Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

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?

Join Peggy Bacon’s social circle: Facebook.com/SixDegreesofPeggyBacon

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.

View Items from This Exhibition

Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Judy Chicago

Judy Chicago, ca. 1975

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

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Dale Chihuly to Italo Scanga

Dale Chihuly to Italo Scanga, Aug. 1, 1995

Creator: Dale Chihuly

5° – Dale Chihuly sent this fax to sculptor Italo Scanga

Chihuly was a long-time friend of Scanga. Over the years, Chihuly sent Scanga numerous faxes of scribbled illustrations. This 1995 fax includes a sketch of an ongoing project in Ireland.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Italo Scanga letter to Samuel J. Wagstaff

Italo Scanga letter to Samuel J. Wagstaff, 1966 Dec. 13

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.”

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Tony Smith, Nuremberg, Germany letter to Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner

Tony Smith, Nuremberg, Germany letter to Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, 1954 Mar. 12

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Jackson Pollock, Alexander Brook, and Freddie Lake

Jackson Pollock, Alexander Brook, and Freddie Lake, ca. 1950

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Peggy Bacon and Alexander Brook with their children

Peggy Bacon and Alexander Brook with their children, ca. 1920

1° – Alexander Brook was married to Peggy Bacon

Brook and Bacon married in 1920 and remained figures in the lively art scene in Woodstock. When they divorced around 1940, Brook moved to Sag Harbor on eastern Long Island. In this photo, they pose with their children, Belinda and Sandy at a Maverick Festival in Woodstock, ca. 1925.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Journal #110

Journal #110, 2005 Aug. 13 to Nov. 21

Creator: Janice 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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Frida Kahlo, Paris, France letter to Nickolas Muray, New York, N.Y.

Frida Kahlo, Paris, France letter to Nickolas Muray, New York, N.Y., 1939 Feb. 16

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Gathering at the Riveras’ San Angel home

Gathering at the Riveras’ San Angel home, 1938

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Diego Rivera letter to Walter Pach

Diego Rivera letter to Walter Pach, 1923 July 3

Creator: Diego Rivera

3° – Diego Rivera wrote this letter to painter Walter Pach

In 1923 Rivera—writing in Spanish—compliments a recent work by Pach of a Mexican street scene. He also describes the current projects of several Mexican artists such as the mural work of caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

John Sloan letter to Walter Pach

John Sloan letter to Walter Pach, 1920 June 9

Creator: John French Sloan

2° – Walter Pach received this illustrated letter from painter John Sloan

In 1920, Sloan summered in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In this letter to Pach, he caricatured the local models and reflected on the change of pace from New York.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

John Sloan painting

John Sloan painting, 1939

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Andy Warhol

Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Andy Warhol, 1971 June 5

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Ray Johnson mail art to David Bourdon

Ray Johnson mail art to David Bourdon, not before 1962

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Ray Johnson invitation to Joseph Cornell

Ray Johnson invitation to Joseph Cornell, ca. 1970

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Joseph Cornell, New York, N.Y. letter to Marcel Duchamp, Flushing, N.Y.

Joseph Cornell, New York, N.Y. letter to Marcel Duchamp, Flushing, N.Y., between 1955 and 1968

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Marcel Duchamp letter to Louis George Bouché

Marcel Duchamp letter to Louis George Bouché, 1960 June 23

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.”

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Sketch of Louis and Marian Bouché

Sketch of Louis and Marian Bouché, 192-?

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Map of Paris

Map of Paris, ca. 1950?

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.

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Jacob Lawrence letter to Romare Bearden

Jacob Lawrence letter to Romare Bearden, 1971 Apr. 3

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Jacob Lawrence letter to Philip Howard Evergood

Jacob Lawrence letter to Philip Howard Evergood, 1963

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Commentary on the relationship between artists and critics

Commentary on the relationship between artists and critics, between 1910 and 1970

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.”

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Notice of dress code in Lake George, N.Y., given to Elizabeth McCausland by Alfred Stieglitz

Notice of dress code in Lake George, N.Y., given to Elizabeth McCausland by Alfred Stieglitz, not before 1931

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz, ca. 1940

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.”

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Georgia O'Keeffe posing for Una Hanbury

Georgia O'Keeffe posing for Una Hanbury, 1967

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Buckminster Fuller letter to Una Hanbury

Buckminster Fuller letter to Una Hanbury, 1976 Sept. 21

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.”

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome at the Milan Triennale

Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome at the Milan Triennale, 1957

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Isamu Noguchi, Paris, France letter to Andrée Ruellan, New York, N.Y.

Isamu Noguchi, Paris, France letter to Andrée Ruellan, New York, N.Y., 1927 Nov. 30

Creator: Isamu Noguchi

3° – Isamu Noguchi wrote this love letter to painter Andrée Ruellan

In 1927, when Noguchi was apprenticing with Constantin Brancusi in Paris, he wrote this romantic letter to Ruellan. Noguchi promised to bring back "a bottle of that pure Parisian air” to Ruellan, who had recently moved from Paris to New York City.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Woodstock Artists Association, Woodstock, N.Y. letter to Andrée Ruellan, Shady, N.Y.

Woodstock Artists Association, Woodstock, N.Y. letter to Andrée Ruellan, Shady, N.Y., 1935 Nov. 21

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Peggy Bacon

Peggy Bacon, ca. 1920

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Elihu Vedder travel diary

Elihu Vedder travel diary, between 1889 and 1891

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

World's Columbian Exposition participant list

World's Columbian Exposition participant list, ca. 1893

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer, ca. 1907

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Andrew Wyeth letter to Robert Macbeth

Andrew Wyeth letter to Robert Macbeth, 1937 Dec. 23

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Andrew Wyeth letter to Reginald Marsh

Andrew Wyeth letter to Reginald Marsh, 1952 Dec. 9

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.

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Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon

Peggy Bacon letter to Felicia Meyer Marsh

Peggy Bacon letter to Felicia Meyer Marsh, 1954 July 10

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.

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