Palmer C. Hayden papers, 1920-1970

A Finding Aid to the Palmer C. Hayden Papers, 1920-1970, in the Archives of American Art, by Stephanie Ashley

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Born Peyton Cole Hedgeman, in Widewater, Virginia in 1890, Palmer Hayden received his first art instruction through correspondence courses, then studied in 1925 with Asa Grant Randall at the Boothbay Art Colony, in Maine, specializing in marine subjects. In 1927, Hayden's seascape, Schooners, won first prize for "Distinguished Achievement in Fine Arts" in the Harmon Foundation's first awards ceremony. With that award, and an additional grant from a patron, Hayden was able to continue his studies in Paris, where he further developed his skills in seascapes and ethnic subject matter. Hayden was among the first African-American artists to use African-American subjects and designs in his painting.

Hayden returned to the United States in 1932 and worked steadily over the next several years for the United States government, including the Treasury Relief Art Project and the Works Progress Administration. In 1944 Hayden began work on his noted Ballad of John Henry series of twelve paintings that would occupy him for a decade. In his later work, Hayden continued to focus on African-American themes, capturing both rural gatherings in the South and the urban milieu of New York.

Palmer Hayden died in 1973.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of African-American painter Palmer C. Hayden date from 1920-1970 and measure 2.4 linear feet. The collection contains biographical material, including 32 diaries documenting Hayden's daily activities, scattered correspondence relating to art sales and Hayden's work for the Works Progress Administration, printed material, 47 sketchbooks compiled over a period of almost forty years, and photographs of Hayden and his artwork.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 6 series:

Subjects and Names

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

  • United States. Works Progress Administration.
  • African American painters--New York (State)--New York
  • Diaries
  • Painters--New York (State)--New York
  • Photographs
  • Sketchbooks


The collection was donated by Palmer C. Hayden in 1970 and a portion of it was microfilmed shortly after receipt.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was microfilmed at some point after receipt on reels 43-47. It was fully processed, arranged, and described by Stephanie Ashley in October 2006, and scanned, with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Palmer Hayden 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

The papers of Palmer C. Hayden in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2007 and total 4060 images.

Negatives of photographs of artwork have not been digitized.

How to Cite this Collection

Palmer C. Hayden papers, 1920-1970. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1920-1969
(Boxes 1; 2 folders)

This series includes general biographical materials such as a biographical sketch of Hayden, a Columbia University transcript, and a typescript of an essay or speech by Hayden on race relations, titled "It's Hard But It's Fair."

Box Folder
1 1 Address Books and Lists, undated
1 2 General Biographical Material, 1920-1969, undated

Series 2: Diaries, 1938-1967
(Boxes 1-2; 0.5 linear feet)

This series consists of diaries and trip logs documenting Hayden's activities through short daily entries in small pocket diaries, and more extensive accounts of travel in spiral-bound notebooks. Entires typically contain observations about the weather, meals, errands and meetings with friends and others.

The series is arranged chronologically.

Box Folder
1 3 Diaries, 1938, 1939, 1940
(3 diaries)
1 4 Diaries, 1945, 1946, 1947
(3 diaries)
1 5 Diaries, 1948, 1949, 1950
(3 diaries)
1 6 Diaries, Trip Log, New York to Los Angeles, June-July 1950
(2 log books)
1 7 Diary, Trip Log, New England, 1951
1 8 Diaries, 1951, 1952, 1953
(3 diaries)
1 9 Diary, Trip Log, New England and Canada, 1952-1953
1 10 Diary, Trip Log, 1954
(1 log book)
1 11 Diaries, 1954, 1955
(2 log books)
1 12 Diary, Trip Log, San Francisco to Los Angeles, 1955
1 13 Diaries, 1956, 1957, 1958
(3 diaries)
1 14 Diaries, 1959, 1960, 1961
(3 diaries)
1 15 Diaries, 1962, 1963
(2 diaries)
Box Folder
2 1 Diary, Trip Log, 1963
2 2 Diaries, 1964, 1965
(2 diaries)
2 3 Diaries, 1966, 1967
(2 diaries)

Series 3: Correspondence, 1922-1967
(Box 2; 2 folders)

Correspondence in this series documents the sale and exhibition of Hayden's paintings, and includes administrative letters relating to Hayden's work for the Works Progress Adminstration and the Treasury Relief Art Project. The series also includes some scattered personal correspondence.

Box Folder
2 4 Correspondence, 1922-1929, undated
2 5 Correspondence, 1931-1967

Series 4: Printed Material, 1926-1969
(Box 2; 2 folders)

This series includes clippings with reviews of Hayden exhibitions, including a 1927 issue of the Paris based periodical Revue du Vrai et du Beau containing a review of Hayden's work. There is also a fragment of a catalog from a 1926 Hayden exhibition in New York, and a catalog of the exhibition, The Ballad of John Henry in Paintings by Palmer Hayden, at Argent Galleries in New York City, January 1947.

Box Folder
2 6 Clippings, 1926-1969, undated
2 7 Exhibition Catalogs, 1926, 1947

Series 5: Sketchbooks and Sketches, 1924-circa 1960
(Boxes 2-6; 1.8 linear feet)

This series is arranged as 2 subseries:

5.1: Sketchbooks and Sketches by Hayden, 1924-circa 1960

This subseries consists of several loose sketches and 47 sketchbooks that Hayden compiled over an almost 40 year period. Pencil is the primary medium, but there are also some sketches in ink and watercolor. The sketchbooks contain sketches of landscapes and coastal scenes, including many from 1927 to 1932 when Hayden lived in Paris and Brittany, France. Some of the sketchbooks document trips taken by Hayden and include his travel notes and notes on his daily activities.

Loose sketches are followed by sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are arranged chronologically with some overlap for those that span several years.

Box Folder
2 8 Loose Sketches, undated
2 9 Sketchbook, undated
2 10 Sketchbook, "N. Y. Environs," 1924
2 11 Sketchbook, "Pelham Bay Park & Envir's," circa 1924-1925
2 12 Sketchbook, "Around Pelham Bay," circa 1924-1925
2 13 Sketchbook, 1925-circa 1930
2 14 Sketchbook, circa 1926
2 15 Sketchbook, France, circa 1926
Box Folder
3 1 Sketchbook, "Port Louis, France," circa 1926
3 2 Sketchbook, New York, circa 1927-1930
3 3 Sketchbook, France, circa 1927-1932
3 4-5 Sketchbooks, circa 1928
(2 sketchbooks/folders)
3 6 Sketchbook, circa 1928-1930
3 7-10 Sketchbooks, circa 1929
(4 sketchbooks/folders)
Box Folder
4 1 Sketchbook, "Concarneau," 1929
4 2 Sketchbook, France, circa 1930
4 3 Sketchbook, circa 1934-1952
4 4 Sketchbook, "W. VA, VA and Big Bend Tunnel, 1st Trip, and Berkshires," circa 1935-1945
4 5-6 Sketchbooks, circa 1938
(2 sketchbooks/folders)
4 7 Sketchbook, "Cape Cod, Misc & Trip to Columbus, Ohio," circa 1938
4 8 Sketchbook, "N.Y.C. & Environs," circa 1939
Box Folder
5 1 Sketchbook, circa 1940
5 2 Sketchbook, 1940s
5 3 Sketchbook, circa 1941
5 4 Sketchbook, circa 1941-1943
5 5 Sketchbook, circa 1943
5 6 Sketchbook, circa 1943-1949
5 7 Sketchbook, "John Henry Sketches," circa 1944
5 8 Sketchbook, "N.Y.C. and Up the River/Trip to Berkshires...," circa 1945
5 9 Sketchbook, circa 1945-1949
5 10 Sketchbook, circa 1945-1953
5 11 Sketchbook, circa 1946
5 12 Sketchbook, "In Canada," circa 1946
5 13 Sketchbook, "Sketches for Dutch Colonial Book and a Few John Henry," 1946-1947
Box Folder
6 1 Sketchbook, "2nd Trip to Big Bend and Other Points in W. VA," circa 1947
6 2 Sketchbook, circa 1948
6 3-4 Sketchbooks, circa 1950
(2 sketchbooks/folders)
6 5 Sketchbook, "Vacations in New York State," circa 1950-1951
6 6-7 Sketchbooks, circa 1954
(2 sketchbooks/folders)
6 8 Sketchbook, circa 1960
6 9 Sketchbook, France, circa 1960

5.2: Sketches by Others, 1928

This subseries consists of a 1928 pencil sketch of Hayden by Hale Woodruff and an undated pencil sketch inscribed "With admiration to a fine artist, Palmer Hayden, best wishes Hilda Simms."

Box Folder
6 10 Artwork by Others, 1928, undated

Series 6: Photographs, 1932-1970
(Box 6; 4 folders)

Personal photographs are primarily of Hayden and include one of the artist working on a painting at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1956. There are also photos of Hayden and others at an exhibition opening of his work at Fisk University in 1970. Photographs of artwork include studies for his series of twelve paintings illustrating The Ballad of John Henry. This subseries also contains negatives.

Box Folder
6 11 Personal Photographs, 1932-1970, undated
6 12 Photographs of Artwork, undated
6 13 Photographs of Artwork from Sketchbooks, undated
6 14 Photographs of Artwork from Sketchbooks, Negatives, undated