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Remembering Garnett McCoy

By the Archives

January 21, 2011

Archives of American Art Journal editor Darcy Tell, remembers Garnett McCoy, curator emeritus of the Archives.

Photograph of Garnett McCoy
Garnett McCoy, 1963, in the Detroit offices of the Archives of American Art.
Garnett McCoy's Royal typewriter
Garnett’s Royal typewriter, in the Washington, D.C. offices of the Archives of American Art, serves as a daily reminder of his prolific writing, his style, and dislike of the computer.

We are sorry to announce the death of Garnett McCoy, curator emeritus, who played a central role at the Archives of American Art for many decades.

Garnett, editor of the Archives of American Art Journal from 1963 until his retirement in 1993, died on January 3rd. Garnett served in many capacities at the Archives. He was hired as an archivist in 1962 and soon took over the organization’s membership bulletin, which in his hands quickly became a more ambitious publication.

Garnett marked the Journal (as it became in 1964) with his own easygoing but deliberately pitched voice. Not much given to declarations of any kind, he gave readers real substance, based on primary documents, presented with clarity and precision. Deeply committed to political engagement, for example, he expressed his interest not by editorializing but by publishing, over decades, his own writing and writing by other scholars, many of whom were guided by Garnett to undiscovered subjects, materials of study, and new ideas. Along the way, he cultivated qualities that are now out of fashion: understatement, literary felicity, and a finely judged sense of historical context and appropriateness.

Garnett was an unusual mix of old and new and a man of graceful habits. He nearly always wore a jacket and carried a pocket knife and handkerchief. He swam at a place called the Capitol East Natatorium, whose name suited him perfectly, and rode his bicycle to and from the office. He told fabulous stories, often about long-dead artists, and, when he was in the right mood, he was a ready and satisfying gossip.

Garnett’s accomplishments—and also his elegant modesty—were exemplary, and he made a contribution to the Archives and scholarship that is difficult to measure. I urge anyone with stories or memories of this erudite and self-possessed man (he used to say that a gentleman never hurries) to leave a comment on this blog post.

Darcy Tell is editor of the Archives of American Art Journal.

Comments

I am deeply saddened to learn of Garnett's death...his encouragement meant so much to my career! We had so many wonderful talks about the South and his native Virginia. He told me a wonderful story about his father:
"My father was trying to teach us about history and called Robert E. Lee the greatest man who ever lived. Then he paused and said 'Oh, next to Jesus that is.'"
Rest in Peace dear Sir!

My remembrances of Garnett are given more to the pedestrian side. In the many years I knew G. at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art we would often have lunch together usually at the old Hecht Co. dinning room. He would always have a hamburger medium rare and a Budweiser beer. Talk was randomly about artists, politics, sports, family, & always enjoyable. He always seemed to have a favorite winter & summer "uniform" -- brown tweed sport coat & khaki pants in winter, seersucker suit in summer.
He was dedicated to his poker club one night every week of the year - also to swimming nearly every morning, often competitively. He was a warm & welcoming co-host at many Xmas parties at the museum. If you knew him well, he was a man of compelling interest and humor -- a man easy to love, and a man always to be missed and never forgotten.

Both Anne (Payne) and I joined AAA (Washington) staff in 1972, Anne as a Technician and I as the Adm. Officer. I knew less than nothing about American Art and Garnett was always so patient with me when I'd ask him to explain why Jackson Pollock, standing over a canvas throwing paint at it, was such a highly sought after work of art!! He also tirelessly edited many of my budget narratives which required a lot of work!! His greatest gift to me was blessing Anne's and my marriage which is 36 years, two children, and three grandchildren long. Those of us who knew Garnett know the world has lost a good person.

One of my fondest memories of my early career was working with Garnett McCoy. He was the personification of the Archives of that day...gentle, erudite, a little odd but perfect for the rarefied world of the Smithsonian.
I have many stories about Garnett but one of my favorites was the night several of us went to dinner at the Tabbard Inn. Garnett drove (an old Volvo,what else). As we left, we were surrounded by police, made to get out of the car and produce ID. We were suspected of being robbers. The situation was soon cleared up. What Garnett told the police and forgot to tell us was that his car had been recently stolen, found and returned. During that time, it had been used to "knock over" a Seven-Eleven and the police still had it listed as the crime car. Garnett was so nonchalant about the whole matter...so Garnett. Just a little oversight on his part.
He will be missed.

Mr. McCoy was clearly a remarkable man. I stumbled upon this article quite by accident, but was pleased to learn more about him.
I really love the old Royal manual typewriter, as well. I (obviously) am more than willing to use a PC, but a part of me still misses the ancient Underwood I used in decades past.

very good post but I stumbled upon this article quite by accident

I have many stories about Garnett but one of my favorites was the night several of us went to dinner at the Tabbard Inn. Garnett drove (an old Volvo,what else)
he is a good man !

your blog is really so nice, thanks for sharing it

A great shame to lose such a man, thanks for this post, it engenders a feeling of fond nostalgia for, perhaps, more genteel times and life....though I'm happy not to have to use the old typewriters!

May he rest in peace.

This is a great post about McCoy. Thanks for sharing it!

R.I.P Garnett McCoy. I never knew you but I'm sure you were hell of a guy. =)

Wow my mother has a type writer pretty similar to the one above!

Sad story. I have always liked writers and art makers.

I found this article by chance and I think it's very interesting. I found the figure of a man faithful to their ideas and their habits: small and smart. In addition, the article made me think about the importance of an archivist. Thanks

R.I.P Garnett McCoy. You have done great things and accomplishements !

Excellent information, thank you very much. Congratulations on the quality of the website. Greetings from Brazil.

I didn't know about Garnett McCoy after reading this blog I have come to know that he was really very good person. It engenders a feeling of fond nostalgia for, perhaps, more genteel times and life....though I'm happy not to have to use the old typewriters!

That's such a good Blog, I found a good information here! I didn't know a lot about Garnett but now, I already know! thanks! Regards from Colombia

I wasn't aware as to who McCoy himself was until reading this, but R.I.P. you have accomplished a lot!

It seems like he touched a lot of people and helped them in their life. People like this from what I'd call 'the oldschool' style have a lot of respect from me. He reminds me of one of my old tutors.

Good and Excellent information, thank you so much. I'm comes here after googling the search engine.

original follow good work my friend best job thanx.

My heart skipped a beat when I've seen this typewriter you don't see them around nowadays, than I learned about Garnett McCoy. Honestly I first learned about his great persona in this article. unfortunately, after death we discover true meaning of once's life. NIce article, thank you.
Best regards
Srdjan, South Africa

Great Post.
Gretings from Argentina

very good post but I stumbled upon this article quite by accident

Thank you for sharing this about Garnett McCoy with us, i dindt know much about Garnett McCoy as i know now

wow what a picture i like yar
vey nice this blog .thanks for shearing

Garnett McCoy was indeed a man of substance and I was blessed to have read several of his magazines. Now I wish I had done more than browse, rest well Garnett.

I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.
Regards, Lorie Garcia

nice tribute article on Garnett, thanks for sharing his history and acknowledgments...

Mr. McCoy was clearly a remarkable man. I stumbled upon this article quite by accident, but was pleased to learn more about him.

You wrote an excellent tribute to Mr. McCoy. Incidentally, he's compiled a very nice book, "Archives of American Art: A Directory of Resources," which is a good reference. Thanks also for the great images, which were so descriptive of the man.

very nice article and instructive knowledge on Garnett. Thank you very much

It's always great to find interesting blogs with engaging content like yours. Thanks.

A great man, worth learning from.

I did not know about Garnett McCoy before but your posting showed me what a great person he actually was!

I didn't know about Garnett McCoy after reading this blog I have come to know that he was really very good person. It engenders a feeling of fond nostalgia for, perhaps, more genteel times and life....though I'm happy not to have to use the old typewriters!

RIP.

wow...the snapshots are real good..!!

Yes, a great contribution to American Art from a tireless worker but can't imagine how it would be to spend most of ones life working in the past.

Greate post! i really enjoyed it!
Greatings from Spain

Nice blog, Thank you very much for sharing

You will be missed, but your great contributions will live on....

Nice description of him. I like the part that says he liked swimming and he always wore hat and suit. Rest in peace.

He is a great man, R.I.P. Sir!

May the Good Lord bless and keep you Sir Garnett McCoy! Rest in Peace. Amen!

Great Post... any type of commemorative post in memory of another is always a good read and welcome in my books.

I have not heard of him...now I know. Very inspirational. You write very well and explain things very good. Thanks so much!
Scott

Thanks alot. Useful post.

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