Mildred Constantine papers, 1945-2008

A Finding Aid to the Mildred Constantine papers,1945-2008, in the Archives of American Art, by Justin Brancato

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Biographical Information

Curator and writer Mildred Constantine (1913-2008) was associated with the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Architecture and Design from 1943 to 1971. She then became an art consultant and independent curator, and wrote on fiber and textiles, decorative arts, photography, caricature and cartoons.

Mildred Constantine (known as "Connie") began her career at College Art Association. Hired as a stenographer in 1930, she soon was promoted to editorial assistant for Parnassus, the forerunner of Art Journal.

Constantine left the College Art Association in 1937 to study at New York University and earned BA and MA degrees. She then continued her education at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In 1940, Constantine worked in the Office of Inter-American Affairs at the Library of Congress; it was there that she met René d'Harnoncourt.

Influenced by her 1936 travels in Mexico, Constantine's first curatorial effort was an exhibition of Latin American posters. Drawn from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition was held at the Library of Congress.

At the urging of René d'Harnoncourt, The Museum of Modern Art's Architecture and Design Department hired Constantine in 1943. The majority of her 28 year tenure at the museum was spent working with the department's founder, architect Philip Johnson. As a curator during the 1950s and 1960s, Constantine's innovative exhibitions brought lesser known portions of the museum's collection to public attention. Among her exhibtions were: "Words and Images," that focused on graphic design and posters; "Polio Posters," the first Museum of Modern Art show dedicated to social issues; "Olivetti: Design in Industry;" "Signs in the Street;" and "Lettering by Hand." She also published books on Art Nouveau, contemporary package design, and other subjects.

In 1971, Constantine left the Museum of Modern Art to become an independent curator and art consultant. Exhibitions included "Frontiers in Fiber: The Americans," and "Small Works in Fiber" with Jack Lenor Larsen. Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life, Constantine's book on the photographer, actress, model, and political activist, appeared in 1974. That same year, she and Alan Fern produced Revolutionary Soviet Film Posters that focused on works from the 1920s. Her last published work, Whole Cloth, was written with Laurel Reuter and published in 1997. Constantine continued to research and write, and at the time of her death was working on a large, international survey of the study of thread.

Mildred Constantine and Ralph W. Bettelheim (1909-1993) were married for 50 years. They had two daughters, Judith and Vicki.

Mildred Constantine died from heart failure on December 10, 2008, at home in Nyack, New York.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of Mildred Constantine measure 5.3 linear feet and are dated 1945-2008. Subject files, writings, photographs, and a scrapbook provide an overview of her curatorial work in the Architecture and Design department of the Museum of Modern Art, and subsequent activities as an independent curator, and art consultant. Especially well documented is the book Whole Cloth that she wrote with Laurel Reuter.

Correspondence, though mostly business related, often touches on personal matters since many of the artists and art world figures with whom she corresponded were also friends. Correspondents include Miguel Angel Corzo, Arthur C. Danto, Dorothy Dehner, Allen Hart (who sent more than 40 illustrated letters), Elizabeth Wilder and Donald L. Weisman. She also corresponded with many art institutions and organizations, among them the Cleveland Museum of Art, Independent International Design Conference, El Museo del Barrio, Museum of New Mexico, Ohio State University, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Estate of David Smith.

Subject files reflect Constantine's activities and interests. A large portion of this series concerns Whole Cloth, a book written with Laurel Reuter that presents an historical look at how artists have used cloth in their work. Correspondence between the two authors, with artists, institutions, and others concerns researching and writing the volume. Also documented are the successes and failures of Constantine's decade long pursuit to publish the book. Other substantive files relate to the Cleveland Museum of Art, Getty Conservation Institute, Sheila Hicks, Jack Lenor Larsen, Rhode Island School of Design, and Soviet Film Posters. Files concerning the University of the Arts' 2003 Commencement include a videocassette.

Writings by Constantine are lecture material and notes. Also found are transcripts of interviews with Constantine and writings by others. Printed material includes newspaper and magazine articles about Constantine and her career. A scrapbook of printed material and photographs documents an exhibition of Latin American posters at the Library of Congress organized by Constantine.

Photographs of people include Mildred Constantine with family, friends, artists and others at public and private events around the world. Notable photographs include: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Anni Albers, Alfred Barr, Luis Barragan, Lou Block, Louise Bourgeois, Jagoda Buic, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Charles Coiner, James Marston Fitch, Mathias Goeritz, Ingeborg Ten Haeff, Ann d'Harnoncourt, Sheila Hicks, Richard Koch, Nancy Koenigsberg, Jack Lenor Larsen, Leo Lionni, Roberto Burle Marx, Ruth Reeves, Laurel Reuter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ben Shahn, Massimo Vignelli, Ulfert Wilke, and Claire Zeisler. Also, there are photographs of artwork by a wide range of artists.

Arrangement and Series Description

The Mildred Constantine papers are organized into 8 series.

Subjects and Names

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

Subjects:

  • Abakanowicz, Magdalena
  • Albers, Anni
  • Barr, Alfred Hamilton, 1902-
  • Barragán, Luis, 1902-
  • Block, Lou, 1895-1969
  • Bourgeois, Louise, 1911-2010
  • Buic, Jagoda, 1930-
  • Burle Marx, Roberto, 1909-1994
  • Cohen, Elaine Lustig, 1927-
  • Coiner, Charles T., 1897-
  • D'Harnoncourt, Anne, 1943-2008
  • Fitch, James Marston
  • Goeritz, Mathias, 1915-
  • Hicks, Sheila, 1934-
  • Koch, Richard H.
  • Larsen, Jack Lenor
  • Lionni, Leo, 1910-
  • Reeves, Ruth, 1892-1966
  • Reuter, Laurel
  • Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
  • Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969--Photographs
  • Smith, David, 1906-1965
  • Ten Haeff, Ingeborg, 1915-
  • Vignelli, Massimo
  • Wilke, Ulfert, 1907-1987
  • Zeisler, Claire, 1903-1991
  • Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Getty Conservation Institute
  • Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.)--Employees
  • Rhode Island School of Design

Subjects-Topical:

  • Curators--New York (State)--New York
  • Film posters, Russian
  • Textile fabrics in art

Types of Materials:

  • Illustrated letters
  • Interviews
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Transcripts
  • Video recordings

Names:

  • Corzo, Miguel Angel
  • Danto, Arthur Coleman, 1924-
  • Dehner, Dorothy, 1901-
  • Hart, Allen M., 1925-
  • Reuter, Laurel
  • Weisman, Donald M.
  • Wilder, Elizabeth, 1908-
  • Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Museum of New Mexico
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Ohio State University

Provenance

The papers were donated to the Archives in 2009 by Mildred Constantine's daughters, Judith Bettelheim and Vicki McDaniel.

Separated and Related Materials

Oral history interviews with Mildred Constantine were conducted for the Archives of American Art by Harlan Phillips, 1965 October 15, and by Paul Cummings, 1976 May 3-1976 August 26.

How the Collection was Processed

The papers were processed and a finding aid prepared by Justin Brancato in December of 2009.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of origininal material requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Mildred Constantine 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

Mildred Constantine papers, 1945-2008. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1947-1997
(Boxes 1, 6; 0.2 linear feet)

Constantine's honorary certificates are accompanied by photographs. The two National Bicentennial medals are from the United States Embassy in Mexico.

Box Folder
1 1 Passports, 1947-1995
1 2 Honorary Certificates, 1991-1992
(oversized material housed in box 6)
1 3 National Bicentennial-Medal 1977
Box
6 Honorary Certificates, 1991
(from box 1, folder 2)

Series 2: Correspondence, 1964-2008
(Boxes 1, 6; 1.0 linear feet)

The majority of Constantine's correspondence is professional in nature. Many of the correspondents - artists, curators, dealers, and other art world professionals - were friends as well as colleagues, and their letters often touch on personal matters as well. Also found are a small number of purely personal letters.

Additional correspondence is included in many subject files (series 3).

Box Folder
1 Business Correspondence
1 4-22 General, 1978-2008
(19 folders; oversized material housed in box 6)
1 23 Miguel Angel Corzo, 2000-2003
1 24 Arthur Danto, 1991-1998
1 25 Dorothy Dehner, 1971-2004
1 26 Allen Hart, 1964-2006, undated
(includes illustrated letters; oversized material housed in box 6)
1 27 Elizabeth Wilder/Don Weisman, 1968, 1980-1993
1 28 Personal Letters, 1972-2002, undated
Box
6 Oversized Business Correspondence,
6 General, 1999
(from box 1, folders 4-22)
6 Allen Hart, 1964
(from box 1, folder 26)

Series 3: Subject Files, 1964-2008
(Boxes 2-5; 3.3 linear feet)

Created and maintained by Constantine, the subject files reflect her activities and interests. They contain varying combinations of correspondence, biographical material, writings, interviews, printed material and a videocassette.

Subject files are arranged alphabetically by title, Individual subject files are organized by record type and arranged chronologically within each folder. An exception is Whole Cloth, with 12 folders of correspondence arranged alphabetically by correspondent.

Box Folder
2 Cleveland Museum of Art
2 1-2 Correspondence, 1992-2006, undated
(2 folders)
2 3 Printed Material, 1992-1997, 2002
(2 folders)
2 4 Photographs, 1993
2 Getty Conservation Institute
2 Correspondence
2 5-6 Tracy Bartley, 1995-1999, undated
(2 folders)
2 7 Ben Shahn, 1995-1997, undated
2 8-9 General, 1993-1999, undated
(2 folders)
2 10 Althofer-Dusseldorf, 1987-1998
2 11 Dusseldorf-Wollheim, 1994-1998
2 12 Newsletter and Book, 1989-2000, undated
2 13-14 Interview Transcripts, 1992-1997, undated
(2 folders)
2 15 Printed Material, 1997-1998
2 16 John Dumbacher, 1999-2000, undated
2 Sheila Hicks
2 17 Biographical Material, 1997-1998
2 18-21 Correspondence, 1964-1995
(3 folders)
Box Folder
3 1-4 Correspondence, 1995-2008
(4 folders)
3 5 Writings, 1968-2000, undated
3 6 Exhibition Proposals and Notes, undated
3 7-8 Announcements and Press Material, 1974-2006, undated
3 9 Newspaper and Magazine Clippings, 1971-2006, undated
3 10 Catalogs, 1974-1995
3 11 Books, 1973, undated
3 12 Photographs, 1996, undated
3 13 Miscellaneous, undated
3 Jack Lenor Larsen
3 14-21 Correspondence, 1989-2007
(8 folders)
3 22 Exhibition Proposals, 1996-2000, undated
3 23 Catalogs, 1998-2001
3 24 Digital Prints of Artwork, undated
3 25 Magazine and Newspaper Clippings, 1960-2004, undated
3 26 Mexico, General, 1977-1997, undated
3 27 Rhode Island School of Design, 1992-1999, undated
Box Folder
4 1 Rhode Island School of Design, undated
4 2 Swann Foundation, 1970-2001, undated
4 3 Soviet Film Posters, 1991-1996, undated
4 Laurel Reuter
4 4 Artist Files, undated
4 5-9 Correspondence, 1990-2008, undated
4 10 Printed Material, Clippings, 1987-1998, undated
4 11 Catalogs and Exhibition Announcements, 1988-2003
4 12 Photographs, 1990
4 Whole Cloth
4 13 General Correspondence, 1997-2002, undated
4 14-15 Introduction and Chapter I, Correspondence, 1982-1998, undated
(2 folders)
4 16 Chapter II, Metaphor and Symbol, Correspondence, 1985-1997
4 17 Chapter III, Correspondence, 1983-1996
4 18 Chapter V, Correspondence, 1981-1996
4 19-20 Chapter VI, Correspondence, 1982-1997
(2 folders)
4 21 Chapter VII, Correspondence, 1984-1997
4 Chapter VIII
4 22 Correspondence, 1984-1997, undated
4 23 Printed Material, 1980-1994, undated
4 24 Writings and Notes, undated
4 25 Chapter IX, Correspondence, 1986-1996, undated
Box Folder
5 1 Monacelli Correspondence, 1994-2002, undated
5 Research Material,
5 2 Printed Material, 1980-1993, undated
5 3 Notes, 1982, undated
5 4 Photographs, undated
5 5 Transparencies, undated
5 6 Slides, undated
5 7 Tadanori Yokoo, 1977-1994, undated
5 8-9 University of the Arts Commencement, 2003
(2 folders; includes 1 videocassette: VHS)

Series 4: Writings, 1991-2008,
(Box 5; 0.2 linear feet)

Writings include transcripts of interviews with Constantine conducted by Frances Pohl and Beverly M. Wolff. Writings by Constantine consist of lecture materials and notes.

Among the subject files (series 3) are additional writings by Constantine - specifically Whole Cloth and Soviet Film Posters - and other authors.

Box Folder
5 Interview Transcripts
5 10 Mildred Constantine with Frances Pohl, 2008
5 11 Mildred Constantine with Beverly M. Wolff, 1991
5 12 Way Beyond Craft by Jenni Sorkin, Galley Sheets with Corrections, 2003
5 13 Writings by Others, unidentified, undated
5 14-15 Lectures, 2001, undated
(2 folders)

Series 5: Printed Material, 1961-2006,
(Box 5; 0.2 linear feet)

Clippings are mostly about Constantine, her career, projects, and activities. Books are Le Message by Jean-Michel Folon (with an inscription and drawing) and American Art Today.

Printed material is also found in subject files (series 3) and in the scrapbook (series 8).

Box Folder
5 16 Newspaper and Magazine Clippings, undated, 1961-2006
5 17 Announcements, 1976-1987, undated
5 18 Catalogues, 1991
5 Books
5 19 Le Message by Folon 1967
(with original drawing)
5 20 American Art Today, undated

Series 6: Photographs, 1993
(Box 5; 0.3 linear feet)

Photographs are of Mildred Constantine with artists, art world professionals, friends, and family. There are views of exhibition openings and other events, public and private. Also found are photographs of a wide variety of artwork, and a small number of slides and transparencies.

Photographs of people and events are arranged alphabetically by subject matter - person, event, or place; those of artwork are arranged by artist.

Biographical material (series 1) includes photographs that accompany honorary certificates. A small number of photographs are among the subject files (series 3), and are also found in the scrapbook (series 8).

Box Folder
5 21-23 People and Events, undated
(3 folders)
  • Magdalena Abakanowicz
  • Anni Albers
  • Alfred Barr
  • Luis Barragan
  • Lou Block
  • Louise Bourgeois
  • Jagoda Buic
  • Elaine Lustig Cohen
  • Charles Coiner
  • Anne d'Harnoncourt
  • James Marston Fitch
  • Mathias Goeritz
  • Ingeborg Ten Haeff
  • Sheila Hicks
  • Richard Koch
  • Nancy Koenigsberg
  • Jack Lenor Larsen
  • Leo Lionni
  • Roberto Burle Marx
  • Ruth Reeves
  • Laurel Reuter
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Ben Shahn
  • Massimo Vignelli
  • Ulfert Wilke
  • Claire Zeisler
5 Artwork
5 24 Magdalena Abakanowicz, undated
5 25 Mildred Constantine Collections, Cleveland Museum, 1993
5 26 Amat-London, undated
5 27 Lorenzo-Unidentified, undated

Series 7: Artwork, 1945
(Box 5; 1 folder)

This series consists of a drawing by F. D. Berg.

Box Folder
5 28 F. D. Berg, 1945 July 23

Series 8: Scrapbook, circa 1940s
(Box 6; 0.1 linear feet)

The scrapbook contains printed material and photographs that document an exhibition of Latin American posters at the Library of Congress organized by Constantine.

Box Folder
6 1 Scrapbook, circa 1936-1940s
(1 vol.)