Wallace Berman papers, 1907-1979, bulk 1955-1979

A Finding Aid to the Wallace Berman Papers, 1907-1979 (bulk 1955-1979), in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald

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Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

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.

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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.

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.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Names" when they are creators or contributors and under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents.

Subjects:

  • Herms, George, 1935-
  • Jordan, Patricia, d. 1989
  • Lamantia, Philip, 1927-
  • McClure, Michael
  • Wieners, John, 1934-

Subjects-Topical:

  • Beat generation -- California
  • Photography, Artistic
  • Collage
  • Art -- California -- San Francisco Bay Area
  • Assemblage (Art)
  • Assemblage artists
  • Poets

Types of Materials:

  • Works of art
  • Drawings
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings

Names:

  • Bengston, Billy Al
  • Jess, 1923-
  • DeFeo, Jay, 1929-
  • Di Prima, Diane
  • Duncan, Robert Edward, 1919-
  • Fonda, Peter, 1940-
  • Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-
  • Heinecken, Robert, 1931-
  • Hirschman, Jack, 1933-
  • Hopper, Dennis, 1936-
  • Johnson, Ray, 1927-
  • Meltzer, David
  • Miller, Henry, 1891-
  • Patchen, Kenneth, 1911-1972
  • Perkoff, Stuart Z.
  • Ruscha, Edward
  • Sherman, Donald

Provenance

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.

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.

Available Formats

The collection is available on microfilm reels 5282-5284. The microfilm is available for interlibrary loan.

How to Cite this Collection

Wallace Berman papers, 1907-1979 (bulk 1955-1979). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Letters, 1957-1979, undated
(box 1, OV 7, 0.5 linear feet)

This series consists of miscellaneous business letters, ten letters from Berman, and letters from colleagues.

The letters are arranged chronologically.

Box Reel
1 5282 Miscellaneous Business Letters, 1959-1975, undated
1 5282 From Wallace Berman, 1960-1964, undated
1 5282 From Branaman, Robert, undated
(1 letter)
1 5282 From Collins, Jess and R. D., 1964-1965
(4 letters)
1 5282 From DeFeo, Jay, 1965-1973
(5 letters)
1 5282 From DiPrima, Diane, 1979
(1 letter enclosing a braid of hair)
1 5282 From Driscoll, Bob, 1964
(1 letter)
1 5282 [From Duncan, Robert] 1963
(1 letter)
1 5282 From Ginsberg, Allen, 1965
(1 letter)
1 5282 From Hirschman, Jack, 1967-1972, undated
(10 letters; 2 folders; see also OV 7)
1 5282 From Johnson, Ray, 1965-1968, undated
(9 letters)
1 5282 From McClure, Michael, 1957-1971, undated
(26 letters; 3 folders)
1 5282 From Meltzer, David, 1970, undated
(2 letters)
1 5282 From Miller, Henry, 1964
(1 letter)
1 5282 From Perkoff, Stuart, 1973, undated
(2 letters)
1 5282 From Weiners, John, 1960-1969
(11 letters; 2 folders)

Series 2: Notes from Interview, 1967
(box 1, 1 folder)

This series consists of one folder of sentence fragements taken from a London interview of Berman undertaken by Sandrada.

Box Reel
1 5282 Notes from London Interview by Sandrada, 1967

Series 3: Writings by Others, 1972, undated
(box 1, 6 folders)

This series includes a typescripts for two manuscripts and poems by Michael McClure, David Meltzer, and John Wieners.

Box Reel
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

Series 4: Artwork, 1956-1976
(box 1, OV 7, 4 folders)

This series consists of eleven collages and nine drawings by Berman, and eight "photograms" by Robert F. Heinecken.

Box Reel
1 5282 Artwork by Berman, 1956-1976, undated
(3 folders; see also OV 7)
1 5282 Artwork by Others-Photograms by Robert F. Heinecken 1971

Series 5: Semina, 1955-1967
(boxes 1-2, 26 folders)

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.

Box Reel
1 5282 Semina, Nos. 1 - 9, 1955-1964
(15 folders)
Box Reel
2 5282 Semina, Nos. 1 - 9 cont., 1955-1964
(10 folders)
2 5282 Semina Art Gallery Announcements, [1965-1967]

Series 6: S. M. S., 1968
(box 2, 1 folder)

This series consists of a copy of No. 1 of the mail art publication S. M. S.

Box Reel
2 5282 S. M. S., No. 1, 1968

Series 7: Printed Material, 1907-1976
(boxes 2-5, 2.7 linear ft.)

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,

Box Reel
2 5282 Clippings, 1962-1976, undated
(13 folders)
2 5282-5283 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs for Berman, 1968-1975, undated
(5 folders)
2 5283 Exhibition Announcements and Catalogs for Others, 1964-1971, undated
(3 folders)
Box Reel
3 5283 Brochures, 1964-1974
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.

Box Reel
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, [1949]
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
Box Reel
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
Box Reel
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

Series 8: Photographs, 1956-1976
(box 5, OV 7, 6 folders)

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.

Box Reel
5 (hol) 5284 Photographs of Berman, 1957-1976
(5 photographs; see also OV 7)
5 (hol) 5284 Photographs of Colleagues, 1956-1964
(3 folders; see also OV 7)
5 (hol) 5284 Photographs of the Poets' Parade, 1958
(3 photographs)
5 (hol) 5284 Photographs of Artwork "Wall Painting" by Berman, 1974
(2 photographs)

Series 9: Audio Tapes, 1962-[1965]
(box 6, 6 folders)

This series contains twelve reel-to-reel tapes of poetry readings by Micahel McClure, David Meltzer, and Kenneth Patchen.

Box Reel
6 (hol) unfilmed 3" reel-to-reel audio tape of unidentified poet reading words accompanied by sound effects, undated
6 (hol) unfilmed 7" reel-to-reel audio tape of poetry readings by David Meltzer and Kenneth Patchen, 1962
6 (hol) unfilmed 3" reel-to-reel audio tape of Michael McClure reading poetry: "Marilyn Monroe, today thou hast past the dark barrier... Diving in a swirl of golden hair....;" Silence the eyes...Become the senses," 1962
6 (hol) unfilmed 3" reel-to-reel audio tape of Michael McClure reading poetry ["Silence the eyes...Become the senses"] at the Lion House, San Francisco; recorded by Bruce Kansas Connor, [1965]
(3 folders; 9 identical copies)