June 27 to November 24, 2012
Exhibited in Washington, D.C. at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery
Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone in the world is no more than six relationships away from any other person. The idea stretches back to Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi and it was made famous in a 1967 Harvard study, but John Guare’s 1990 play of the same name pushed the expression into everyday use. Riffing and serious study continue. The trivia game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” plotted celebrity connections. Last year, scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan determined that the degrees are now a mere 4.74.
The painter Peggy Bacon knew a lot of people in the art world. Taking her as the central figure, the collections of the Archives of American Art reveal the deep and diverse history of art in the United States and beyond. How did the creative, significant, and trivial interactions between student and teacher, artist and dealer, and even lover to lover work? How many degrees separate her art world from ours–and us from her?
Who was Peggy Bacon?
The New York artist Peggy Bacon (1895–1987) is not a household name, but she should be. Her long career was various, productive, and successful. She was famous for her witty caricatures of celebrities and artists; she excelled at printmaking; wrote and illustrated numerous children’s books; and published poetry and novels.
As the only child of Elizabeth Chase and Charles Roswell Bacon, painters who met at the Art Students League in Manhattan, Bacon grew up in an artistic family. She studied at the League herself, taking classes with the most popular teachers of the day, John Sloan, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and George Bellows. She also formed her lifelong circle of friends at the League, and its summer school in Woodstock, New York. In the 1920s, her career took off and her accomplishments are still to be envied: a first one-person show at Alfred Stieglitz’s Intimate Gallery in 1928; in 1934, a book of caricatures, Off With Their Heads, funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship; in 1953, she was nominated for an Edgar Award for the best first mystery novel by an American author for The Inward Eye.
Bacon stood at the center of a vast network of artists, dealers, critics, and family members. Its connections, intersections, and separations can be, by turns, surprising, amusing, or, predictable, and they illustrate the concept of the six degrees of separation.
Creator: Mimi Jacobs
6° – Judy Chicago took courses at Pilchuck Glass School, founded by glass artist Dale Chihuly and patrons Anne and John H. Hanberg
At the suggestion of a friend and glass artist, Flo Perkins, Chicago attended a summer workshop at the Pilchuck Glass School in 2003. In her 2009 oral history interview with the Archives of American Art, she describes her technical achievements at Pilchuck
Creator: Italo Scanga
4° – Italo Scanga wrote to curator Samuel Wagstaff about sculptor Tony Smith
In this 1966 letter, Scanga compliments an article on Tony Smith written by Wagstaff, adding that “those are the articles that I like to see written about artists.”
Creator: Tony Smith
3° – Tony Smith sent this letter to Jackson Pollock
In this 1954 letter to Pollock, Smith recounts a recent dream that involved Pollock and his wife, painter Lee Krasner. Smith, who was living in Germany at the time, also asks Pollock to visit him.
2° – Jackson Pollock and Alexander Brook posed together in this photo
Pollock is an American icon. Creator of rhythmic and energetic “action painting,” he is internationally hailed as a leading figure in Abstract Expressionism. In this photo, Pollock enjoys a car ride, presumably on Long Island, with painter Alexander Brook.
Creator: Janice Ann Lowry
6° – Janice Lowry illustrated Frida Kahlo in her journal
Lowry’s mixed media journals offer insight into her everyday life and artistic practice. On August 23, 2008, she depicted imaginary advice from Kahlo.
Creator: Frida Kahlo
5° – Frida Kahlo sent this love letter to photographer Nickolas Muray
In 1939, Kahlo was married to the preeminent Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, but she had fallen in love with the dashing Muray. Kahlo wrote this letter to Muray from Paris, sealing the letter with pink lipstick kisses.
4° – Nickolas Muray took this photograph of Diego Rivera and others
In 1938, Muray took this photograph in Rivera’s San Angel home in Mexico City. From left to right: Alfa Ríos Henestrosa and Beta Ríos Pineda (Rivera’s models), Rosa Covarrubias, Nickolas Muray, Diego Rivera, Miguel Covarrubias, and Frida Kahlo.
Creator: Ernest Knee
1° – John Sloan instructed Peggy Bacon
Sloan was an influential teacher at the Arts Students League, counting among his students Alexander Calder, Reginald Marsh, John Graham, and Peggy Bacon. From 1915 until 1920, Bacon studied at the League. In her 1973 oral history interview with Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Bacon recounted her favorable impression of Sloan and how he once mistook her drypoint of a beautiful woman for a self-portrait. The sketch was not of herself, but of painter Katherine Schmidt.
Creator: David Bourdon
6° – Andy Warhol posed for this photograph by art historian David Bourdon
In 1971, Bourdon snapped this photograph of Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Andy Warhol. Bourdon later published a biography on Warhol.
Creator: Ray Johnson
5° – Art critic David Bourdon received this piece of mail art from Ray Johnson
Around 1970, Johnson sent Bourdon and others this intriguing list of cultural celebrities, from Hugh Hefner to Joseph Cornell. He asked the recipients to forward their “New York Correspondance” to art critic Rosalind Constable. In this way, mail art would proliferate through the postal system.
Creator: Ray Johnson
4° – Ray Johnson sent this announcement to assemblage artist Joseph Cornell
Johnson sent this flier to Cornell announcing the inaugural meeting of the Marcel Duchamp Fan Club. According to David Bourdon, Johnson and Cornell bonded over their shared love of musician Dionne Warwick.
Creator: Joseph Cornell
3° – Joseph Cornell wrote this letter to Dadaist Marcel Duchamp
Cornell corresponded frequently with his friend, Duchamp; however, he never sent this curious missive.
Creator: Marcel Duchamp
2° – Marcel Duchamp sent this letter to painter Louis Bouché
In 1960, Duchamp, who was an avid chess player, wrote this letter of appeal to Bouché to join Duchamp’s “Arts Committee for American Chess.”
Creator: Peggy Bacon
1° – Louis Bouché and his wife Marian are subjects of this sketch by Peggy Bacon
Bouché was a painter, muralist, and art instructor at the Art Students League. Bacon was one of his students.
Creator: Romare Bearden
6° – Henry Ossawa Tanner’s studio was included in a map of Paris by painter Romare Bearden
In 1891, Pittsburgh-born Tanner moved to Paris, where he achieved unprecedented success for his paintings. He maintained a studio at 51 Rue St. Jacques until his death in 1937. In 1950, painter Romare Bearden visited Paris on the G.I. Bill. Bearden’s hand-drawn map of Parisian cultural highlights locates the studio of Tanner, whom Bearden held in high esteem.
Creator: Jacob Lawrence
5° – Romare Bearden received this letter from painter Jacob Lawrence
Lawrence met Bearden in New York City while working on the New Deal’s Federal Art Project. Their studios were also located the same Harlem building on 125th Street, where they gathered with other African American artists and writers. In this 1971 letter to “Romie,” Lawrence recalls how a recent exhibition brought back memories of their former studios.
Creator: Jacob Lawrence
4° – Jacob Lawrence sent this letter to Philip Evergood
In 1963, Lawrence chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Evergood donated a drawing in support of the committee.
Creator: Philip Howard Evergood
3° – Philip Evergood wrote this tribute to art critic Elizabeth McCausland
In this unpublished tribute, Evergood wrote of his admiration for the critic, concluding that “McCausland has shown her confidence in humanity and her confidence in the survival of beauty, to me. That’s why I have a living confidence in her.”
Creator: Board of Trustees of Lake George Village (Lake George, N.Y.)
2° – Elizabeth McCausland received this notice from photographer Alfred Stieglitz
In 1931, the photographer Paul Strand introduced McCausland to Stieglitz. As evidenced by this humorous warning sign mailed to McCausland from Stieglitz, the two hit it off immediately. McCausland, however, ended the friendship when Stieglitz criticized New Deal art projects.
Creator: Kay Bell Reynal
1° – Alfred Stieglitz organized one of Peggy Bacon’s first solo exhibitions
Photographer and modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz helped elevate the status of photography and modern art in the United States through watershed exhibitions and publications. Stieglitz coordinated an exhibition of Bacon’s caricatures at his Intimate Gallery in March and April, 1928. In her 1973 oral history interview conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Bacon recounts how Stieglitz would “talk you to death.”
6° – Georgia O’Keeffe posed for sculptor Una Hanbury
In 1967, when O’Keeffe was 80, she sat for a portrait by Hanbury. In this snapshot, Hanbury works on the bust at O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
Creator: R. Buckminster (Richard Buckminster) Fuller
5° – Una Hanbury also sculpted a bust of designer R. Buckminster Fuller. Hanbury earned recognition for her portraits of prominent Americans, including Fuller. Fuller wrote to Hanbury in 1967, just after she finished working with him, noting that “it was a good thinking time and your companionship was beautiful and thoughtful.”
Creator: Esther McCoy
4° – R. Buckminster Fuller was the subject of a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi
As a visionary, Fuller was not limited to a single form of intellectual expression; he was a designer, scientist, artist, futurist, and architect. In his 1973 oral history interview with Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Noguchi explains how he made a portrait of “Bucky” in his Carnegie Hall studio.
Creator: Woodstock Artists Association
2° – Andrée Ruellan received an award from the Woodstock Artists Association
At the time, painter Konrad Cramer was on the board of directors. When Ruellan married painter John W. Taylor in 1929, they moved permanently to Woodstock, New York. In 1935, the Woodstock Artists Association awarded Ruellan the Kieth Memorial Prize.
Creator: Soichi Sunami
1° – Konrad Cramer was friends with Peggy Bacon
Cramer was an active member of the Woodstock Artists Association. He and his wife, Florence Ballin, corresponded with Bacon for several years.
Creator: Elihu Vedder
6° – Elihu Vedder was included in the American art gallery at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, co-organized by Charles M. Kurtz
Vedder was a symbolist painter best known for his illustrations of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward FitzGerald. In 1889, he chronicled his travels through Egypt, including sketches and translations of Arabic texts.
Creator: Charles M. (Charles McMeen) Kurtz
5° – Charles M. Kurtz also included the work of painter Winslow Homer in the American art gallery
Kurtz had the daunting task of coordinating the installation of the art galleries for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. During the planning stage, he made multiple lists of possible artists to include.
4° – Winslow Homer was represented by art dealers William and Robert Macbeth
Founded in 1892 by William Macbeth, the Macbeth Gallery was one of the first galleries to specialize in American art. William’s son, Robert, joined the business in 1909.
Creator: Andrew Wyeth
3° – Robert Macbeth received this letter from painter Andrew Wyeth
In this 1937 letter to Macbeth, Wyeth sketches a miniature version of his watercolor painting, The Bay, explaining that he has taken it from the gallery. Wyeth had his first exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in October that year.
Creator: Andrew Wyeth
2° – Andrew Wyeth wrote this letter to painter Reginald Marsh
In 1954, Wyeth served on a jury that awarded Marsh a prestigious award from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In this letter, he congratulates Marsh on this accomplishment.
Creator: Peggy Bacon
1° – Reginald Marsh was the subject of this letter to Felicia Meyer Marsh from Peggy Bacon
Marsh and Bacon met while they were students at the Art Students League in the 1920s. After his sudden death by heart attack in 1954, Bacon wrote this letter of condolence to Marsh’s widow, Felicia Meyer Marsh.