New Collections: Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Family Collection Records

By Josh T Franco
May 22, 2023
Detail of clear plastic bag that self-seals containing four steel pins and a note handwritten in ink on a bright pink square of papers saying, “Samaras Pins.”

This entry is part of an ongoing series highlighting new collections. The Archives of American Art collects primary source materials—original letters, writings, preliminary sketches, scrapbooks, photographs, financial records, and the like—that have significant research value for the study of art in the United States. The following essay was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue (vol. 62, no. 1) of the Archives of American Art Journal. More information about the journal can be found at

The Mayer Family Collection Records were donated to the Archives following a major sale of artworks collected by Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer, which was held at Christie’s in 2019. In addition to detailed inventories, the collection includes sales, provenance, and conservation records for work owned by the family over decades of collecting. While the Mayers are well-known for their holdings in postwar and contemporary American art, they also collected impressionism, European modernism, Chinese ceramics, and African and Oceanic figures.

Clear plastic bag that self-seals containing four steel pins and a note handwritten in ink on a bright pink square of papers saying, Samaras Pins.
Plastic bag containing straight pins from Lucas Samaras’s Untitled pin box, 1963. Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Family Collection Records.

As testament to the explosion of new mediums that is a hallmark of the Mayers’ main period of collecting (circa 1950 to the early 2000s), the Lucas Samaras artist file includes a small plastic bag containing four straight pins and a note that reads, “Samaras Pins.” In the same folder, researchers will find the original sales receipt from Green Gallery for “Untitled pin box,” a 1963 artwork by Samaras that the Mayers purchased for $520 in 1964. A 2008 outgoing loan receipt to the Ackland Art Museum lists the value of the same work at $70,000.

The file contains further loan documentation, a rare catalogue from Samaras’s first show at Pace Gallery in 1966, and relevant correspondence with Marla Hand, curator of the Mayer art collection who also managed the donation of records to the Archives. This is but one example from dozens of similarly thorough files that comprise a large portion of the collection records, which measure 22 linear feet. Represented among the artist files are such notable figures as John Chamberlain, Richard Hunt, Franz Kline, Roy Lichtenstein, and Marisol.

The records also contain materials related to the Mayers’ personal lives, though art remains a constant presence. In addition to the transcript of a 1995 oral history with Beatrice Mayer, there is also one with Frank Marshall recorded in 1994. Marshall and his wife Ines worked for the Mayers as their butler and cook, respectively, beginning around 1951. Frank recalls that his duties included caring for artworks in the Mayers’ home and often playing host and tour guide to famous artworld figures who visited over the years, such as Mark Chagall, Claes Oldenburg, and George Segal. Additional materials that provide insight into the Mayers’ art-filled daily lives include dozens of photographs of them with friends and family at home. Many of these came to the Archives as 35mm slides, and one such object shows a small crowd, casually seated and chatting in the Mayer home, with a large work by Lichtenstein on the wall behind them, filling the top-right corner of the frame.

The records also include inventory cards and other documents related to the Nathan Cummings art collection, which became the core of the Sara Lee Corporation collection. Cummings was Beatrice Mayer’s father. That collection of twentieth-century art included work by Georges Braque, Fernand Leger, and Henri Matisse. The addition of these records of two substantial private collections from a single family further strengthens the Archives’ position as the premiere institution for the study of the history of modern art in the United States and beyond.


Josh T. Franco is head of collecting at the Archives of American Art. 

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