A Finding Aid to the Wallace Berman Papers,
(bulk 1955-1979), in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald
Table of Contents:
- Biographical Information
- Overview of the Collection
- How to Use the Collection
- Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Wallace Berman was born in 1926 in Staten Island, New York. In the 1930s, his family moved to the Jewish district in Los Angeles. After being expelled from high school for gambling in the early 1940s, Berman immersed himself in the growing West Coast jazz scene. During this period, he briefly attended the Jepson Art School and Chouinard Art School, but departed when he found the training too academic for his needs.
In 1949, while working in a factory finishing antique furniture, he began to make sculptures from unused scraps and reject materials. By the early 1950s, Berman had become a full-time artist and an active figure in the beat community in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Many art historians consider him to be the "father" of the California assemblage movement. Moving between the two cities, Berman devoted himself to his mail art publication Semina, which contained a sampling of beat poetry and images selected by Berman.
In 1963, permanently settled in Topanga Canyon in the Los Angeles area, Berman began work on verifax collages (printed images, often from magazines and newspapers, mounted in collage fashion onto a flat surface, sometimes with solid bright areas of acrylic paint). He continued creating these works, as well as rock assemblages, until his death in 1976.
Overview of the Collection
Scope and Contents
The Wallace Berman papers, 1907-1979 (bulk 1955-1979), measure 4.9 linear feet and present a cursory overview of Berman's career as an assemblage artist and poet. The collection is valuable not only for its documentation of the work of Wallace Berman, but for its documentation of the California beat movement of the late 1950s through the early 1970s.
Found are numerous letters, writings, poems, and other published material which portray the thoughts, attitudes, and trends popular in a prominent underground culture which eventually led to radical changes in America and American art. The collection contains business correspondence, letters from other artists and writers of the beat movement, writings by others, scattered artwork by Berman, and photographs by Robert F. Heinecken. In addition, the collection contains files for Berman's mail art publications Semina and S.M.S. Also of note is the large volume of printed material (2.7 feet), much of it in the form of books and other published material. Sound recordings include poets Michael McClure, Kenneth Patchen, David Melzer, and another unidentified writer performing their work.
Arrangement and Series Description
The collection is arranged into nine series which generally reflect material type.
With the exception of the letters in Series 1, each series is arranged chronologically. The original arrangement of the letters has been maintained, with a chronological arrangement of miscellaneous business letters and an alphabetical arrangement of the letters from Berman's more prominent colleagues.
- Series 1: Letters, 1957-1979, undated (box 1, 0.5 linear feet)
- Series 2: Notes from Interview, 1967 (box 1, 1 folder)
- Series 3: Writings by Others, 1972, undated (box 1, 6 folders)
- Series 4: Artwork, 1956-1976 (box 1, 4 folders)
- Series 5: Semina, 1955-1967 (boxes 1-2, 26 folders)
- Series 6: S. M. S., 1968 (box 2, 1 folders)
- Series 7: Printed Material, 1907-1976 (boxes 2-5, 2.7 linear feet)
- Series 8: Photographs, 1956-1976 (box 5, 6 folders)
- Series 9: Sound Recordings, 1962-1965 (box 5, 6 folders)
Subjects and Names
This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms:
- Bengston, Billy Al
- DeFeo, Jay, 1929-1989
- Di Prima, Diane
- Duncan, Robert Edward, 1919-
- Fonda, Peter, 1940-
- Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-
- Heinecken, Robert, 1931-
- Herms, George, 1935-
- Hirschman, Jack, 1933-
- Hopper, Dennis, 1936-
- Jess, 1923-
- Johnson, Ray, 1927-
- Jordan, Patricia M., 1937-1989
- Lamantia, Philip, 1927-
- McClure, Michael
- Meltzer, David
- Miller, Henry, 1891-
- Patchen, Kenneth, 1911-1972
- Perkoff, Stuart Z.
- Ruscha, Edward
- Sherman, Donald
- Wieners, John, 1934-
- Art--California--San Francisco Bay Area
- Assemblage (Art)
- Assemblage artists
- Beat generation--California
- Photography, Artistic
- Sound recordings
- Works of art
The Wallace Berman papers were donated by Tosh Berman, Wallace Berman's son, in 1992.
How the Collection was Processed
The collection was processed and the finding aid written by Jean Fitzgerald in 1998. The finding aid was modified during conversion to EAD by Stephanie Ashley in 2001.
How to Use the Collection
Restrictions on Use
The collection is open for research. Patrons must use microfilm copy. Use of audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.
Ownership & Literary Rights
The Wallace Berman 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.
The collection is available on microfilm reels 5282-5284. The microfilm is available for interlibrary loan. Most of the sound recordings have been digitized for research access and are available at the Archives of American Art offices.
How to Cite this Collection
Wallace Berman papers, 1907-1979 (bulk 1955-1979). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Letters, 1957-1979, undated
0.5 Linear feet; box 1, OV 7
This series consists of miscellaneous business letters, ten letters from Berman, and letters from colleagues.
The letters are arranged chronologically.
|1||5282||Miscellaneous Business Letters, 1959-1975, undated|
|1||5282||From Wallace Berman, 1960-1964, undated|
From Branaman, Robert, undated
From Collins, Jess and R. D., 1964-1965
From DeFeo, Jay, 1965-1973
From DiPrima, Diane, 1979
(1 letter enclosing a braid of hair)
From Driscoll, Bob, 1964
[From Duncan, Robert], 1963
From Ginsberg, Allen, 1965
From Hirschman, Jack, 1967-1972, undated
(10 letters; 2 folders; see also OV 7)
From Johnson, Ray, 1965-1968, undated
From McClure, Michael, 1957-1971, undated
(26 letters; 3 folders)
From Meltzer, David, 1970, undated
From Miller, Henry, 1964
From Perkoff, Stuart, 1973, undated
From Weiners, John, 1960-1969
(11 letters; 2 folders)
Notes from Interview, 1967
1 Folder; box 1
This series consists of one folder of sentence fragements taken from a London interview of Berman undertaken by Sandrada.
|1||5282||Notes from London Interview by Sandrada, 1967|
Writings by Others, 1972, undated
6 Folders; box 1
This series includes a typescripts for two manuscripts and poems by Michael McClure, David Meltzer, and John Wieners.
|1||5282||Typescript: "Eats" by Unidentified Author, undated|
|1||5282||Typescript for Book Love Lion Book, by Michael McClure, undated|
|1||5282||Poem by Unidentified Author, undated|
|1||5282||Poems by Michael McClure, 1972, undated|
|1||5282||Poems by David Meltzer, undated|
|1||5282||Poem by John Wieners, undated|
4 Folders; box 1, OV 7
This series consists of eleven collages and nine drawings by Berman, and eight "photograms" by Robert F. Heinecken.
Artwork by Berman, 1956-1976, undated
(3 folders; see also OV 7)
|1||5282||Artwork by Others-Photograms by Robert F. Heinecken, 1971|
26 Folders; boxes 1-2
This series consists of copies of Berman's mail art publication Semina. There are multiple copies of Nos. 1, 2, 4-8, and an envelope for No. 9. The files also contains Semina Art Gallery announcements.
Semina, Nos. 1 - 9, 1955-1964
Semina, Nos. 1 - 9 cont., 1955-1964
|2||5282||Semina Art Gallery Announcements, [1965-1967]|
S. M. S., 1968
1 Folder; box 2
This series consists of a copy of No. 1 of the mail art publication S. M. S.
|2||5282||S. M. S., No. 1, 1968|
Printed Material, 1907-1976
2.7 Linear feet; boxes 2-5
This series consists of clippings, exhibition announcements, catalogs, brochures, booklets, scripts written by Berman's colleagues, seventy-four books, and miscellaneous printed material. Exhibition announcements and catalogs for others includes a catalog authographed by Jasper Johns.
The series is arranged as two subseries.
7.1: General Printed Material, 1908-1976,
Clippings, 1962-1976, undated
Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs for Berman, 1968-1975, undated
Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs for Others, 1964-1971, undated
|3||5283||Booklets, "Kolner Puppen-Theater," Vols. 2, 4, by Fritz Honig, 1908-1910|
|3||5283||Booklets, "Work of the Chariot,," 1970|
|3||5283||Booklets, ["Moulin a Papier Richard de Bas in Ambert, France,," 1974|
|3||5283||Scripts, The Beard, by Michael McClure, 1965|
|3||5283||Scripts, The Yin and the Yang, by Don Sherman, Dennis Hopper, and Peter Fonda, 1966|
7.2: Books, 1907-1974, undated
The books in this subseries include works on various religions, theories, and philosophies fundamental to the beat movement. There are first edition publications by many of the movement's leaders.
The books are arranged chronolgically.
|3||5283||Phanopoeia Pavane: Dance - Play in Verse by unidentified author, undated|
|3||5283||Another Academy by Charles Bukowski, undated|
|3||5283||Kabbalah by Rabbi Levi L. Krakowsky, undated|
|3||5283||Osma of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1907|
|3||5283||The Book of formation or Sepher Yetzirah by Knut Stenring, 1923|
|3||5283||The Story of Modern Science by Henry Smith Williams, 1923|
|3||5283||Rota ou & La Roue Celeste by Enel, 1930|
|3||5283||The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry by Ernest Fenollosa, edited by Ezra Pound, 1936|
|3||5283||The Journal of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen, 1944|
|3||5283||Pictures of Life and of Death by Kenneth Patchen, 1946|
|3||5283||Poems 1948-49 by Robert Duncan, |
|3||5283||The Waters Reglitterized by Henry Miller, 1950|
|3||5283||Howl by Allen Ginsberg, 1956|
|3||5283||The Pearl Tears by Nickolas Logan, 1956|
|3||5283||Collectanea: I E Alexander, , 1957|
|3||5283||Images de Jean Cocteau, preface de Georges Noel, [1957?]|
|3||5283||The Wisdom of the Kabbalah, foreword by Dagobert D. Runes, 1957|
|3||5283||Hymns to St. Geryon and Other Poems by Michael McClure, 1959|
|3||5283||Ragas by David Meltzer, 1959|
|3||5283||Letters by Robert Duncan, 1958|
|3||5283||Gallery of Women by Ruth Weiss, 1959|
|3||5283||The First War Planes by William E. Barrett, , 1960|
|3||5283||A Correspondence of Americans by Jack Hirschman, 1960|
|3||5283||Wobbly Rock by Lew Welch, 1960|
|3||5283||Poems for Selected People by Idell, 1961|
|3||5283||Destroyed Works by Philip Lamantia, 1962|
|3||5283||We All Have Something to Say to Each Other by David Meltzer, 1962|
|4||5283||Robert Ronnie Branaman, , 1963|
|4||5283||Television Decollage & Morning Glory/ 2 Pieces by Volf Vostell, , 1963|
|4||5283||Points in Time by Zack Walsh, , 1963|
|4||5283||Ballads by Helen Adams, illustrated by Jess, 1964|
|4||5283||Black Pilgrimage by Cameron, 1964|
|4||5283||Ghost Tantras by Michael McClure, 1964|
|4||5283||The Esoteric Tarot by Simon Kasdin, 1965|
|4||5283||The Process by David Meltzer, 1965|
|4||5283||Chinoiserie by John Wieners, 1965|
|4||5283||The Hotel Wentley Poems by John Wieners, 1965|
|4||5283||Bruce Connor/Michael McClure, , 1966|
|4||5283||Sapphobones by Kirby Doyle, 1966|
|4||5283||A Portents Semina, Portents #6, (for Wallace Berman) By Samuel Charters, 1967|
|4||5283||A Dream by Steve Elvin, 1967|
|4||5283||Love Dragon Poem by Michael L. Fram, 1967|
|4||5283||The Soap Opera by Piero Heliczer, 1967|
|4||5283||William Blake by Jack Hirschman, 1967|
|4||5283||Zen Love Poems by Idell, 1967|
|4||5283||Golden Sardine by Bob Kaufman, 1967|
|4||5283||Lying Together; Turning the Head & Shifting the Weight; The Produce District, & Other Places; Moving -- A Spring Poem by Ron Loewinsohn, 1967|
|4||5283||Business Cards by Billy Al Bengston and Ed Ruscha, 1968|
|4||5283||The Finger by Bobbie Creeley, 1968|
|4||5284||Hail Thee Who Play by Michael McClure, 1968|
|4||5284||Round the Poem Box; Rustic & Domestic Home Movies for Stan & Jane Brakhage by David Meltzer, 1969|
|4||5284||Black Alephs by Jack Hirschman, 1969|
|4||5284||Shekinah by Jack Hirschman, 1969|
|4||5284||Hymns to St. Geryon and Other Poems/Dark Brown by Michael McClure, 1969|
|4||5284||Gallowsongs: Galgenlieder by Christian Morgenstern Versions by Jess, 1970|
|4||5284||General Principles of the Kabbalah by Rabbi Moses C. Luzzatto, 1970|
|4||5284||Greenspeech by David Meltzer, 1970|
|4||5284||Luna by David Meltzer, 1970|
|4||5284||Altars by Clayton Eshhleman, 1971|
|4||5284||Scintilla by Jack Hirschman, 1971|
|4||5284||Knots by David Meltzer, 1971|
|4||5284||An Excerpt from "The Disconcerting Games of Vadim the Mechanic" by Ben Talbert, 1971|
|4||5284||Kabbala Surrealism: An Essay by Jack Hirschman, 1972|
|4||5284||The R of the Ari's Raziel by Jack Hirschman, 1972|
|4||5284||The Mammals by Michael McClure, 1972|
|4||5284||Spectral Measures on the Unit Disc by Bartholomew, 1973|
|4||5284||Hero/Lil by David Meltzer, 1973|
|5 (hol)||5284||Kabbalah by Charles Ponce, 1973|
|5 (hol)||5284||Alphabet by Stuart Z. Perkoff, 1973|
|5 (hol)||5284||Cantillations by Jack Hirschman, 1974|
|5 (hol)||5284||DJackson by Jack Hirschman, 1974|
|5 (hol)||5284||Igitur by Stephane Mallarme, 1974|
|5 (hol)||5284||Rare Angel by Michael McClure, 1974|
|5 (hol)||5284||September Blackberries by Michael McClure, 1974|
|5 (hol)||5284||Miscelaneous Printed Material, 1970-1974|
6 Folders; box 5, OV 7
This series contains photgraphs of Berman, his wife, his colleagues, the Poets' Parade, and his work Wall Painting. The five photographs of Berman show him with Artie Richer, B. Alexander, David Meltzer at Fergus Gallery, his son Tosh, and William Hillman. Photographs of colleagues include: Cameron, 1962; Richard Constantino, 1958; S. Berman and Samson de Brier, 1956; Samson de Brier, 1957; Bill Eisenlord, undated; George Herms, 1960; Louise Herms, 1958; Pat Jordan, 1960; Philip Lamantia, 1958 and 1959; Michael McClure (16 undated photographs); Artie Richer with Berman, 1958; John Wieners, 1959 and 1964.
Photographs of Berman, 1957-1976
(5 photographs; see also OV 7)
Photographs of Colleagues, 1956-1964
(3 folders; see also OV 7)
Photographs of the Poets' Parade, 1958
Photographs of Artwork "Wall Painting" by Berman, 1974
Sound Recordings, 1962-1965
6 Folders; box 6
This series contains twelve reel-to-reel tapes of poetry readings by Micahel McClure, David Meltzer, and Kenneth Patchen.
Michael McClure and Unidentified Poet Performing with Sound Effects, undated
Poetry Readings by David Meltzer and Kenneth Patchen, 1962
Michael McClure Poetry Reading, 1962
Includes "Marilyn Monroe, today thou hast past the dark barrier... Diving in a swirl of golden hair....;" Silence the eyes...Become the senses"
Michael McClure Poetry Reading at the Lion House, San Francisco; recorded by Bruce Kansas Connor, 1965