John DeWitt papers, 1962-1979

A Finding Aid to the John DeWitt Papers, 1962-1979, in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald

Download PDF Version of this page [Download PDF Version]

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

John DeWitt was born in 1910 and was a wood sculptor and federal arts administrator in Washingon, D.C.

DeWitt began his career as a professional writer and was a wood sculptor connected with the Veerhoff Gallery in Washington, D.C. His wife, Miriam Hapgood DeWitt, was a painter. In the late 1960s, DeWitt was the Director of Art Programs for the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Department of Interior responsible for water conservation in arid regions of the United States. At this time, the Bureau initiated a program to present its accomplishments to the public through arts commissions and exhibitions. Under the direction of DeWitt and Lloyd Goodrich of the Whitney Museum of American Art, some 40 artists including Ralston Crawford, Peter Hurd, and Norman Rockwell, were invited to depict the scope of reclamation projects in the American West. The artists were given a free hand to depict any scene in any medium as long as the subject matter pertained to the Bureau of Reclamation's program. The resulting artwork was displayed in an exhibition, The American Artist and Water Reclamation, that opened at the National Gallery of Art in April 1972, and then toured the country in a traveling exhibition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution.

As the Director of the Visual Arts Program for the Department of the Interior, DeWitt celebrated the Bicentennial by organizing the exhibition America 1976, for which he hired over forty realist painters including Vija Celmins, Ralston Crawford, Alex Katz, Philip Pearlstein, and Wayne Thiebaud, to depict a diverse range of Americana. DeWitt was employed by the Department of the Interior until 1977.

John DeWitt died in 1984.

Return to top

Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The scattered papers of federal arts administrator John DeWitt date from 1962-1979, and measure 1.4 linear feet. The collection primarily documents 1970s arts programs organized by DeWitt while working for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Department of the Interior. Found within the papers are scattered correspondence concerning the department's art projects, including the Preservation of Endangered Species Art Program and activities of the Hereward Lester Cooke Foundation. There are letters from artists Vija Celmins, Lamar Dodd, and Ethel Magafan.

Files for the two exhibitions organized by DeWitt for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, The American Artist and Water Reclamation and America 1976, include a wide variety of materials. There are correspondence, lists of artwork, printed materials, a scrapbook, financial materials, audio recordings of interviews with DeWitt, audio recordings of a symposium on America 1976, and numerous photographs of exhibited artwork and participating artists. There are also additional photographs of DeWitt and his colleagues and artists Joseph Raffael and Ann Wyeth McCoy.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 3 series; each series is arranged chronologically.

Subjects and Names

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


  • McCoy, Ann Wyeth
  • Raffael, Joseph, 1933-
  • Hereward Lester Cooke Foundation
  • United States. Bureau of Reclamation
  • America 1976 (1976-1978 -- Washington, D.C.)
  • American artist and water reclamation (1973 -- Washington, D.C.)


  • Arts administrators --Washington (D.C.)

Types of Materials:

  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Interviews
  • Sound recordings


  • aCelmins, Vija, 1939-
  • Dodd, Lamar
  • Magafan, Ethel, 1915 or 6-1993


The John DeWitt papers were donated in 1987 by DeWitt's widow, Miriam Hapgood DeWitt.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The John DeWitt 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

John DeWitt papers, 1962-1979. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Return to top

Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence, 1965-1979
(Box 1; 10 folders)

General correspondence discusses miscellaneous proposed art projects for the Bureau of Reclamation, most notably the Preservation of Endangered Species Art Program. There are scattered letters from Vija Celmins, Lamar Dodd,and Ethel Magafan, and a photocopy of a letter from Miriam Hapgood DeWitt's father, Hutchins Hapgood to Bernard Berenson, discussing Berenson's books, their friendship and Hapgood's travels on the Amalfi coast of Italy.

Box Folder
1 1 Correspondence, 1965-1971, undated
1 2 Correspondence, 1972
1 3 Correspondence, 1973
1 4 Correspondence, 1976
1 5 Correspondence, 1977-1978
1 6-7 Correspondence Concerning the Preservation of Endangered Species Art Program, 1974-1977
(2 folders)
1 8-10 Correspondence Concerning the Hereward Lester Cooke Foundation, 1975-1979
(3 folders)

Series 2: Exhibition Files, 1962-1978
(Boxes 1-2; 1.3 linear feet)

Exhibition files concern two exhibitions, The American Artist and Water Reclamation in 1972 and America 1976. Files contain a wide variety of materials, such as scattered correspondence, a drawing by William Palmer, scattered financial material, lists of exhibited artwork, miscellaneous notes, a scrapbook, clippings, exhibition catalogs; photographs of scenes of the American West; photographs of participating artists including Vija Celmins, Hereward Lester Cooke, Ralston Crawford, Richard Diebenkorn, Lamar Dodd, Michael Frary, Xavier Gonzalez, Peter Hurd, Billy Morrow Jackson, Mitchell Jamieson, Dong Kingman, Ethel Magafan, Carl Morris, William Palmer, Norman Rockwell, and Fritz Scholder; and phtotographs of their artwork. There is also an album of photographs of the opening of the exhibition The American Artist and Water Reclamation. Audio recordings on cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes contain interviews concerning the exhibition, as well as a tape of a symposium on the exhibition America 1976.

Box Folder
1 The American Artist and Water Reclamation, 1962-1974, undated
1 11 Correspondence, 1969-1972
1 12 Correspondence, 1973
1 13 Drawing by William Palmer, 1970
1 14 List of Artwork, 1973
1 15-21 Scrapbook, 1969-1973
(7 folders)
1 22-23 Clippings, 1971-1974
(2 folders)
1 24 Exhibition Catalog, 1973
1 25 Photographs of Glen Canyon, Utah, 1965-1969
1 26-31 Photographs of Miscellaneous Canyons, 1962-1974
(6 folders)
1 32 Photographs of Vincent Arcilesi, 1974
1 33 Photographs of Elmer Bischoff, 1970
1 34 Photographs of Vija Celmins and Hereward Lester Cooke, 1970-1974
1 35 Photographs of Ralston Crawford, 1969-1973
1 36 Photographs of Horace Day and James Dean, 1970
1 37 Photographs of Lamar Dodd, 1970-1973
1 38 Photographs of Ethel Edwards and Dean Fausett, 1969-1970
1 39 Photographs of Michael Frary, 1970, undated
1 40 Photographs of Lloyd Lozes Goff and Xavier Gonzalez, 1969-1970
1 41 Photographs of Peter Hurd, 1969
1 42 Photographs of Billy Morrow Jackson and Mitchell Jamieson, 1970-1971
1 43 Photographs of Dong Kingman, 1971
1 44 Photographs of Edward Laning and Ethel Magafan, 1969-1970
1 45 Photographs of Herman Maril and Fletcher Martin, 1969-1970
1 46 Photographs of Alfred McAdams and Carl Morris, 1970, undated
1 47 Photographs of William Palmer, 1970
1 48 Photographs of Roland Peterson, 1970
1 49 Photographs of Norman Rockwell, 1969
1 50 Photographs of Fritz Scholder, 1970
1 51 Photographs of Arthur Smith, 1970
1 52-53 Photographs of Unidentified Artists, 1969-1973
(2 folders)
1 54-58 Photographs of De Witt and Groups of Colleagues and Artists including Richard Diebenkorn, Lamar Dodd, Michael Frary, Carl Morris, William Palmer, and Fritz Scholder, 1970, undated
(5 folders)
1 59 Photographs of Artwork by Oliver Chafee, Michael Frary, Edward Laning, and Fletcher Martin, 1969-1972
1 60 Slides of Artwork by Richard Diebenkorn, 1972
1 61 Photographs of Artwork by Ethel Magafan, undated
1 62 Photographs of Artwork by Norman Rockwell, undated
1 63 Photographs of Artwork by William Palmer, 1971
1 64-65 Slides of Miscellaneous Artwork, 1973
(2 folders)
1 66 Slides of Artwork not Included in the Exhibition, 1971-1972, undated
1 67 Album of Photographs of the Exhibition Opening, 1972
1 68 Audio Recording on reel-to-reel tape of Interview with DeWitt, 1972
1 69 Audio Recording on Cassette of Interview with De Witt, 1972
1 America 1976, 1974-1978, undated
1 70 Correspondence, 1974-1976
1 71-72 Correspondence, 1977
(2 folders)
1 73 Correspondence, 1978
1 74 Financial Material, 1976-1977
1 75 Exhibition Guestbook, 1976
Box Folder
2 1-3 Miscellaneous Notes, 1975-1976
(3 folders)
2 4-5 Clippings, 1976-1978
(2 folders)
2 6 Exhibition Catalog, 1976
2 7 Photograph of Artwork by Vija Celmins, undated
2 8-9 Slides of Miscellaneous Artwork, 1975
(2 folders)
2 10 Photographs of the Exhibition Opening, 1976
2 11 Audiocassette of Interview with DeWitt, 1975
2 12-14 Audio recordings on Reel-to-Reel Tapes of a Symposium on the Exhibition including panelists Michael Mazur, Susan Shatter, and Alex Katz, 1975-1976
(3 folders)

Series 3: Photographs, 1970-1974
(Box 2; 1 folder)

Photographs are of John DeWitt at unidentified locations, and of artists Joseph Raffael and Ann Wyeth McCoy in Hawaii.

Box Folder
2 15 Photographs of DeWitt and of artists Joseph Raffael and Ann Wyeth McCoy, 1970-1974, undated