Theodoros Stamos papers, circa 1922-2008

A Finding Aid to the Theodoros Stamos papers, circa 1922-2008, in the Archives of American Art, by Cynthia S. Brenwall

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Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Painter Theodoros Stamos (1922-1997) worked in New York and spent considerable time in Lefkada, Greece. A first generation Abstract Expressionist, Stamos developed as a color field painter, and had a long teaching career. His later years were encumbered by his role in the Mark Rothko Estate controversy.

Born to Greek immigrant parents in New York City, Stamos attended the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, leaving just three months before graduation to pursue a career in art. From 1941 to 1948 he operated a frame shop where he framed hundreds of Paul Klee paintings for Nierendorf Gallery and encountered customers such as Arshile Gorky and Fernand L├ęger, experiences that influenced the young artist.

Stamos' first solo exhibition, presented by Betty Parsons in 1943, brought the 20 year old painter to the attention of museums and private collectors. Throughout the 1940s Stamos painted and traveled extensively. By the end of the decade he had had three solo exhibitions and participated in group shows such as the 1945 Whitney Museum Biennial and "The Ideographic Picture," an important early Abstract Expressionist exhibition curated by Barnett Newman.

Through connections made at the American Artists' School Stamos became a notable artist among the New York avant garde during the early years of Abstract Expressionism. He was the youngest of the "Irascibles," a group of American artists who broke from the School of Paris to create a new approach to abstract painting.

In 1951, Stamos built a house in East Marion, New York on Long Island where he lived and worked. Here, he began to develop his color field technique and, influenced by his Greek heritage, continued to express interest in spiritualism and ancient Greek myths and philosophy. In 1958, Stamos' work was shown in a retrospective exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and in "The New American Painting," the Museum of Modern Art's traveling exhibition that introduced European audiences to Abstract Expressionism.

Stamos began his career as an educator in 1950 at Black Mountain College. Later, he taught at Columbia University and Brandeis University, and for more than 20 years was on the faculty of the Art Students League.

Following the death of his friend Mark Rothko, Stamos was involved in a highly publicized lawsuit involving his role as an executor of the estate. The trial ended unsuccessfully for Stamos and its adverse consequences impacted the late part of his career. In 1966, the Rothko children obtained permission to disinter their father's remains from the Stamos burial plot in East Marion, New York; with the assistance of Stamos' sister, Georgianna Savas, arrangements were made to bury Rothko at a cemetery in Valhalla, New York.

Traveling between homes in New York and Lefkada, Greece, Stamos continued to paint and teach late into his life. He died in Greece in 1997.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of Theodoros Stamos measure 3.3 linear feet and date from circa 1922-2008. Stamos was a painter primarily associated with the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. Biographical materials, correspondence, writings, business and legal records, printed materials, and photographs document Stamos' career as a painter. Also included are materials relating to the Rothko estate controversy compiled by Stamos' sister, Georgianna Savas, as well as her papers concerning arrangements for Stamos' funeral and posthumous exhibition plans.

Biographical material includes birth and death certificates and interview transcripts. Personal correspondence is with friends and family; professional correspondence pertains to gallery transactions, including a falling out with gallery owner Louis K. Meisel. Among the printed materials are exhibition announcements and clippings of articles in English and Greek concerning his career and personal life. Photographs include views of family and friends, portraits of Stamos by Hans Namuth, Nina Leen and other photographers, as well as images of artwork by Stamos and other artists.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 9 series:

Subjects and Names

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

Subjects:

  • Rothko, Mark,1903-1970

Subjects-Topical:

  • Abstract expressionism
  • Painters--New York (State)--New York
  • Painting, American
  • Painting--Technique

Types of Materials:

  • Interviews
  • Photographs
  • Transcripts

Names:

  • Leen, Nina
  • Meisel, Louis K.
  • Namuth, Hans
  • Savas, Georgianna

Provenance

The Theodoros Stamos papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by Stamos' sister, Georgianna Savas, in 2008 and 2011.

Separated and Related Materials

Theodoros Stamos loaned a selection of papers for microfilming on reels N/70-66 - N/70-67. These papers were not included with the 2008 gift and are still available on microfilm and for interlibrary loan. The loaned materials include correspondence, poems, printed material and membership cards that are not described in this finding aid.

Among the holdings of the Archives of American Art are oral history interveiws conducted by John Jones and Bruce Hooten, February 19, 1965, and by Irving Sandler, April 23, 1968. Also found are Theodoros Stamos letters to Diran Deckmejian, 1977-1995, and Theodoros Stamos letters to James DiMartino, 1977-1988.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was processed and a finding aid prepared by Cynthia S. Brenwall in 2009; in 2012, Catherine S. Gaines updated the finding aid to include the 2011 addition.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

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

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Theodoros Stamos 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

Theodoros Stamos papers, circa 1922-2008. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1922-2006,
(Box 1; 0.5 linear feet)

Biographical materials include birth and death certificates, membership cards, two address books with contact information for artists such as William de Kooning and Mark Rothko, and interview transcripts. There are three versions of the Stamos will, including the final draft in which he left the majority of his estate to his sister, Georgianna Savas. Also included are a VHS video cassette of Stamos' memorial service, memorabilia, and a plaque awarded posthumously by a Greek organization.

Box Folder
1 1 Address Books, undated
1 2 Birth Certificate, 1922
1 3 Curriculum Vitae, circa 1950
1 4 Membership and Insurance Cards, 1987-1992
1 5 Interview Transcripts, 1988
1 6 Death Certificate, 1997
1 7 Last Will and Testament, 1982-1996
1 8 Obituary and Memorial Service, 1997
(includes 1 videocassette: VHS)
1 9 Award, 2006

Series 2: Financial Records, 1979-circa 1990's,
(Box 1; 2 folders)

This series contains records of art sales made by Louis K. Meisel Gallery. Also found are a check book register and a receipt for canvas.

Box Folder
1 10 Photocopies of checks to Theodoros Stamos from Louis K. Meisel Gallery, 1979-1980
1 11 Check Register and Receipt, circa 1990s

Series 3: Correspondence, circa 1940s-1997,
(Boxes 1, 5; 0.5 linear feet)

Correspondence documents business dealings with museums and galleries that represented Stamos. Also found are letters from E. W. Root, director of Black Mountain College and an early collector of Abstract Expressionist art, a collaged Christmas card from Helen Frankenthaler, and personal letters and notes.

Box Folder
1 12-18 Correspondence, circa 1940s-1997
(7 folders; oversized material housed in box 5)
1 19 ACA Galleries, 1990-1991
1 20 Camillos Kouros Gallery, 1988-1990
1 21 Galleria D'Arte del Naviglio, 1979
1 22 Gallery Lambert Monet, 1979-1980
1 23 Louis K. Meisel Gallery, 1979-1981
1 24 P.T. Efstathiou Fine Arts, 1992-1996
1 25 Tanger Gallery, 1958
1 26 Gallery Veith Turske, 1979-1986
Box
5 Oversized Correspondence, circa 1940s-1997
(from box 1, folders 12-18)

Series 4: Business and Legal Records, 1974-2008
(Box 1; 2 folders)

Business and legal records include the estate and final tax records for Theodoros Stamos as well as petitions and legal documents regarding the disinternment of Mark Rothko from the Stamos burial plot in East Marion, NY.

Box Folder
1 27 Theodoros Stamos Estate Records, 1997-1999
1 28 Mark Rothko Estate Records, 1974-2008

Series 5: Writings, circa 1944-2002
(Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)

This series contains an artist's statement and personal notes including price lists for works of art. Writings about Stamos by others include a chronology of Stamos' life through 1970, a 1960 interview with Lawrence Alloway for Art News and Review, and a documentary film proposal that include Stamos and his work.

Box Folder
1 29-30 By Theodoros Stamos, circa 1944-1980, undated
(2 folders)
1 31 By Other Authors about Theodoros Stamos, 1960-2002

Series 6: Artwork, circa 1940s-1980
(Box 1, OV 6-7; 0.3 linear feet)

This series contains artwork by Stamos such as line drawings, collages and small paintings. Also included are a handmade card and drawings by other artists, and illustrated rocks attributed to Stamos and gallery owner, Betty Parsons.

Box Folder
1 32 Drawings and Paintings by Theodoros Stamos, 1947-1980
1 33 Drawings and Cards by Other Artists, 1950, 1951, undated
1 34 Illustrations on Rocks, undated
Box
OV 6 Oversized Sketches and Drawings, circa 1940s
Box
OV 7 Oversized Designs for Posters, 1950s

Series 7: Printed Materials, 1945-2007,
(Box 2, OV 7; 0.4 linear feet)

This series contains clippings and exhibition announcements in both English and Greek, relating to Stamos and his artwok, and to other Abstract Expressionists. Posthumous announcements were collected by Georgianna Savas and are mostly from shows of his work that she arranged. Some clippings concern the Rothko Estate controversy and the disinternment of Rothko's remains from Stamos' burial plot.

Box Folder
2 1-8 Clippings about Theodoros Stamos, 1947-2008, undated
(8 folders)
2 9 Clippings of Related Artists, 1958-2005
2 10 Exhibition Checklist, 1958
2 11-18 Exhibition Announcements and Brochures, 1947-2005, undated
(8 folders)
2 19 Reproductions, undated
2 20 Offprints, 1948-1982
2 Miscellaneous Printed Items
2 21 Relating to Others, 1945, 2002
2 22 Relating to Memorial Service, 1997, 2007
Box
OV 7 Oversized Posters, 1966-1978
OV 7 Oversized Lecture Announcements, 1964 April 8 or 1970 April 8

Series 8: Photographs, 1943-1999,
(Boxes 2-3, 5, OV 8; 1.0 linear feet)

This series includes photographs of Stamos, his family, his homes and studios in New York and Greece, and works of art. Most photographs are unattributed, but photographs by Han Namuth, Lloyd Lozes Goff, Steven Trefonides and Diran Deckmejian (a former student at the Art Students League) are found along with a group photograph of the "Irascibles" taken by Nina Leen for Life magazine in 1950. Other photographs document Stamos late in life, his memorial service and grave dedication, and views of posthumous retrospective exhibitions.

Box Folder
2 Artwork
2 23 Theodoros Stamos, A-Z, and unidentified (executed circa 1947-1967), undated
2 24-27 Theodoros Stamos, 1994-1999, undated
(4 folders)
2 28 Other Artists, 1999, undated
(2 folders; oversized material housed in box 5)
2 29 Other Artists, Evelyn Jablow interior with Stamos Painting, circa 1960s
2 Events
2 30 Theodoros Stamos on Lecture Panel, circa 1960s
(oversized material housed in box 5)
2 31 ACA Gallery Exhibition Opening, 1993, undated
2 32 Hiro Gallery Exhibition Opening, 1996
2 33 Theodoros Stamos with Friends; Gallery Opening, circa 1990s
2 34 Theodoros Stamos Funeral in Lefkada, Greece, 1997
2 35 Retrospective Opening and Monument Commemoration in Greece, 1997
2 36 Theodoros Stamos Memorial Service, New York City, 1997
2 People
2 Portraits of Theodoros Stamos
2 37 Lloyd Lozes Goff, 1947
2 38 Diran Deckmejian, undated
2 39 Hans Namuth, undated
2 40 Steven Trefonides, circa 1960s
(oversized material housed in box 5)
2 41 Bill Wilson, undated
2 42-45 Unidentified Photographers, undated
(4 folders, oversized material housed in box 5)
2 46 Group Portrait of the "Irascibles" including Stamos by Nina Leen, 1950
(oversized material housed in box 5)
2 47 Informal Images of Theodoros Stamos, 1943-1978, undated
2 48-49 Theodoros Stamos with Family and Friends, 1961-1997, undated
(2 folders)
2 50-51 Theodoros Stamos with Friends at Party, circa 1960s, 1992
(2 folders)
2 52 Friends, Gavin Arthur and Robert Price, 1919, undated
2 53 Friends, Family and Others, 1943, undated
2 54 Colleagues, circa 1990s
2 55 Family and Friends in Greece, 1997
Box Folder
3 Places
3 1 Construction of the Stamos House in East Marion, New York, 1951
3 2 Theodoros Stamos' Samosa Studio, 1997
3 3 Cemetery; Views of Athens, 1997
3 4 Household Interior with Stamos Painting, undated
3 5 House Under Construction (unidentified location), undated
3 Miscellaneous
3 6 Images Collected by Theodoros Stamos, undated
(oversized material housed in box 5)
3 Slides
3 7 Artwork by Theodoros Stamos, circa 1947-1987, undated
3 Transparencies
3 8 Artwork by Theodoros Stamos, undated
3 9 Portraits of Theodoros Stamos, undated
3 Negatives
3 10 Artwork by Theodoros Stamos, undated
(black and white)
3 11 Artwork by Theodoros Stamos, undated
(color)
3 12 Monument and Family in Greece, 1997
3 13 Cemetery views, Athens and Memorial Service, 1997
Box
5 Oversized Photographs
5 Artwork, 1999, undated
(from box 2, folder 28)
5 Events, circa 1960s
(from box 2, folder 30)
5 People, circa 1960s, undated
(from box 2, folders 40, 42-46)
5 Images Collected by Stamos, undated
(from box 4, folder 6)
Box
OV 8 Stamos Monument, 1997 or later

Series 9: Georgianna Savas Papers on Theodoros Stamos 1985-2005,
(Box 3-4; 0.3 linear feet)

This series contains Georgianna Savas' papers relating to her brother, Theodoros Stamos. Found are notes and correspondence about the handling of the Stamos estate and correspondence concerning the Stamos retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Greece organized by Savas. There is correspondence relating to the exhumation of the Rothko remains from the Stamos family plot in East Marion, New York and records concerning cleaning and conservation services for Stamos' painting. Condolence cards received by Savas after the death of her brother are also part of this series.

Box Folder
3 14 Notebook, undated
3 15 Records, Conservation Receipts, 1985-1988, undated
3 Correspondence
3 16 Relating to Theodoros Stamos, 1986-2005
3 17 Relating to Theodoros Stamos Exhibition in Greece 1996-1997
Box Folder
4 1-2 Condolence Cards, 1997
(2 folders)
4 3 Notes, Stamos Estate, 1999, undated
4 Photographs
4 4 Foundation for Hellenic Culture Exhibition Opening, 2001
4 5 Stamos Foundation Exhibition Installation, Transportation and Unidentified People, 2001
4 6 Marymount Exhibition Installation and Book Signing, 2005