Reuben Tam papers, 1931-2006

A Finding Aid to the Reuben Tam Papers, 1931-2006, in the Archives of American Art, by Erin Kinhart

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Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Reuben Tam (1916-1991) was a landscape painter and educator in New York, Maine, and Hawaii. Tam was born in Kapaa, Hawaii, in 1916. He received a degree in education in 1937 from the University of Hawaii and was briefly a public school teacher before attending graduate courses at the California School of Fine Arts. In 1941 he moved to New York and took courses in art history and philosophy at the New School for Social Research and Columbia University. Tam became affiliated with the Downtown Gallery in 1945 and was a prolific exhibitor in national and regional shows, winning critical praise as an abstract landscape painter. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and first exhibited in the National Academy's annual exhibition in 1947.

Tam was an instructor at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School from 1946 to 1974. While there he taught advanced studies in painting and was chairman of the graduate painting department. He also served as a visiting professor at Oregon State University, Haystack, and Queens College, CUNY.

Beginning in 1948, Tam and his wife, Geraldine, spent summers at their home and studio on Monhegan Island, Maine. Tam's work was deeply influenced by coastal landscapes both in Maine and in his native Hawaii. In 1981 he and his wife moved back to Kapaa, Hawaii, where he continued to paint and exhibit his new works until his death in 1991.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of landscape painter and educator Reuben Tam measure 8.1 linear feet and date from 1931 to 2006. The papers document his career as a painter in New York, Maine, and Hawaii through biographical material; correspondence with family, friends, art organizations, schools, and galleries; diaries, poetry, and other writings; exhibition catalogs, news clippings, other printed material; photographs; artwork, including seventeen sketchbooks; and eight scrapbooks.

Biographical material includes school documents, records of his tenure as an instructor at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School, artwork consignment and sales records, and slides and accompanying audio cassette recording of the "Reuben Tam Show" about his work as an artist on Monhegan Island, Maine.

Correspondence is with family, fellow artists, including William Kienbusch and Hyde Solomon, as well as art organizations, schools, and museums, such as Brooklyn Museum of Art School, Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Maine Coast Artists group, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Also found is correspondence with the three galleries which represented his work: Downtown Gallery, Alan Gallery, and Coe Kerr Gallery.

The collection includes five bound diaries as well as diary entries written by Reuben Tam on loose sheets of paper, primarily documenting the 1940s. Other writings include drafts of poetry, one notebook, miscellaneous notes, and essays by others.

Printed material consists of school publications, exhibition catalogs and announcements for solo and group shows, brochures, flyers, magazines, bulletins, and news clippings. Eight scrapbooks found in this collection also include newspaper clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, as well as event invitations, membership cards, and letters, documenting 40 years of Reuben Tam's career.

Photographs are of Reuben Tam, Tam with friends and family, and artwork. One photograph album contains photographs from Tam's visits to Maine from 1946 to 1948, and includes photographs of fellow artists Hyde Solomon, Carl Nesjar, Dorothy Andrews, and William Kienbusch. Artwork in the collection includes prints, drawings, and watercolors as well as seventeen large sketchbooks documenting the coastal landscape of Monhegan Island, Maine.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 8 series:

Subjects and Names

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

Subjects:

  • Andrews, Dorothy, 1918-2008
  • Nesjar, Carl, 1920-
  • Brooklyn Museum of Art

Subjects-Topical:

  • Educators--Hawaii
  • Educators--Maine
  • Educators--New York (State)
  • Painters--Hawaii
  • Painters--Maine
  • Painters--New York (State)--New York

Types of Materials:

  • Diaries
  • Drafts (documents)
  • Drawings
  • Photographs
  • Poems
  • Prints
  • Scrapbooks
  • Sketchbooks
  • Sound recordings
  • Watercolors

Names:

  • Kienbusch, William, 1914-1980
  • Solomon, Hyde, 1911-
  • Alan Gallery (New York, N.Y.)
  • Coe Kerr Gallery
  • Downtown Gallery (New York, N.Y.)
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
  • Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture

Provenance

Scrapbooks were lent for microfilming 1970 by Reuben Tam and were subsequently donated in 2009 along with additional papers by Geraldine King Tam, Reuben Tam's widow.

Separated and Related Materials

Reuben Tam papers, 1958-1966, are also located at Syracuse University.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was processed and described in a finding aid by Erin Kinhart in 2011.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Reuben Tam 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

Scrapbooks in this collection are available on 35 mm microfilm reel 33 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan.

How to Cite this Collection

Reuben Tam papers, 1931-2006. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1934-1993
(Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)

This series contains biographical summaries and resumes documenting Reuben Tam's career, as well as his school records, diplomas, and teaching records, including extensive records of his tenure at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School. Also found are records of artwork sales and loans, various lists of artwork, and the consignment and purchase records for the galleries which represented Tam. Also of note is a slide show and accompanying audio cassette recording of the "Reuben Tam Show" about his work as an artist on Monhegan Island, Maine.

Folders are arranged alphabetically. The sound recording of the "Reuben Tam Show" has been digitized for research access.

Box Folder
1 1 Appraisal Records, 1991-1992
1 2 "Artists of Hawaii" Television Program Documents, 1983
1 3 Artwork Freight Records, 1993
1 4 Artwork Sales and Loans, 1948, circa 1969-1992
1 5 Bills and Receipts, circa 1941-1977
(2 folders)
1 7 Biographical Information and Resumes, 1944-1987
1 8 Calendar Pages, 1965
1 9-10 Consignments and Purchases, Alan Gallery, 1953-1967
(2 folders)
1 11 Consignments and Purchases, Coe Kerr Gallery, 1971-1979
1 12-13 Consignments and Purchases, Downtown Gallery, 1943-1953, 1959
(2 folders)
1 14 Diplomas, 1937-1938
1 15 Identification Card, 1940
1 16 Lists of Artwork, circa 1957-1984
1 17 Memorial Program, 1991
1 18 National Endowment for the Arts Grant Application, 1969
1 19-20 "Reuben Tam Show" Slide Show and Audio Accompaniment, circa 1980
(2 folders; includes 1 sound cassette and 1 duplicate sound cassette)
1 21 School Records, 1934-1940
1 22 Teaching Records, 1940, 1943, 1973
1 23-24 Teaching Records, Brooklyn Museum of Art School, 1948-1974
(2 folders)
1 25 Travel Documents, 1974

Series 2: Correspondence, 1931-2006
(Box 1-4; 3.5 linear feet)

This series contains Tam's correspondence with his wife Geraldine, family, friends, colleagues, art associations, schools, museums, and galleries. Also found are copies of Tam's outgoing correspondence and letters sent to Geraldine Tam after Reuben's death. Researchers should note that additional letters of significance are located within the scrapbooks in Series 8.

Of note is correspondence with friends and fellow artists Alan Gussow, William Kienbusch, Frances Kornbluth, Carl Nesjar, Ben Norris, and Hyde Solomon, as well as art organizations, schools, and museums, such as Artists Equity Association, Brooklyn Museum of Art School, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Maine Coast Artists group, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Also found is correspondence with the three galleries which represented his work: Downtown Gallery, Alan Gallery, and Coe Kerr Gallery.

Family and outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically followed by general correspondence which is arranged alphabetically.

Box Folder
1 26-27 Correspondence between Reuben and Geraldine Tam, circa 1954-1976
(2 folders)
1 28 Family Correspondence, 1941, 1970-1974
1 29-37 Family Correspondence, 1985-1998
(9 folders)
1 38 Family Correspondence, undated
1 39-41 Letters to Geraldine Tam from Others, circa 1991-2001
(3 folders)
1 42-45 Outgoing Letters by Reuben Tam, 1940-1952
(4 folders)
Box Folder
2 1-7 Outgoing Letters by Reuben Tam, 1953-1989
(7 folders)
2 8-9 Alan Gallery, 1953-1974
(2 folders)
2 10 Allentown Art Museum, 1974
2 11 Artists Equity Association, 1952-1972
2 12 Art League of Hilton Head, 1977-1978
2 13 A, Miscellaneous: Ad-An, 1941-1978
2 14 A, Miscellaneous: Ar-Av, 1939-1978
2 15 Barrett, Tom and Leni Mancuso, 1970-1975
2 16 Betts, Edward, 1976-1980
2 17 Boothbay Region Art Foundation, 1967-1978
2 18-19 Brooklyn Museum Art School, 1947-1978
(2 folders)
2 20 B, Miscellaneous: Ba-Bi, 1938-1997
2 21 B, Miscellaneous: Bl-By, 1955-1978
2 22 Clough, Gari and Elena, circa 1965-1972
2 23-25 Coe Kerr Gallery, 1970-1984
(3 folders)
2 26 Colby College Art Museum, 1964-1976
2 27 Columbia University, 1967-1973
2 28 C, Miscellaneous: Ca-Ce, 1940-1997
2 29 C, Miscellaneous: Ch-Cl, 1948-1988
2 30 C, Miscellaneous: Coa-Con, 1943-1993
2 31 C, Miscellaneous: Cor-Cu, 1967-1988
2 32 Downtown Gallery, 1945-1957
2 33 D, Miscellaneous: Da-Di, 1941-1979
2 34 D, Miscellaneous: Do-Dr, 1939-1995
2 35 E, Miscellaneous, 1963-1975
2 36 Ford Foundation, 1958-1959
2 37 F, Miscellaneous: Fa-Fe, 1957-1976
2 38 F, Miscellaneous: Fi-Fo, 1960-1979
2 39 F, Miscellaneous: Fr-Fu, 1942-1994
Box Folder
3 1 Goldsmith, Lawrence, 1968-1979
3 2-3 Gussow, Alan, 1967-1997
(2 folders)
3 4 G, Miscellaneous: Ga-Gi, 1948-1988
3 5 G, Miscellaneous: Go-Gu, 1940-1990
3 6 Haystack, 1971
3 7 Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1939-1993
3 8 Honolulu Print Makers, 1942-1948
3 9 H, Miscellaneous: Ha, 1943-1997
3 10 H, Miscellaneous: He-Hu, 1938-1994
3 11 Institute of International Education, 1957-1961
3 12 International House, circa 1942-1943, 1974
3 13 I, Miscellaneous, 1940-1987
3 14 Jahn, Elena, 1959-1994
3 15 Joe De Mers Gallery, 1973-1977
3 16 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1942-1990
3 17 J, Miscellaneous, 1952-1977
3 18-19 Kienbusch, William, 1947-1975
(2 folders)
3 20 Kirchner, Leon, 1943-1948
3 21 Kline, Amy Sue and Thomas McColl, 1973-1974
3 22 Kornbluth, Frances, 1970-1977, 1989
3 23 Kurka, Don, 1967-1995
3 24 K, Miscellaneous: Ka-Ko, 1935-1984
3 25 K, Miscellaneous: Kr-Ku, 1954-1973
3 26 Lamont Gallery, 1970
3 27 Lyman House Memorial Museum, 1984-1986
3 28 L, Miscellaneous: La-Le, 1944-1977
3 29 L, Miscellaneous: Li-Ly, 1942-1990
3 30 Maine Art Gallery, 1961-1967
3 31-33 Maine Coast Artists, 1953, 1964-1984
(3 folders)
3 34 Manoa, 1989
3 35 Miller, Donald, 1942-1943
3 36 Museum of Modern Art, 1952-1974
3 37 M, Miscellaneous: Mac-Mai, 1962-1978
3 38 M, Miscellaneous: Mal-May, 1969-1994
3 39 M, Miscellaneous: Mc-Mo, 1947-2006
3 40 National Academy of Design, 1966-1989
3 41 Nesjar, Carl, 1946-1967
3 42 Norris, Ben, 1958-1978
Box Folder
4 1 N, Miscellaneous: N.-Na, 1945-1980
4 2 N, Miscellaneous: Ne-No, 1931-1992
4 3 Oregon State University, 1965-1967
4 4 O, Miscellaneous, 1953-1979
4 5 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1940-1967
4 6 Porter, Cecil, 1971-1973
4 7 Portland Museum of Art, 1958-1993
4 8 P, Miscellaneous: Pa-Pe, 1948-1985
4 9 P, Miscellaneous: Ph-Pu, 1941-1989
4 10 Q, Miscellaneous, 1973, 1997
4 11 Rockwell, Fritz, 1943-1947
4 12 R, Miscellaneous: Ra-Ri, 1958-1973
4 13 R, Miscellaneous: Ro-Ru, 1943-1974
4 14 Samenfeld, Mark, circa 1953-1969
4 15 Schaffner, John, 1957-1958
4 16 Shoemaker, Peter, 1952-1997
4 17 Silk Screen Group, 1942-1943
4 18-19 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 1954-1976
(2 folders)
4 20 Solomon, Hyde, 1944-1972
4 21 State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (Hawaii), 1970-1997
4 22 Syracuse University, 1964-1970
4 23 S, Miscellaneous: Sa-Sc, 1943-1992
4 24 S, Miscellaneous: Se-Sm, 1939-1979
4 25 S, Miscellaneous: So-Su, 1941-1988
4 26 Twining, Libbie Cooper, 1969-1974
4 27 T, Miscellaneous, 1939-1976
4 28 University of Colorado, 1970
4 29 University of Delaware, 1980-1987
4 30 University of Hawaii, 1942-1990
4 31 University of Illinois, Urbana, 1952-1959
4 32 U, Miscellaneous, 1934-1978
4 33 V, Miscellaneous, 1940-1970
4 34 Whitney Museum of American Art, 1953-1986
4 35 Winters, Denny, circa 1952-1978
4 36 W, Miscellaneous: Wa-We, 1940-1978
4 37 W, Miscellaneous: Wh-Wo, 1955-1997
4 38 Y-Z, Miscellaneous, 1959-1991
4 39-40 Unidentified Correspondence, 1939-1990
(2 folders)

Series 3: Diaries, 1932-1974
(Box 4-5; 0.4 linear feet)

This series contains five bound diaries as well as diary entries written by Reuben Tam on loose sheets of paper. Most of the diaries document Tam's activities during the 1940s, including his early visits to Maine. Diaries also include a few sketches and notes.

Diaries are arranged in chronological order.

Box Folder
4 41 Diary, 1932
4 42 Diary (Loose Pages), 1938
Box Folder
5 1-2 Diary (Loose Pages), 1939-1941
(2 folders)
5 3 Diary, 1941
5 4 Diary, 1941-1942
5 5-6 Diary (Loose Pages), 1942-1947
(2 folders)
5 7 Diary, 1947-1948
5 8 Diary, 1962-1974
5 9 Diary (Loose Pages), circa 1966-1970

Series 4: Writings, 1939-1987
(Box 5; 7 folders)

This series contains drafts of poetry by Reuben Tam, one notebook containing notes on artwork and painting technique, and miscellaneous writings and notes by Tam, including thoughts on Montauk, New York, and Monhegan Island, Maine. Also found are an essay about Tam, "Reuben Tam, Metaphysical Painter" by Martin James, and an article for Kauai Magazine by Pat I. Griffin.

Box Folder
5 10 Autobiographical Essay by Reuben Tam, 1975
5 11-12 Miscellaneous Writings and Notes, 1944-1987
(2 folders)
5 13 Notebook, 1942
5 14 Poetry by Reuben Tam, 1940-1942, undated
5 15 Poem by Jerry Friese, "Signature," 1939
5 16 Writings about Reuben Tam, 1945, 1985

Series 5: Printed Material, 1935-1997
(Box 5-6; 1.2 linear feet)

Printed material consists of publications produced by the Brooklyn Museum Art School, exhibition catalogs and announcements for solo and group shows of Tam's work, brochures, flyers, and other miscellaneous publications. Included are several catalogs for exhibitions at the Downtown Gallery. Also found are magazines, bulletins, and news clippings of articles documenting Tam's career. Researchers should note that numerous clippings and exhibition announcements are also included within the scrapbooks found in Series 8.

Box Folder
5 17 Brooklyn Museum Art School Publications, 1947-1973
5 18-27 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, circa 1937-1960s
(10 folders)
Box Folder
6 1-2 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs, 1970s-1990s
(2 folders)
6 3 Foundation Reports, 1948, 1991
6 4 Gallery Publications, circa 1950s
6 5-8 Magazines and Bulletins, 1935-1997
(4 folders)
6 9-15 News Clippings, 1930s-1990s
(7 folders)
6 16-18 Miscellaneous Printed Material, circa 1937-1989
(3 folders)

Series 6: Photographs, circa 1930s-1990
(Box 6-7, 9; 1.0 linear foot)

This series consists of photographs of Reuben Tam, Tam with friends and family, photographs and slides of his artwork, and four photograph albums. Included are photographs of Tam in his studio, sketching on Monhegan Island, and portraits taken by his nephew, William Ing. One photograph album contains photographs from Tam's visits to Maine from 1946 to 1948 and includes photographs of fellow artists Hyde Solomon, Carl Nesjar, Dorothy Andrews, and William Kienbusch.

Box Folder
6 19-23 Photographs of Reuben Tam, circa 1940s-1977
(5 folders; see also oversize material in Box 9)
6 24 Photographs of Reuben Tam by William Ing, circa 1960-1984
6 25 Photographs of Reuben Tam on Monhegan Island, 1970s
6 26 Photographs of Reuben Tam and Others, circa 1940s-1990
6 27 Photograph of Monhegan Cottage, circa 1950s
(Oversized item housed in Box 9)
6 28 Photographs for Still Life Lecture, 1986
6 29-30 Photograph Album, Personal, 1946-1948
(2 folders)
6 31-32 Photograph Album, Artwork, 1940s
(2 folders)
Box Folder
7 1-2 Photograph Album, Artwork, 1940s-1961
(2 folders)
7 3 Photograph Album, Artwork, 1960s
7 4-8 Photographs of Artwork, circa 1930s-1987
(5 folders)
7 9 Negatives and Slides, 1983, undated
Box
9 Oversize Photographs of Reuben Tam, circa 1948, 1960s
(See also Box 6, Folders 19-23)
9 Oversize Photograph of Monhegan Cottage, circa 1950s
(See also Box 6, Folder 27)

Series 7: Artwork, circa 1936-1975
(Box 7, 9-11; 0.7 linear feet)

Artwork includes Reuben Tam's drawings, watercolors, prints, and sketchbooks, as well as two drawings by others. Some of these works are from the period that Tam was a student at the University of Hawaii. Seventeen large sketchbooks contain Tam's pencil, ink, and watercolor sketches of the rocky landscape on Monhegan Island, Maine. One pastel portrait, possibly of Tam, is by an unidentified artist, and one sketch by Geraldine Tam is titled "Reuben Tam Typing."

Box Folder
7 10 Drawings and Watercolors, circa 1936, 1954, undated
(Ovesize items housed in Box 9)
7 11 Pastel Portrait, circa 1937
(Oversize item housed in OV 11)
7 12 Prints, undated
7 13 Sketch by Geraldine Tam, 1971
Box Folder
9 1 Sketchbook 1, 1964
9 2 Sketchbook 2, 1964
9 3 Sketchbook 3, 1964
9 4 Sketchbook, 1967
9 5 Sketchbook 1, 1968
9 6 Sketchbook 2, 1968
9 7 Sketchbook 1, 1969
9 8 Sketchbook 2, 1969
Box Folder
10 1 Sketchbook 1, 1970
10 2 Sketchbook 2, 1970
10 3 Sketchbook 3, 1970
10 4 Sketchbook, 1972
10 5 Sketchbook, 1973
10 6 Sketchbook 1, 1975
10 7 Sketchbook 2, 1975
10 8 Sketchbook, undated
10 9 Sketchbook, undated
Box
9 Oversize Drawings, circa 1954
(Ovesize items from Box 7, Folder 10)
Box
OV 11 Pastel Portrait, circa 1937
(Oversize item from Box 7, Folder 11)

Series 8: Scrapbooks, 1938-1978
(Box 7-8; 0.9 linear feet)

This series contains eight scrapbooks, documenting 40 years of Reuben Tam's career as an artist in New York and Maine. Included in the scrapbooks are newspaper clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, event invitations, membership cards, and letters from Downtown Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, Carnegie Institute, Brooklyn Museum, and other galleries and art organizations. Three loose scrapbook pages appear to be from scrapbooks not found in this collection.

Scrapbook pages have been removed from fragile binders and placed into archival folders, maintaining the original page order. Scrapbooks were numbered by Reuben Tam and are in chronological order.

Box Folder
7 14 Loose Scrapbook Pages, circa 1939-1942
7 15-16 Scrapbook 1, 1938-1944
(2 folders)
7 17-18 Scrapbook 2, 1945-1947
(2 folders)
7 19-20 Scrapbook 3, 1946-1949
(2 folders)
7 21-22 Scrapbook 4, 1949-1952
(2 folders)
7 23-25 Scrapbook 5, 1952-1959
(3 folders)
Box Folder
8 1-3 Scrapbook 6, 1960-1967
(3 folders)
8 4-5 Scrapbook 7, 1967-1970
(2 folders)
8 6-7 Scrapbook 8, 1971-1978
(2 folders)