1934-1973, undated
(18 folders)
1 4711 Samuel Williams Correspondence, 1981-1985
(2 folders)
1 4711-4713 Arquin to Williams, Letters, 1940-1949
(36 folders)

Series 5: Business Records, 1943-1957
(box 1; 1 folder)

This folder contains miscellaneous business records such as work orders for the reproduction of slides.

Box Reel
1 4713 Business Records, 1943-1957

Series 6: Writings, 1939-1950, undated
(boxes 2-3; 1.5 linear ft.)

In addition to writings, this series also includes reports, slide sequences and accompanying text from projects Arquin was involved in; typescript and handwritten drafts of articles and manuscripts written by Arquin; copies of writings by others and background material to subjects, presumably used by Arquin in her research; material used in courses taught or planned by Arquin at the Art Institute of Chicago; and miscellaneous material and printed material from other sources. A bound draft of Arquin's manuscript Diego Rivera: The Shaping of an Artist, 1889-1921 can also be found here.

Box Reel
2 4713 American Council on Education Teaching Units, 1945
(16 folders)
2 4713 American Indian Section, University Museum of Philadelphia Index of Publications, 1941
2 4713 Architectural Forms Exhibit, Tentative Plan, undated
2 4713 "Art and Architecture in Latin America," by Arquin, undated
2 4713 Background Material, Mexican Murals, undated
2 4713 Background Material, Colonial Painting, undated
2 4713 Background Material, Monte Alban and Zapotec Culture, undated
2 4713 "Bay of All Saints," by José de Souza Pedreira, undated
2 4713 Caribbean Painting for Pan American Council, Press Release, undated
2 4713 "Contemporary Popular Art in Haiti," by Arquin, undated
2 4713 Report on High School Project, Art Institute of Chicago Department of Education, circa 1942
(2 folders)
2 4713 Results of Questionnaire No. 1, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Correlation Program, circa 1940
2 4713 Tentative Plans for Museum Correlation of Circulating Exhibits in Secondary Schools, 1939-1940
2 4713 Project for High Schools: Loan Exhibits and Gallery Study, undated
2 4713-4714 Secondary Schools, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Correlation Program in, 1939-1948
(8 folders)
2 4714 "A Brief Study of Similar and Contrasting Characteristics of the Ideologies of Germany and Japan as Reflected in their Painting, Posters, Sculptures etc.," Arquin, 1942
(2 folders)
2 4714 "The International Style," Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD, undated
2 4714 Kodachrome Slide Project Final Report and Slide Sequences, 1945
(8 folders)
Box Reel
3 4714 Latin American Slide Project, Slide Sequences 1950
3 4714 Membership List for American Society of Aesthetics, 1950
3 4714 "Mexican Folkways," undated
3 4714 "The Beauty of Non-Objectivity," by Hilla Rebay, undated
3 4714 "The Power of Spiritual Rhythm," by Hilla Rebay
3 4714 "Nota Sobre Las Danzas Mexicanas," bu Justine Fernández, undated
3 4714 "Pan American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago," by Arquin, 1959
3 4714 "Problems in Mexican Art," Seminar, undated
(3 folders)
3 4715 Diego Rivera: The Shaping of an Artist, 1889-1921, Bound Draft, undated
3 4715 Introduction for Catalog of Arquin's Exhibition in Mexico City, by Diego Rivera, and Review, 1943
3 4715 Miscellaneous Sections of Draft Text on Rivera, undated
(2 folders)
3 4715 "Diego Rivera - Mexican Titan," by Arquin, undated
3 4715 "Diego Rivera's Murals," Arquin Term Paper, 1942
3 4715 "Diego Rivera - Man With A Mission," by Arquin, circa 1949
3 4715 "Diego Rivera, Painter of Mexico," Outline and Draft, by Arquin, undated
3 4715 Miscellaneous (mostly in Spanish), 1939, 1952, undated
3 4715 "Survey of Art" and "History of Art" Course Outlines, circa 1939
3 4715 School Assignment Material, undated
(5 folders; includes original illustrations)
3 4715 Text for "Ciudad Trujillo," A Filmslide Sequence of Photograpic Studies in Color, by Arquin, undated
3 4715 "Three Women Painters in Contemporary Mexican Art," by Arquin, undated

Series 7: Notes, undated
(boxes 3-4; 1.5 linear ft.)

This series contains primarily hand-written notes and some background material on a wide variety of subjects, including educational programs Arquin developed. Box 4 includes an outline and related material on a survey "Understanding Picasso." There is also an art history chart in box 9 (sol).

Box Reel
3 4715-4717 Notes, undated
(26 folders)
Box Reel
4 4715-4717 Notes, undated
(45 folders)

Series 8: Photographs, 1929-1958, undated
(box 5; 0.5 linear ft.)

Many of the photographs of people found in this series are duplicated in the scrapbooks in Series 3. This series contains photographs of Arquin and individuals such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Walter Pach; photographs of Arquin's lectures and public appearences; and photographs of artwork. Miscellaneous photographs include two photographs of Carlos Mérida taken by Arquin, and photographs of Arquin giving lecture/gallery talks. Folders containing photographs of artwork by Diego Rivera also include photographs of work by other artists.

Box Reel
5 4717 Personal Photographs, circa 1930s-1950s, undated
(3 folders)
5 4717 Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1929-1958, undated
(2 folders)
5 4717 Artwork, Medieval to Rennaissance, undated
5 4717 Artwork, Miscellaneous, undated
(2 folders)
5 4717 Artwork by Frida Kahlo, undated
5 4717 Artwork by Frida Kahlo and Others, undated
5 4717 Artwork by Diego Rivera and Others, undated
5 4717 Artwork by Diego Rivera (see also box 9 for oversized photograph), undated
(22 folders)
5 4717-4718 Miscellaneous, 1930s-1950s
(3 folders)

Series 9: Printed Material, 1923-1964, undated
(boxes 5-7; 1.9 linear ft.)

This series includes magazine and news clippings from both English and Spanish publications; booklets produced by the Pan American Union and other printed material related to the Kodachrome Slide Project; periodicals such as The Pan American, which include articles written by Arquin; and Documentary Material for the Good Neighbor Tour. Printed material about Diego Rivera includes catalogs of some of his exhibitions. The 1940s folder contains a catalog from an exhibition of Arquin's work in Mexico City with an introduction by Diego Rivera.

Box Reel
5 4718-4719 Printed Material, 1923-1960, undated
(15 folders)
5 4718-4719 Printed Material, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1955-1959
(3 folders)
5 4718-4719 Printed Material, Diego Rivera, 1930s-1964, undated
(7 folders)
5 4718-4719 News Clippings, 1934-1962
(7 folders)
Box Reel
6 4718-4719 Printed Material, undated
(9 folders)
6 4718-4719 Postcards of Places and Artwork (blank), undated
(3 folders)
6 4718-4719 Mexican Folk-Ways, 1927-1937
(6 folders)
6 4718-4719 Printed Material, 1923-1944
(32 folders)
Box Reel
7 (hol) unfilmed Printed Material, 1944-1964, undated
(23 folders)
Box Reel
9 (sol) unfilmed Printed Material, 1930s-1960s, undated
(11 folders)