Helen DeMott papers, 1896-1997

A Finding Aid to the Helen DeMott Papers, 1896-1997, in the Archives of American Art, by Justin Brancato and Sarah Haug

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Biographical Information

Helen DeMott (1920-1997) was a New York City based painter and poet and well-known East Village community activist.

In the 1940s, DeMott attended the National Academy of Design and Art Students League. In the late 1960s, DeMott began focusing her work on the scientific study of waves, specifically the structure of water wave surfaces, a theme that remained in her work for the rest of her career. In 1974-1975, DeMott completed two building murals of water wave structures in New York City: Wave Spill, located at 155 First Avenue and 10th Street; and River Wave, at 509 Amsterdam Avenue. She had a solo exhibition at the Green Mountain Gallery in 1969, and exhibited at the ground-breaking alternative space, 112 Workshop/112 Greene Street in 1979. DeMott was received a number of grants and awards throughout her career including National Community Arts Competition winner in 1974, a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts (CAPS) in 1976, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1978, and a Gottleib Foundation grant in 1983. She passed away in 1997.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of painter Helen DeMott measure 7.9 linear feet and date from 1896-1997. DeMott's painting career from 1940-1996 is documented through her numerous sketchbooks and original artwork. Also found is biographical material, correspondence, writings and poems, scrapbooks, printed material, photographic material, audio and video recordings, and scattered material from collagist Ray Johnson.

The scattered biographical material contains official documents, DeMott's resume, circulars and receipts from the Art School of the National Academy of Design, and two obituaries. Correspondence includes letters from publishers regarding DeMott's book proposal "Geography into Landscape," correspondence with universities and scientific institutions regarding her Wave series, and personal correspondence including letters from photographer, filmmaker, and painter Rudy Burckhardt, writer Alfred Chester, painter Clifford Wright, and collagist Edith Schloss.

The bulk of the writings is DeMott's poetry, as well as some artist's statements, loose notes, a speech, travel diaries, and handwritten, typed, and edited manuscripts, including a typed manuscript of "Geography into Landscape." Writings by others include poetry by Celia Bland, Miriam Finkelstein, and Marie Ponsot. Scrapbooks document DeMott's research and artwork related to waves and includes clippings, photographs of artwork, sketches and notations, and typed notes on painting waves. Printed material includes magazine and newspaper articles about Helen DeMott and various other artists, and many articles related to water waves.

Photographic material includes black and white photographs of DeMott's artwork and personal photographs. Of interest is a 1943 photograph of a group at the Art Students League which includes Ester Rolick, Edith Schloss, Max Eastman, and Helen DeMott. Also found are slides and transparencies of artwork and slides for lectures on waves. Audiovisual Recordings include one reel-to-reel tape and five videotapes, some related to DeMott's study of waves.

There is one folder of material from collagist Ray Johnson containing scattered letters and mail art, exhibition fliers, and collages. Measuring 4.2 linear feet, the bulk of DeMott's papers are sketchbooks and original artwork spanning her artistic career. There are numerous loose sketches, notes, sketchbooks, holiday cards, watercolors, and oversized drawings in pencil, ink, and oil pastels, much of which is related to waves. Original artwork by others includes Esther Rolick and Edith Schloss.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 9 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 "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents and under "Names" when they are creators or contributors.

Subjects:

  • Rolick, Esther G., b. 1922
  • Schloss, Edith, 1919-
  • Johnson, Ray, 1927-
  • Eastman, Max, 1883-1969
  • Art Students League New York, N.Y.--Students--Photographs

Subjects-Topical:

  • Women artists

Types of Materials:

  • Poems
  • Photographs
  • Drawings
  • Notes
  • Sound recordings
  • Manuscripts
  • Scrapbooks
  • Sketches
  • Watercolors
  • Travel diaries
  • Video recordings

Names:

  • Burkhardt, Rudy
  • Wright, Clifford, 1919-
  • Schloss, Edith, 1919-
  • Chester, Alfred, 1928-1971
  • Bland, Celia
  • Finkelstein, Miriam
  • Ponsot, Marie

Provenance

The Helen DeMott papers were a bequest to the Archives of American Art in 2003 by James Goldiner, executive for the estate of Helen DeMott.

How the Collection was Processed

In 2003, the collection was accessioned and books were cataloged and removed. The papers were processed to a preliminary level and described by Justin Brancato in September 2006. In November 2009, the collection was minimally processed and further described by Sarah Haug.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

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

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Helen DeMott 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

Videotapes in the collection were digitized in September 2009 and are available upon request from the Archives of American Art.

How to Cite this Collection

Helen DeMott papers, 1896-1997. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1911-1997
(Box 1, 9; 0.1 linear feet)

Biographical material contains official documents, DeMott's resume, circulars and receipts from the Art School of the National Academy of Design, and two obituaries.

Folders are arranged alphabetically by subject.

Box
1 Birth Certificate, 1916
1 Curriculum Vitae, circa 1980s-1990s
1 Diploma, 1938
(Oversized material housed in Box 9)
1 Marriage Certificate, 1911
1 National Academy of Design, 1940-1942
1 Obituary, 1997
Box
9 (sol) Blessed Sacrament Academy Diploma, 1938
(Oversized material from Box 1)

Series 2: Letters and Correspondence, 1896, 1930-1995
(Box 1-2; 1.1 linear feet)

Both business and personal correspondence are found in this series. Business correspondence includes correspondence with publishers regarding DeMott's book proposal "Geography into Landscape," with universities and scientific institutions regarding the Wave series, with galleries, museums, art programs and foundations, and correspondence regarding her various committee and community activities. Much of the personal correspondence is from friends living or traveling outside of the United States; many address DeMott with familiarity and fondness, using the salutation, "Ho!" Among the correspondents are photographer, filmmaker, and painter Rudy Burckhardt, writer Alfred Chester, painter Clifford Wright, and collagist Edith Schloss. There is also a large quantity of personal postcards.

Folders are arranged alphabetically by type of correspondence, then by subject. Undated correspondence is filed at the back of each folder.

Box
1 Business, 1934-1995, undated
(4 folders)
1 Business, Book Proposal: Geography into Landscape, circa 1984-1986
1 Business, Ottendorf Library, 1966-1967
1 Personal, 1896, 1930-1995, undated
(7 folders)
1 Personal, Burckhardt, Rudy, 1947-1952, 1970
1 Personal, Chester, Alfred, 1960-1965, 1983, undated
1 Personal, DeMott, Helen, 1987-1994
1 Personal, Hacker, Lucia Vernarelli, 1947-1958, undated
(2 folders)
1 Personal, Schloss, Edith, 1947-1971, undated
(2 folders)
1 Personal, Wright, Clifford, 1949-1954
1 Postcards, 1943-1952
Box
2 Postcards, 1953-1976, undated
(4 folders)

Series 3: Writings, 1950-circa 1996
(Box 2-3; 1.0 linear feet)

The bulk of the material found in this series is poetry written by DeMott in notebooks and on loose paper. Also found are artist's statements, loose notes, a speech, travel diaries, and handwritten, typed, and edited manuscripts, including a typed manuscript of "Geography into Landscape." Writings by others includes music scores and essays, but the bulk of the material is poetry by Celia Bland, Miriam Finkelstein, Marie Ponsot, and others.

Writings by Helen DeMott are filed before writings by others. Folders are then arranged alphabetically by subject or title.

Box
2 Writings by Helen DeMott,
2 Artist's Statements, 1981, 1993, undated
(Contains original artwork)
2 "Cezanne's 'The Cardplayers'.....What's in a Game?", 1988
2 "The Chronicle of Sonta Kerosina," undated
2 City Planning Commmission Speech, 1963
2 "Geography into Landscape," circa 1980s
2 "How 'Ho' Became the Battle-Cry of Chelsea," undated
2 "Long Dog's Winter Count," 1991
2 "Mother Goose Cookbook," 1964, 1995, undated
2 Notebooks, Loose Notes, 1964-1996, undated
(3 folders)
2 Notebooks, Poetry, 1989-1996
(6 folders)
2 Notes, Various, 1968, 1983, 1991-1995, undated
2 Notes, Waves, 1974-1975, undated
2 "Octopus in the Metropolis," 1966
2 Poetry, DeMott, Helen, 1952, 1989-1996
2 Travel Diary: France, Italy, Greece and Turkey, 1950-1951
2 Waves, circa 1970s, undated
Box
3 Writings by Others,
3 Allan, Sergio Borges, "The Indian Space Painters," 1995
3 Goldscheider, Ludwig, "Jan Vermeer: The Paintings Complete Edition," undated
3 Music Tablature, 1968-1975, undated
3 Poetry, Bland, Celia, 1996, undated
3 Poetry, Finkelstein, Miriam, 1990-1996, undated
3 Poetry, Ponsot, Marie, 1996, undated
3 Poetry, Various Artists, A-Z, 1994-1996, undated

Series 4: Scrapbooks, 1967-1989
(Box 3; 0.1 linear feet)

Scrapbooks related to DeMott's Waves series includes clippings, photographs of artwork, sketches and notations, and typed notes on painting waves. Much of the material is photocopied.

Folders are arranged chronologically.

Box
3 Waves, 1967-1973
3 Waves, 1967-1975, 1985-1989, undated

Series 5: Printed Material, 1961-1996
(Boxes 3, 9; 0.2 linear feet)

Printed material includes magazine and newspaper articles about DeMott, various other artists, and scientific articles related to water waves. Also found are clippings of images, exhibition announcements, a sign, and a poster. Many articles are photocopies.

Folders are arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Box
3 Catalogue, "Artists of the Lower East Side," 1975
3 Exhibition Announcements, 1977-1991, undated
3 Exhibition Sign, undated
3 Magazine and Newspaper Clippings, 1969-1993, undated
3 Magazine and Newspaper Clippings, Various Artists, 1982-1991, undated
3 Magazine Clippings, Bore and Meander, Chaos (Fractals), 1979-1996
3 Magazine Clippings, Helen DeMott, 1963-1977, 1991
3 Poster, 1985
(Oversized material housed in Box 9)
3 Various Printed Material, Clippings of Images, undated
3 Various Printed Material, New York City Housing, 1961-1962, undated
Box
9 (sol) "Conch Music" Poster, 1985
(Oversized material from Box 3)

Series 6: Photographic Material, circa 1920s-1996
(Box 3-4, 9; 0.8 linear feet)

Photographic material includes black and white photographs of DeMott's artwork and personal photographs. Most of the artwork photographs are taken by Rudulph (Rudy) Burckhardt and have notations on the back with dimensions, title, date of creation, and ownership information. Personal photographs are mostly snapshots of unidentified persons in New York and Italy, circa 1920s-1930s, and DeMott and others with dogs, circa 1960s-1990s. Also found are slides of artwork, slides for lectures on waves, notes on slides, and transparencies of artwork.

Folders are arranged alphabetically by type of material, then by subject.

Box
3 Photographs and Negatives,
3 Artwork (1940-1982), undated
(3 folders)
3 Ocean Photographs, 1967, 1990
(Oversized material housed in Box 9)
3 Personal, circa 1920s-1991, undated
(7 folders; Oversized material housed in Box 9)
3 Slides,
3 Artwork (1945-1991), undated
(3 folders)
Box
4 Slides,
4 Artwork, Miscellaneous, undated
4 Artwork by Cezanne and Caravaggio, undated
4 Lectures Slides (Waves), undated
4 Notes on Slides, 1978-1996, undated
4 Personal (1971-1982), undated
4 Transparencies, Artwork, undated
Box
9 (sol) Ocean Photographs, 1967, 1990
(Oversized material from Box 3)
9 (sol) Personal, "Fun for Funds," Art Students League, 1943
(Oversized material from Box 3)

Series 7: Audiovisual Recordings, 1975, 1978, undated
(Box 4; 0.4 linear feet)

Found is one sound tape reel (1/4 in. tape) of a music recording and two video recordings on five videoreels (1/2 in. tape), including "Chorda," a dance performance, and multiple copies of DeMott's "Wave Notes."

Folders are arranged alphabetically by type of material, then by title.

Box
4 Bach, Suite #3, undated
(1 sound tape reel)
4 "Chorda," 1978 March 31
(1 videoreel)
4 "Wave Notes," 1975 July 17
(2 folders; 1 videoreel, 3 duplicate videoreels)

Series 8: Ray Johnson, 1947, 1963, undated
(Box 4; 1 folder)

Found is one folder of scattered letters, mail art, exhibition fliers, and collages by collagist Ray Johnson.

Box
4 Collages/Mail Art/Letters, 1947, 1963, undated

Series 9: Artwork, 1941-1996
(Box 4-9, OV 10-13; 4.2 linear feet)

The bulk of the material found are sketchbooks from 1941-1996 and DeMott's original artwork related to water waves. The sketchbooks primarily contain pencil and ink drawings; many also include notes on and sketches of waves. Also found are numerous loose sketches and notes, holiday cards, watercolors, and oversized drawings in pencil, ink, and oil pastels. Original artwork by others include Esther Rolick and Edith Schloss.

Folders are arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Box
4 Collage Poster, undated
(Oversized material housed in Box 9)
4 Drawings, 1941-1986, undated
(3 folders; Oversized material housed in Box 9, OV 13)
4 Drawings, European Landscapes, circa 1950s
(Oversized material housed in Box 9)
4 Drawings and Printed Material (used for reference), 1979-1996, undated
4 Gifts of Artwork to Helen DeMott, 1941-1986, undated
(2 folders; Oversized material housed in Box 9)
4 Holiday Cards, Miscellaneous, 1964-1971, 1985-1995, undated
4 Pastel on Paper, 1961-1966
(Oversized material housed in Box 9)
Box
5 Pastel on Paper, 1966-1990, undated
(Oversized material housed in Box 9, OV 13)
5 Postcard Collages by Others, 1948, 1969, 1981-1982, undated
5 Prints, 1942-1948, 1963-1968, undated
5 Sketchbooks, 1941-1975
(16 folders)
Box
6 Sketchbooks, 1976-1987
(10 folders)
Box
7 Sketchbooks, 1986-1996, undated
(9 folders)
7 Watercolors, 1942-1966, undated
(Oversized material housed in OV 13)
7 Wave Series, 1967-1971
(2 folders)
Box
8 (pam) Wave Series, 1971-1996, undated
(3 folders; Oversized material housed in Box 9, OV 10-12)
Box
9 (sol) Oversized Collage Poster, undated
(Oversized material from Box 4)
9 (sol) Oversized Drawings, 1959-circa 1966
(Oversized material from Box 4)
9 (sol) Oversized Drawings, 1976-1980
(Oversized material from Box 4)
9 (sol) Oversized Drawings, 1986
(Oversized material from Box 4)
9 (sol) Oversized Drawings, undated
(Oversized material from Box 4)
9 (sol) Oversized Drawings, European Landscapes, circa 1950s
(2 folders; Oversized material from Box 4)
9 (sol) Oversized Gifts of Artwork to Helen DeMott, 1959-1969
(Oversized material from Box 4)
9 (sol) Oversized Pastel on Paper, 1962-1964
(Oversized material from Box 4)
9 (sol) Oversized Pastel on Paper, 1982-1990
(Oversized material from Box 5)
9 (sol) Oversized Wave Series, 1980-1996, undated
(Oversized material from Box 8)
Box
OV 10 Oversized Wave Series, 1978, 1986-1991
(Oversized material from Box 8)
Box
OV 11 Oversized Wave Series, 1992-1993
(Oversized material from Box 8)
Box
OV 12 Oversized Wave Series, 1993-1996, undated
(Oversized material from Box 8)
Box
OV 13 Oversized Drawings, 1943
(Oversized material from Box 4)
OV 13 Oversized Pastel on Paper, 1990
(Oversized material from Box 5)
OV 13 Oversized Watercolors, 1958, 1965-1966
(Oversized material from Box 7)