Mary Shaffer papers, 1969-2002

A Finding Aid to the Mary Shaffer Papers, 1969-2002, in the Archives of American Art, by Stephanie Ashley

Download PDF Version of this page [Download PDF Version]

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Sculptor and glass artist Mary Shaffer was born in Walterboro, South Carolina, in 1947. As a child she lived in South America and her first language was Spanish. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design where she studied illustration and minored in painting. Having a mother who believed strongly in the value of travel as education, she also attended the Ecole d'Humanite in Goldern, Switzerland, for several years.

Shaffer is recognized worldwide as one of the founding artists of the American Studio Glass Movement. In the early 1970s she adapted an auto industry technique for shaping windshield glass into a "mid-air slumping," process which allowed her to move glass in a particular way as it was heated. She then began mixing glass and metal tools, casting, dipping and slumping glass from objects found in flea markets and junk yards, and innovatively extending her materials to include "light, bronze, steel, stone and glass, water and sound."

In the 1970s and 1980s Shaffer taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, Wellesley College, and New York University where she was Director of the Crafts Program in the Department of Art and Art Education. She also managed the Art Center at the University of Maryland in the 1980s. From 1975 on she exhibited her work at O.K. Harris Gallery in New York (a gallery primarily devoted to painting and non craft sculpture), and has also shown in glass-specific or craft venues such as Habatat Galleries in Michigan and Boca Raton, Florida, Hellery Gallery in New York, and Anne O'Brien Gallery in Washington, DC. In 1992 Shaffer completed the installation of her largest sculpture to date, Center-Light, a luminous column of glass and bronze in the three-story open stairwell of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, a building designed by architects Cesare Pelli and Associates.

Shaffer's work can be found in the collections of nearly twenty major museums worldwide including the American Craft Museum, the Corning Glass Museum, the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. She has received numerous honors and awards for her work, and has been honored by the American Craft Museum as a Visionary.

Shaffer moved to Marfa, Texas, in 2001 after having been a long-time resident of Bethesda, Maryland, and having studios in Maryland and, later, New York.

Return to top

Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of internationally renowned glass artist and sculptor, Mary Shaffer, measure four linear feet and date from 1969 to 2002. Through correspondence, subject files, printed material and photographs the collection provides an overview of many aspects of Shaffer's career, including commissions, exhibitions, her teaching appointments, and the day-to-day administration of her affairs.

Correspondence files (Series 1) cross-referenced with records organized by subject (Series 2) provide insight into Shaffer's artistic aspirations and techniques, and represent a good overview of Shaffer's important contribution to the American Studio Glass Movement. These two series document her interaction with galleries, museums, and individual clients, her work as an educator, and her participation in glass and sculpture-related conferences and programs both at home and abroad. The collection provides solid documentation of specific methods used by Shaffer in her work, particularly in Series 3: Center-Light Project, which details her choice and designs for glass notching tubes, plate glass, fiber optics, and other materials. Additional commissions and techniques are documented in Series 1 and 2.

Series 4: Printed Material provides a good overview of the progress of Shaffer's career and an understanding of the significance of her work.

Arrangement and Series Description

In general, files are arranged either chronologically or alphabetically by subject. Within files material is generally arranged chronologically. Every effort was made to retain Shaffer's original arrangement as it provided context for the records, but some re-arrangement of unfiled material and re-naming of subject headings for clarification was necessary during processing. The collection is arranged as five series:

Subjects and Names

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

  • Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America
  • Art--Study and teaching
  • Glass art--United States--20th century
  • Glass artists
  • Glass sculpture
  • Photographs
  • Sculptors
  • Women sculptors


The collection was donated to the Archives of American Art by Mary Shaffer in 2002.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was processed by Stephanie Ashley in December 2002 and January 2003 with funding provided by the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

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

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Mary Shaffer 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

Mary Shaffer papers, 1969-2002. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Return to top

Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence, 1973-1998, undated
(box 1, OV 5, 0.8 linear ft.)

This series primarily contains Shaffer's outgoing correspondence, the bulk of which dates from 1990-1993, when Shaffer maintained files chronologically and by subject. The series also contains both incoming and outgoing correspondence dating from 1973 to 1998.

The material documents Shaffer's day-to-day management of her affairs and includes administrative records, routine inquiries and responses to requests for information about her work, in addition to information about specific commissions and sales, such as her Hanging Series for Iowa City Hospitals, her commission for the Honolulu Police Headquarters, and her relationship with Habatat Galleries in the early 1990s. Some of Shaffer's letters contain preliminary sketches of planned work. Researchers should be aware that this series should be checked for additional information on any subject in Series 2: Subject Files.

The bulk of the correspondence is arranged chronologically. There are also several folders of correspondence organized by subject and arranged in chronological order within folders.

Box Folder
1 1-26 Correspondence, 1973-1998, undated
1 27 Correspondence, Europe, 1990-1992
1 28 Correspondence, Habatat Galleries, Inc., 1990-1992
1 29 Correspondence, Honolulu Police Headquarters, Hawaii, Pukana-Wai (see also OV 5), 1989-1992
1 30 Correspondence, Iowa City Hospital Project, 1991-1993
1 31 Correspondence, Personal, 1980, undated
OV 5 Oversized Material from Series 1

Series 2: Subject Files, 1969-1997, undated
(box 1-3, OV 5, 1.4 linear ft.)

This series contains records relating to many aspects of Shaffer's career which are organized by subject, rather than as a chronological file. The series documents three commissions undertaken by Shaffer; exhibitions in which she participated throughout the 1980s and 1990s; inventory lists of artwork, slides and articles written about her; grant and job applications she pursued; teaching appointments including student evaluations; and her design for the Sara Lee Frontrunner Awards. The series also contains several articles written by and about Shaffer, notes and notebooks, plans and sketches for various projects, r�sum�s, a transcript of an interview with Shaffer, and miscellany.

Many of the folders, such as that documenting Shaffer's commission for Huntington Galleries, include sketches in addition to those found in the folder entitled "Plans and Sketches." One folder of material on Shaffer's Czechoslovakian trip, which she recounted in an article for Craft International (found here) includes an illustrated letter from E. Eishih and a print by J. Brychtova and S. Libensky.

Files are arranged alphabetically by subject. Material within each folder is generally chronological.

Box Folder
1 32 Art and Craft Bibliography, undated
1 33 Articles About Shaffer, Drafts, 1997, undated
1 34 Articles by Shaffer, 1977-1979, undated
1 35 Calendar, 1992
1 36 Class Assignments, Notes and Required Texts, circa 1976-1980
Box Folder
2 1 Commission for Ron Abramson, 1989
2 2 Commission for Huntington Galleries, Water-Way (see also OV 5), 1981-1983
2 3 Commission for Anna and Joseph Mendel, 1991-1992
2 4 Consignment Records, 1992-1994
2 5 Contract, Oliver Carr Company, 1987-1989
2 6 Corning Museum of Glass, 1978-1980
2 7 Czechoslovakian Glass Work, 1980-1984
2 8 Czechoslovakian Trip, 1979-circa 1983
2 9 Damaged Artwork, Claims Information, 1987-1990
2 10 Exhibition, American Craft Museum, Point of View Sculpture, 1993
2 11 Exhibition, Exposition Internationale de Verre Contemporain, 1991
2 12 Exhibition, Habatat Galleries, Aspen, 1994
2 13 Exhibition, Hadler/Rodriguez Galleries, 1979-1980
2 14 Exhibition, Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1980-1981
2 15-16 Exhibitions, 1989-1997
2 17 Film on Glass Artists, 1980-circa 1984
2 18-19 Grant Applications, 1971-1994
2 20 Grant, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanitites, 1986-1987
2 21 Insurance Records, 1990-1992
2 22 Inventory List, circa 1997
2 23 Inventory Lists, Articles and Postcards, circa 1992, 1995
2 24 Inventory Lists, Slides, 1996
2 25 Kunthaus Am Museum, Carola Van Ham, 1987-1989
2 26-27 Letters of Recommendation and Job Applications, 1975-1987
2 28 Letters of Recommendation Given By Shaffer, 1983, 1991, undated
2 29-30 Mailing Lists and Business Cards, circa 1980s-1990s
2 31 Master's Thesis and Notes, 1984-1986
2 32 New York University, 1980-1982
2 33 New York University, Course Material, 1980-1982
2 34 New York University, Student Evaluations, 1980-1981
2 35 Notebooks, undated
2 36 Notes, circa 1970s-1990s
2 37 Other Artists, circa 1983-1990, undated
2 38 Plans and Sketches (see also OV 5), circa 1970s-1990s
2 39 Press Releases, circa 1970s-1990s
2 40 Proposal, South Carolina History Center, 1996-1997
2 41 R�sum�s, circa 1978-1997
2 42-43 Sales Records, 1986-1995
2 44-45 Sara Lee Frontrunner Awards, 1969, 1981-1996, undated
2 46-47 Sara Lee Frontrunner Awards, Programs, 1989-1996
2 48 Shipping Records, 1982-1994
Box Folder
3 1 Student Publicity, 1980-1983
3 2 Tax Records, 1987, 1991
3 3 Transcript of Interview with Shaffer, Karen Chambers, and Kip Eagan, 1994
3 4 University of Maryland Art Center, 1986-1987, 1994
3 5 Wellesley College, 1979-1980
3 6 Wellesley College, Student Evaluations, 1979-1980
3 7 What Cheer Arts, Inc., Publicity Material, 1972-1976
3 8 What Cheer Arts, Inc., Bills and Receipts, 1974-1978
OV 5 Oversized Material from Series 2

Series 3: Center-Light Project, 1985-1993
(box 3, OV 5, 0.7 linear ft.)

This series documents Shaffer's project to build and install a sixty-foot "tower" of tubular glass in the three-story stairwell of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center (PAC) in Charlotte, North Carolina. The entire process, from Shaffer's selection for the commission, to installation of the sculpture is recorded here in correspondence with project personnel and material suppliers and fabricators, notes of meetings, publicity material including artist statements on the work, architectural plans of the PAC, and Shaffer's sketches and designs. The series documents details of the installation such as how the sculpture was suspended from the ceiling with stainless steel rods and lit from within by fiber optics.

At the end of the project, Shaffer took legal action against the PAC due to their failure to pay her the final sum due under the contract. Records of this action are also included here.

Box Folder
3 9 Background on Charlotte, Printed Material, 1985-1990
3 10 Background on Charlotte, Notes on Contacts, 1988-1990
3 11-12 Baker Metal Products, Inc., 1991-1992
3 13 Bills and Budget, 1990-1992
3 14 City Council Material, 1988-1989
3 15 Conversation Log, 1989-1991
3 16-22 Correspondence, 1988-1993
3 23-24 Glass and Notching Tubes, 1991-1992
3 25 Lawsuit, 1990-1993
3 26 Meeting Notes, 1991
3 27 Middleton McMillan Architects, Carole Hoefener, 1990-1991
3 28 Notes, circa 1990-1993
3 29 Optics, 1991-1992
3 30 Orders and Specifications for Title of Sculpture, 1992
3 31-32 Plans and Sketches (see also OV 5), circa 1990-1992
3 33 Plate Glass, 1990-1992
3 34 Press Releases, 1992-1993
3 35 Printed Material, Material Resources, circa 1980s
3 36 Publicity, circa 1990-1992
3 37 Shipping and Installation of Sculpture, 1992
OV 5 Oversized Material from Series 3

Series 4: Printed Material, 1973-2002, undated
(box 4, OV 5-6, 0.8 linear ft.)

This series contains exhibition announcements and catalogs for some of Shaffer's solo and group exhibitions, news clippings about Shaffer and others, and publications in which Shaffer and her work are featured, including a copy of a hard-cover book Glass: State of the Art 1984 (Elliot Johnston Publishers, 1984), and magazines such as American Craft.

Box Folder
4 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs
4 1-6 Group Exhibitions Featuring Shaffer, 1973-1998
(See also OV 5-6)
4 7 Other Artists (see also OV 6), 1978-1994, undated
4 8-10 Shaffer Exhibitions, 1976-2002, undated
(See also OV 5-6)
4 11-12 Miscellaneous Printed Material, 1978-1997, undated
4 13-14 News Clippings About Shaffer, 1975-2001
4 15 News Clippings About Other Artists, 1975-1983
4 16-21 Publications Featuring Shaffer, 1979-2001
(See also OV 6)
4 22 Publicity Postcards, Shaffer and Other Artists, circa 1975-1999
OV 5 Oversized Exhibition Announcements from Box 4, 1974-1982
OV 6 Oversized Exhibition Announcements and Publications from Box 4, 1976-2001, undated

Series 5: Photographs, circa 1970-1990
(box 4, 3 folders)

This small series contains two folders of photographs of Shaffer's artwork and four photographs of Shaffer attending various events. One photograph shows Shaffer talking with Elizabeth Dole at the Sara Lee Frontrunner Awards lunch in 1990. Lena Horne can be seen in the background.

Box Folder
4 23-24 Photographs of Artwork, circa 1970s-1980s
4 25 Photographs of Shaffer, 1986-1990