A Finding Aid to the Gertrude Abercrombie papers,
circa 1880-1986, bulk 1935-1977, in the Archives of American Art, by Catherine S. Gaines
Table of Contents:
- Biographical Information
- Overview of the Collection
- How to Use the Collection
- Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Surrealist painter Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977) lived and worked in Chicago and was a prominent member of Chicago's Hyde Park arts community.
Abercrombie was known for surrealist oil paintings featuring dreamlike landscapes and fantasies. Her wide circle of friends included locally and nationally known artists, writers, and jazz musicians who made her home a popular avant-garde salon. She was the inspiration for Richie Powell's "Gertrude's Bounce" and, appeared as a fictional character in Malcolm, Eustace Chisholm, and as herself in Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue all by James Purdy.
The only child of Tom and Lula Janes [Jane] Abercrombie, Gertrude was born in Austin, Texas in 1909, while her opera singer parents were in town with a traveling company. In 1913, the family relocated to Berlin to further Jane's career, but the outbreak of World War I forced their return to the United States. They lived with Tom Abercrombie's family in Alledo, Illinois, before permanently settling in Chicago.
Gertrude Abercrombie had a facility with language and possessed musical and artistic talents. After graduation from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a degree in romance languages in 1929, she studied figure drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a short time. She then enrolled at the American Arcademy of Art, also in Chicago, for a year long course in commercial art. Her first job was drawing gloves for Mesirow Department Store ads, followed by a stint working as an artist for Sears.
By 1932, Gertrude Abercrombie began painting seriously. The following summer, she participated in an outdoor art fair in downtown Chicago where she made her first sale and received favorable mention in a newspaper review of the event. Abercrombie's work that featured self-portraits and recurring images of personal symbols - trees, horses, owls, keys, shells, doors, stairways, ladders - began to attract attention. Beginning in 1934, Gertrude Abercrombie was employment as a painter in the WPA Federal Art Project in 1934, enabling her to feel validated as an artist and move from the home of her conservative, Christian Scientist parents to her own apartment. The Chicago Society of Artists presented a solo exhibition of Abercrombie's work in 1934, and in 1936 she showed at the Katharine Kuh Gallery (along with Rita Stein and Nicola Ziroli). In 1936 and 1938 Gertrude Abercrombie won prizes at the Art Institute of Chicago's Annual Exhibition of Works by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity.
She left the WPA in 1940 and married lawyer Robert Livingston. Their daughter, Dinah, was born in 1942, and they soon moved to a large Victorian house on South Dorchester St. where Gertude lived for the remainder of her life. The couple divorced in 1948. That same year she married Frank Sandiford, a music critic whose pen name was Paul Warren. An accomplished improvisational pianist, Gertrude Abercrombie became friends with many prominent jazz artists whom she met through Sandiford; in fact, Dizzy Gillespie performed at their wedding. Abercrombie and Sandiford separated in 1964.
The 1940s through 1950s were Gertrude Abercrombie's most productive and prolific period. Although she no longer painted many portraits, he work remained focused on the same themes and symbols. She believed that art was about ideas rather than technique and insisted that "It is always myself that I paint." During this period, Amercrombie exhibited widely in group shows and had solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, Associated American Artists (New York), and Leonard Linn, Inc. (Winnetka, Ill.)
By the late 1950s, Gertrude Abercrombie began a long decline. Alcoholism started to take a toll. She suffered serious financial reverses, and in 1964 separated from Frank Sandiford. Debilitating arthritis eventually landed her in a wheel chair, and she became reclusive. In 1977, very near the end of her life, Gertrude Abercrombie was honored with a well-received retrospective exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago. She was able to attend the reception and enjoy seeing the many old friends who were at the event.
Gertrude Abercrombie died in Chicago in 1977. Her will established The Gertrude Abercrombie Trust that cared for and distributed to various institutions her own paintings and a personal collection of works by other artists to selected institutions, mainly in the Midwest.
Overview of the Collection
Scope and Contents
The papers of surrealist artist Gertrude Abercrombie date from circa 1880-1986, with the bulk of the material dated 1935-1977, and measure 5.7 linear feet. Found within the papers are biographical material; correspondence (mostly incoming letters) with friends, museums, and galleries; artists files; writings and notes, including five journal-type notebooks; scattered personal business records; two sketchbooks by Abercrombie and additional sketches and drawings, some by others; printed material, audio recordings, one scrapbook, photographs, and estate records.
Biographical material consists of biographical notes, Gertrude Abercrombie's will, address books, and a file titled "memorabilia." Personal and professional correspondence consists mainly of incoming letters and some drafts of Gertrude Abercrombie's outgoing letters. Letters from museums and galleries concern loans of paintings and exhibitions. A large amount of the personal correspondence consists of post cards including many antique ones, as well as cards containing original art work by Julio de Diego, Jerry [Jerome] Karidis, Karl Priebe.
Artist files consist of correspondence, printed material, and photographs concerning painters, writers, a jazz musician, and a photographer. The individuals represented are: Dudley Huppler, Jerome Karidis, Karl Priebe, James Purdy, Sonny Rollins, Carl Van Vechten, Wendell Wilcox, John Wilde, and Thornton Wilder.
Writings and notes include reminiscences, miscellaneous writings and notes, and a girlhood diary with brief entries. Five notebooks contain a variety of writings dating from 1953 through 1975, and undated. One volume concerns only her second husband Frank Sandiford.
Business records include a painting catalog on file cards, mailing and guest lists, and miscellaneous sales records. In addition, six notebooks record expenses, sales, inventories, mailing lists, a register of paintings, and a guest book.
There are two sketchbooks, Christmas card designs, sketches and drawings done by Gertrude Abercrombie. There are also prints, drawings, and a painting by Emil Arman, B. Evans, de Diego, and unknown artists.
Printed material consists of articles and clippings about Gertrude Abercrombie, exhibition catalogs, and reproductions. Also included are books by friends inscribed by the authors, among them: Nelson Algren, Richard Armour, Dudley Huppler, James Purdy, Ned Rorem, Paul Warren [pen name of Abercrombie's second husband, Frank Sandiford], Studs Terkel, and Thornton Wilder.
Audio recordings (33-1/3 rpm phonograph alums) are inscribed to Gertrude Abercrombie by the artists. Orlando's album cover, designed by Abercrombie, incorporates one of her paintings.
Records of the Estate of Gertrude Abercrombie and the Gertrude Abercrombie Trust, Donald Baum, Executor, consist mainly of correspondence with the institutions that were offered works of art by Gertrude Abercrombie and from her personal collection. Also included are general correspondence, financial and tax records, and legal documents.
There is one scrapbook dated 1943 containing photographs and printed material.
Photographs are of art work, people, places, and miscellaneous subjects; negatives, slides, and transparencies are included in this series, too. Photographs of art include the work of Gertrude Abercrombie, Karl Priebe, and Charles Sebree. People pictured are Gertrude Abercrombie and family, including her parents, Richard I. Livingston, Dinah Livingston, and Frank Sandiford. There are also 19th and early 20th century photographs of ancestors. Among the images of friends are: Ivan le Lorraine Albright, Arnold Blanch, Dudley Huppler, Doris Lee, Karl Priebe, and Richard Purdy. Photographs of jazz artists include: Louis Armstrong, George Davis, Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Orlando, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughn, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Of particular note the portraits of Gertrude Abercrombie and Dizzy Gillespie by Carl Van Vechten.Among the photographs of places are interior views of Gertrude Abercrombie's home and studio, unidentified landscapes, travel pictures of San Francisco and commercially produced stereopticon slides of other locations. Miscellaneous subjects are automobiles, cats, exhibition installations, and a still life setup.
Arrangement and Series Description
The collection is arranged into 11 series:
- Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1902-1976 (Box 1, OV9; 0.1 linear ft.)
- Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1935-1977 (Boxes 1-2; 1.65 linear ft.)
- Series 3: Artist files, circa 1935-1977 (Box 2; 0.25 linear ft.)
- Series 4: Writings and Notes, circa 1919-1977 (Box 3; 0.1 linear ft.)
- Series 5: Business Records, circa 1944-1977 (Box 3; 0.2 linear ft.)
- Series 6: Art Work, circa 1939-1975 (Boxes 3, 7; O.2 linear ft.)
- Series 7: Printed Material, circa 1906-1977 (Boxes 3-4; 1.6 linear ft.)
- Series 8: Audio Recordings, circa 1970-1974 (Box 7; 0.1 linear ft.)
- Series 9: Estate Records, circa 1976-1986 (Box 5; o.5 linear ft.)
- Series 10: Scrapbook, circa 1943(Box 5; 1 folder)
- Series 11: Photographs, circa 1880-1978(Boxes 5-7; OV8, 1.0 linear ft.)
Subjects and Names
This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms:
- Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981
- Amour, Richard
- Arman, Emil
- De Diego, Julio, 1900-
- Evans, B.
- Huppler, Dudley, 1917-1988
- Karidis, Jerome
- Priebe, Karl J., 1914-1976
- Purdy, James
- Rollins, Sonny
- Rorem, Ned, 1923-
- Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008
- Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964
- Warren, Paul, 1916-
- Wilcox, Wendell
- Wilde, John, 1919-
- Wilder, Thornton, 1897-1975
- Sound recordings
Donald Baum, executor of both the estate and trust of Gertrude Abercrombie, donated the papers to the Archives of American Art in 1978 and 1986.
Separated and Related Materials
A photograph of Gertrude Abercrombie at home with her painting "Slaughter House", was donated by Donald Baum to the National Collection of Fine Arts in 1979 and transferred to the Archives of American Art that same year.
How the Collection was Processed
The collection was minimally arranged and microfilmed on reels 1429-1435, and processed and arranged in 2007 according to archival standards.
How to Use the Collection
Restrictions on Use
Use of original papers requires an appointment.
Ownership & Literary Rights
The Gertrude Abercrombie 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.
A portion of the collection is available on microfilm reels 1429-1435, and for interlibrary loan. The arrangement on microfilm may differ from the current arrangement.
How to Cite this Collection
The Gertrude Abercrombie papers, circa 1880-1986, bulk 1935-1977. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Biographical Material, circa 1902-1976
0.1 Linear feet; Box 1, OV 9
Biographical material consists of biographical notes, Gertrude Abercrombie's will, address books, and a file titled "memorabilia." Among the memorabilia are: the wedding announcement of Gertrude Abercrombie and Robert I. Livingston; daughter Dinah Livingston's childhood letters and greeting cards to her mother, along with school records; miscellaneous printed material includes a newspaper clipping about the Aledo championship football team of 1900, of which Gertrude's father, Tom Abercrombie, was a member.
(3 vols. and loose slips)
|1||2||Biographical Notes, undated|
|1||3||Chicago City Council Tribute to Gertrude Abercrombie, 1977|
|1||4||Memorabilia, 1902-1967, undated|
|1||5||Stock Certificate, 1932|
|OV 9||Certificate and Diplomas, 1921-1929|
Correspondence, circa 1935-1977
1.65 Linear feet; Boxes 1-2
Personal and professional correspondence consists mainly of incoming letters and some drafts of Gertrude Abercrombie's outgoing letters. Letters from museums and galleries concern loans of paintings and exhibitions. A large amount of the personal correspondence consists of post cards including many antique ones, and cards containing original art work by Julio de Diego, Jerry [Jerome] Karidis, Karl Priebe.
|1||7-8||Correspondence (Anderson-Williams; unidentified, Alice-Reg), undated|
|1||9-28||Correspondence, 1935-1965, undated|
|2||17||Greeting Cards, 1950-1977|
Artist files, circa 1935-1977
0.25 Linear feet; Box 2
Artist files consist of correspondence, printed material, and photographs concerning painters, writers, a jazz musician, and a photographer. The individuals represented are: Dudley Huppler, Jerome Karidis, Karl Priebe, James Purdy, Sonny Rollins, Carl Van Vechten, Wendell Wilcox, John Wilde, and Thornton Wilder. Additional letters from many of these people are included with correspondence (Series 1).
|2||18||Huppler, Dudley, 1950-1971, undated|
|2||19-20||Karidis, Jerome, 1951-1977, undated|
|2||21||Priebe, Karl, 1940-1976, undated|
|2||22||Purdy, James, 1953-1977, undated|
|2||23||Rollins, Sonny, 1962-1975|
|2||24||Van Vechten, Carl, 1950-1956|
|2||25-26||Wilcox, Wendell, 1947-1975, undated|
|2||27||Wilde, John, 1951-1968, undated|
|2||28||Wilder, Thornton, 1935-1975, undated|
Writings and Notes, circa 1919-1977
0.1 Linear feet; Box 3
Among the writings and notes are a girlhood diary with brief entries, reminiscences, miscellaneous writings and notes. Notebooks contain a variety of writings: Vol. 1: 1953-1959, includes income and expenses, quips, reminiscences, miscellaneous notes; Vol. 2: 1959 is a brief journal; Vol. 3: 1971-1975 includes reminiscences; Vol. 4: undated, features lists of cats, roomers, names and addresses; and Vol. 5: undated, is about Frank Sandiford, her second husband.
Diary, 1919, 1924
|3||2||Writings and Notes, 1963, 1975, undated|
Notebooks, 1953-1959, 1971-1977, undated
Business Records, circa 1944-1977
0.2 Linear feet; Box 3
Business Records: Vol. 1: 1949 (expenses, sales, inventory, profit and loss, mailing lists); Vol. 2: 1950-1959 (painting register); Vol. 3: 1950-1966 (sales register); Vol. 4: 1952-1957 (paintings exhibited); Vol. 5: 1957 ("Fall Opening" guest register); Vol. 6: 1969-1970 (sales at shows)
Business Records, 1949-1969
|3||Catalog File of Paintings|
|3||6||Out; In Studio, undated|
|3||7||Disposed Of (includes sales), undated|
|3||8||Sales [folded sheets in Catalog File], undated|
|3||9||Gilman Galleries, 1964, undated|
|3||10||Mailing Lists and Guest Lists, 1977, undated|
Art Work, circa 1939-1975
0.2 Linear feet; Boxes 3, 7
Art work by Gertrude Abercrombie consists of two sketchbooks, Christmas card designs, sketches and drawings. There are also prints, drawings, and a painting by Emil Arman, B. Evans, de Diego, and unknown.
|3||By Gertrude Abercrombie|
|3||11||Christmas Card Designs, 1939, undated|
|3||13||Sketches and Drawings, 1940-1957, undated|
By Other Artists - Prints, Drawings, and Painting (Emil arman, B. Evans, Naomi Khrson, and unknown), 1975, undated
By Gertrude Abercrombie - Sketchbook; By Other Artists - Print (de Diego), undated
(disbound volume, original collation)
Printed Material, circa 1906-1977
1.6 Linear feet; Boxes 3-4
Printed material consists of articles and clippings about Gertrude Abercrombie, exhibition catalogs, and reproductions. Also included are books by friends inscribed by the authors, among them: Nelson Algren, Richard Armour, Dudley Huppler, James Purdy, Ned Rorem, Paul Warren [pen name of Abercrombie's second husband, Frank Sandiford], Studs Terkel, and Thornton Wilder
|3||15-16||Articles about/mentioning Gertrude Abercrombie, 1946-1976|
Books - Inscribed by Authors, 1939-1974
Books - Inscribed by Authors, 1939-1974
Books - Inscribed by Others, 1930-1939
|4||3||Books - Not Inscribed (History of the Hyde Park Art Center 1939-1976), 1976|
|4||4-5||Gertrude Abercrombie, undated|
|4||6||Gertrude Abercrombie, 1954-1979|
|4||7||Artists, 1933-1974, undated|
|4||8||Jazz, 1948-1975, undated|
|4||9||Miscellaneous Art Topics, 1968-1977, undated|
|4||10||Miscellaneous Subjects (not art related), 1938-1973, undated|
|4||11-18||Exhibition Catalogs and Announcements, 1932-1977, undated|
|4||19||Exhibition Catalogs (not Gertrude Abercrombie), 1936-1976, undated|
|4||20||Miscellaneous Printed Items, 1906-1951, undated|
|4||21||Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion (no. 3), 1976|
|4||22||The Living Museum, 1985|
|4||23-25||Manuscript (April 1935 and April 1936 issues contain pieces by Wendell Wilcox), 1935-1936|
|4||26||Postcards (blank), undated|
|4||27-28||Reproductions [from magazines and lecture programs], 1937-1973, undated|
Audio Recordings, circa 1970-1974
0.1 Linear feet; Box 7
All recordings are 33-1/3 rpm phonograph alums inscribed to Gertrude Abercrombie by the artists. Orlando's album cover, designed by Abercrombie, incorporates one of her paintings.
|7||2||Cain, Jackie and Roy Kral. "Time and Love" and "A Wilder Alias," 1972, circa 1974|
|7||3||Gillespie, Dizzy. "Dizzy on the French Rivera," undated|
|7||4||Orlando. "Orlando!...," 1970|
Estate Records, circa 1976-1986
0.5 Linear feet; Box 5
Records of the Estate of Gertrude Abercrombie and the Gertrude Abercrombie Trust, Donald Baum, Executor, consist mainly of correspondence with institutions being offered works of art by Gertrude Abercrombie and from her personal art collection. In addition, general correspondence, financial and tax records, and legal documents are included.
|5||4||Correspondence with Auction House (Henzel Galleries, Inc.), 1977-1980|
|5||5||Correspondence with Conservator Barry R. Bauman, 1979-1980|
Correspondence with Institutions, 1875-1885
|5||29||Financial Records, 1977-1984, undated|
|5||30||Inventories, 1977-1980, undated|
|5||31||Legal Documents, 1976-1980|
|5||33||Tax Returns, 1977-1984|
Scrapbook, circa 1943
0.2 Linear feet; Box 5
The scrapbook contains photographs of works by Gertrude Abercrombie and a small amount of printed material consisting of reviews and pages from exhibition catalogs.
|5||34||Scrapbook (1 vol. disbound), 1943, undated|
Photographs, circa 1880-1978
1 Linear foot; Boxes 5-7; OV 8
Photographs are of art work, people, places, and miscellaneous subjects; negatives, slides, and transparencies are included in this series, too.
Photographs of art include the work of Gertrude Abercrombie, Karl Priebe, and Charles Sebree.
People pictured are Gertrude Abercrombie and family, including her parents, Richard I. Livingston, Dinah Livingston, and Frank Sandiford. There are also 19th and early 20th century photographs of ancestors. Among the images of friends are: Ivan le Lorraine Albright, Arnold Blanch, Dudley Huppler, Doris Lee, Karl Priebe, and Richard Purdy. Photographs of jazz artists include: Louis Armstrong, George Davis, Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Orlando, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughn, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Of particular note the portraits of Gertrude Abercrombie and Dizzy Gillespie by Carl Van Vechten.
Among the photographs of places are interior views of Gertrude Abercrombie's home and studio, unidentified landscapes, travel pictures of San Francisco and commercially produced stereopticon slides of other locations. Miscellaneous subjects are automobiles, cats, exhibition installations, and a still life setup.
Photographs are arranged into 5 subseries:
- Subseries 1: Art Work, 1978, undated
- Subseries 2: People, circa 1880-1976, undated
- Subseries 3: Places, 1958-1971, undated
- Subseries 4: Miscellaneous Subjects, 1931-1961, undated
- Subseries 5: Negatives, Slides, and Transparencies, 1963, undated
11.1: Art work, 1978, undated
|5||35-36||By Gertrude Abercrombie, 1935-1978, undated|
|5||37||By Other Artists (works by Karl Priebe, Charles Sebree, and unknown, owned by Gertrude Abercrombie), undated|
11.2: People, circa 1880-1976, undated
Gertrude Abercrombie (includes portrait by Carl Van Vechten), circa 1909-1970s
Gertrude Abercrombie with Groups (including Cameron, Huppler, Sandiford, Priebe, and unidentified), 1953-1960, undated
|5||46||Gertrude Abercrombie with Groups (unidentified), undated|
|5||47||Gertrude Abercrombie with Individuals (Alizier, Benjamin, Cameron), 1939-1954, undated|
Gertrude Abercrombie with Individuals (unidentified), 1932-1966, undated
Gertrude Abercrombie and Friends, circa 1945
(26 Photomatic pictures in small metal frames)
|5||51||Emma Gertrude Stevens Christmas Abercrombie [grandmother], 19th century|
|5||52||Joseph Abercrombie [grandfather?], 19th century|
|5||53||Tom and Jane Abercrombie [parents] (some views with Gertrude), 19th century-1920s, undated|
Dinah Livingston [daughter], circa 1942-1960s
|5||55||Robert Livingston [first husband] (some views with Gertrude and Dinah), undated|
|5||56||Frank Sandiford [second husband] (some views with Gertrude, unidentified individuals, and groups), 1947-1959, undated|
|5||57||Mr. and Mrs. James Stevens (Christmas) [great grandparents], 19th century|
|5||58||Unidentified Relatives, 19th century-1931, undated|
|6||1||Groups (including Don Baum, Arnold Blanch, Lester Bridaham, Dudley Huppler, Doris Lee, and Karl Priebe), 1936-1970, undated|
|6||2||Groups (unidentified), 1942-1969, undated|
Individuals (Albright-Pearson), 1934-1975, undated
|6||4||Individuals (Priebe, Karl), 1970, undated|
Individuals (Ruwolo [?]-Woolf), 1942, undated
Individuals (Unidentified), 1936-1976, undated
Jazz Artists (Armstrong-Garner), undated
|6||8||Jazz Artists (Gillsepie, Dizzy; includes portraits by Carl Van Vechten), 1947, undated|
Jazz Artists (Gordon-Washington), 1947, undated
|6||10||Jazz Artists (unidentified), undated|
|6||11||Jazz Artists - Groups (Modern Jazz Quartet), undated|
|6||12||Jazz Artists - Groups (including Davis, Harris, Roach, Rollins, Vaughn, unidentified, Gertrude Abercrombie and Frank Sandiford), 1959, undated|
Gertrude Abercrombie, undated
Gertrude Abercrombie with Others (school picture; with unidentified man), circa 1923, undated
Family and Individuals (Dinah Livingston [daughter]; Richard Purdy), undated
Jazz Artists (Davis, George; unidentified), undated
|OV 8||Gertrude (Raphael McPerhson, photographer); Unidentified Man, 19th century; undated|
11.3: Places, 1958-1971, undated
|6||13-14||Buildings - Exteriors (home of Gertrude Abercrombie [?]; unidentified), 1958, undated|
|6||15||Buildings - Interiors (home and studio of Gertrude Abercrombie), 1971, undated|
|6||16||Landscapes (unidentified), undated|
|6||17||San Francisco, undated|
|6||18||Stereopticon Slides (mainly travel pictures), circa 1880-1900|
11.4: Miscellaneous Subjects, 1931-1961, undated
|6||22||Exhibitions (unidentified group show with self-portrait; "Shells from the Collections of Gertrude Abercrombie," 1931, undated|
|6||23||Sailboat, "Jolly Molly," 1961|
|6||24||Still Life Setup, undated, undated|
11.5: Negatives, Slides, and Transparencies, 1963, undated
|6||26||Slides, 1963, undated|
|6||33||Miscellaneous Subjects (negatives), undated|