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Alice Trumbull Mason papers, 1921-1977

Alice Trumbull Mason papers, 1921-1977

Mason, Alice Trumbull, 1904-1971


Collection Information

Size: 1.3 linear feet

Summary: Correspondence; resumes; budget books; writings; sketches and sketchbooks; photographs; papers relating to American Abstract Artists; price lists; announcements; and catalogs.

Biographical/Historical Note

Alice Trumbull Mason (1904-1971) was a painter in New York, N.Y. Was a member of American Abstract Artists.


Photos on reel N69-137 donated 1969 by Alice Trumbull Mason; material on reels 629-630 and 3134 donated 1972-1977 by Emily Mason Kahn, daughter of Alice Trumbull Mason. American Abstract Artists records kept by Mason and donated by her have been cataloged with American Abstract Artists records.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

A Finding Aid to the Alice Trumbull Mason Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Finding aid prepared by Erin Corley
Biographical Note
Alice Trumbull Mason was born in 1904 in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her mother, Anne Leavenworth Train, was an accomplished artist before she met Alice's father, William Trumbull, a descendent of the Revolutionary War era painter, John Trumbull. Alice spent much of her childhood in Europe with her family. From 1921 to 1922 they lived in Florence and Rome where she studied at the British Academy. In 1923 she continued her studies with painter Charles W. Hawthorne at the National Academy of Design in New York and from 1927 to 1928 attended courses at the Grand Central Art Galleries taught by Arshile Gorky. Gorky inspired her interest in abstract painting, and Mason painted her first non-objective works in 1929. In 1928 she returned to Italy and Greece and was greatly influenced by ancient art, Byzantium, and Italian primitives. She married Warwood Mason, a merchant seaman, in 1930 and her daughter Emily was born in 1932 and her son Jonathan in 1933. During this period she stopped painting and devoted her creative energy to writing poetry inspired by American avant-garde writers.
Mason began painting again in 1934 and was recognized as a key figure of American abstraction. In 1935 she met and became close friends with fellow artist Ibram Lassaw, and they, along with several other artists, began to meet on a regular basis which led to the first American Abstract Artists group exhibition in 1937. Mason remained very active in the group and served as treasurer in 1939, secretary from 1940 to 1945, and president from 1959 to 1963. She was also an activist for abstract art, protesting the decisions of the Museum of Modern Art several times for excluding abstract artists from exhibitions. During the 1940s her paintings and concept of "architectural abstraction" was influenced by the arrival of Piet Mondrian in New York. Also in the 1940s she had two one-woman shows, but throughout her career she felt there was a bias against women in the New York art world and most often she participated in AAA group shows. Her work would be viewed as an important bridge for future abstract and conceptualist artists. In 1958 her son died, and though she continued to paint and participate in exhibitions, she never recovered from this tragedy and in the late 1960s withdrew into seclusion until her death in 1971.
The collection is arranged into 6 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1925-1968 (Box 1, OV 3; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1922-1977 (Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings and Notes, 1921-1965 (Box 1; 6 folders)
Series 4: Printed Material, 1936-1974 (Box 1; 2 folders)
Series 5: Photographs, 1920s-1967 (Box 1, OV 3; 5 folders)
Series 6: Artwork, 1924-1963 (Box 1-2, OV 3; 0.4 linear feet)
Scope and Content Note
The papers of abstract artist Alice Trumbull Mason date from 1921 to 1977 and measure 1.3 linear feet. The collection documents her career as a painter, particularly her role as one of the founders of the American Abstract Artists group, through biographical materials; correspondence with family, friends, fellow artists, art galleries, museums, and organizations; writings and notes, including notebooks of poetry and other creative writings; a small amount of printed material; photographs of Mason, friends, and her artwork; and original artwork, including five sketchbooks.
Biographical material consists of resumes, passports, exhibition files, as well as documentation of her membership and active participation in art organizations, including her work as an officer in the American Abstract Artists group. Also found here are scattered personal financial and legal records. Personal and professional correspondence is with family members, including many detailed letters between her and her husband Warwood, fellow artists, including Paul Kelpe, art organizations, curators, museums, galleries, and others. Professional correspondence generally discusses selection of exhibition and awards, sale of artwork, and art events. Writings and notes, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s, consist of Mason's notes on art history and her creative writings, including poetry and "abstract writing." Also found are a few writings about abstract art and various notes and lists.
Printed material includes news clippings on topics of interest to Mason, and other miscellaneous items such as brochures, and exhibition announcements. Photographs include several portraits of Mason with her artwork, photographs of friends including artist Ibram Lassaw, photographs of an American Abstract Artists exhibition, and artwork by her and others. Original artwork found in this collection includes five sketchbooks belonging to Mason, including two that document her travels through Greece and Italy, and other loose drawings.
Photos on reel N69-137 donated 1969 by Alice Trumbull Mason; material on reels 629-630 and 3134 donated 1972-1977 by Emily Mason Kahn, daughter of Alice Trumbull Mason. American Abstract Artists records kept by Mason and donated by her have been cataloged with American Abstract Artists records.
Separated Material
A portion of the material donated by Alice Trumbull Mason in 1969 relating to her involvement with the American Abstract Artists was separated and filed with the American Abstract Artists records at the Archives of American Art. Files of news clippings and exhibition catalogs were transferred to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery Library after microfilming.
Related Material
Also found in the Archives of American Art is a collection of interviews by Ruth Bowman of members of the American Abstract Artists group conducted between 1963-1965, that includes an interview with Alice Trumbull Mason. The Archives of American Art also houses 2.3 linear feet of the records of the American Abstract Artists group.
Processing Information
Portions of the collection received a preliminary level of processing at some point after donation. The collection was microfilmed in accretions on reels N69-137, 629, 630, and 3134. The entire collection was fully merged, processed, arranged, and described by Erin corley in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

Microfilm reels N69-137, 629-630, and 3134 available at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Alice Trumbull Mason papers, 1921-1977. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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