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.


I have always liked writers and art makers. Thanks for sharing it!

RIP McCoy, he has done alot of great things in his life and always will be remebered

Today there are people like Garnett, I wish I had journalists who have the vocation, dedication and commitment that took him.
Your blog is really good, congratulations !

I feel like I really have a sense of what Mr. McCoy was actually alike. Practical yet innovative seems to be a philosophy of mine much like the way he mixed old and new.

Garnett McCoy was indeed a man of honour, I read a lot of stuff about him and I will continue to do so. Thanks for sharing.

Very sad to hear about Garnett McCoy :(( It seems a shame that we don't hold on to those cultivated qualities and beliefs as so many of them were what our country was based on. Thanks for the great article, very articulate!

Good information I think is great to learn more

very sad stories when we loss such a greater men. Garnett McCoy is very brave men and he also served in the Army during World War II and graduated from the University of Virginia.
proud to know him

great website. 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.

This is a great tribute to a loved and appreciated by many people, I do not think there is a better tribute to the admiration of others around you.

The art industry has lost a great hero. R.I.P Garnett McCoy

I'm saddened to hear of Garnett's passing. I never knew the man but it's obvious to me that individuals like Garnett are what keep stories alive. He sounds like he was a true character. The image of Garnett on the spiral staircase takes me back to my own memories from the University of Toronto.

Great office that one in Detroit. I ´ve been one time but i didn´t meet Garnett, rest in peace