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Beatrice Fenton papers, 1836-1984, (bulk 1890-1978)

Beatrice Fenton papers, 1836-1984, (bulk 1890-1978)

Fenton, Beatrice, 1887-1983


Collection Information

Size: 9.3 linear ft.

Summary: Biographical accounts, correspondence, drawings, note cards concerning sculpture projects, financial and printed material, and photographs of Fenton and of works of art.

Biographical/Historical Note

Sculptor; Philadelphia, Pa. Studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and developed a close friendship with Emily Clayton Bishop, whose work she promoted after Bishop's death in 1912.


Donated 1987 and 1991 by Joan Martin, a sculptor and former student of Fenton's who inherited Fenton's studio and its contents.

Related Materials

A Finding Aid to the Beatrice Fenton Papers, 1836-1984, bulk 1890-1978, in the Archives of American Art
Finding aid prepared by Jean Fitzgerald
Biographical Note
Beatrice Fenton was born on July 12, 1887 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to ophthalmologist Thomas H. Fenton and Lizzie Remak Fenton, who was the daughter of prominent lawyer Gustavus Remak.
From 1903-1904 Fenton began to study art at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art under Alexander Stirling Calder. Through her father's aunt, Mary Fenton Holmes, she met Thomas Eakins who advised her to sculpt in clay in order to overcome flatness in drawings. In 1904 Eakins painted a portrait of Fenton as the central figure in
The Coral Necklace
Fenton was attracted to sculpture and continued her studies in this field from 1904-1908 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, under Charles Grafly. Here she began life-long friendships with fellow students Marjorie Martinet and Emily Clayton Bishop.
A Cresson European Traveling Scholarship enabled Fenton to visit Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, France, and England during the summer of 1909. She returned to the Pennsylvania Academy and won a second scholarship that financed further travel to Spain, France, Holland, Belgium, and England in 1910 with Marjorie Martinet. On her return from Europe Fenton began working as an artist in Philadelphia.
Both Fenton and Martinet were deeply affected by the sudden death of Emily Clayton Bishop in 1912, and spent several years promoting Bishop's sculpture. Martinet, who changed the spelling of her surname from Martenet to Martinet in June 1918, established her own art school in Baltimore, Maryland, and later taught painting at the Maryland Institute of Art. Fenton and Martinet maintained a close relationship for fifty years, primarily through correspondence.
Fenton's first success came with a portrait bust of her father's friend, painter and etcher Peter Moran, brother of Thomas Moran. The bust was purchased by the painter's friends for the Art Club and in 1915 won Honorable Mention in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The success of Fenton's
Seaweed Fountain
in 1922 generated many commissions, primarily for fountains.
Martinet taught at Oldfields School from 1925 to 1961. From 1942 to 1953, Fenton taught at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, and later joined the faculty of St. John's Night School for Adults.
Beatrice Fenton died February 11, 1983 in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
The collection is arranged as 9 series. Glass plate negatives are housed separately and closed to researchers.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1897-1967 (Boxes 1, 10; 5 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1857-1980 (Boxes 1-5, 10; 4.5 linear feet)
Series 3: Business Records, 1836, 1907-1978 (Box 5; 39 folders)
Series 4: Notes and Writings, 1866-1971 (Boxes 5-6; 58 folders)
Series 5: Organization Records, 1903-1938 (Box 6; 9 folders)
Series 6: Interviews, 1978 (Box 6; 5 folders)
Series 7: Artwork, 1903-1943 (Boxes 7, 10; 21 folders)
Series 8: Scrapbook, 1905-1925 (Boxes 10; 1 folder)
Series 9: Printed Material, 1865-1984 (Boxes 7-8, 10; 1.7 linear feet)
Series 10: Photographs, 1890-1978 (Boxes 9-10, MGP 6; 1.0 linear feet)
Scope and Content Note
The papers of sculptor Beatrice Fenton date from 1836-1984 (bulk 1890-1978) and measure 9.3 linear feet. The collection documents Fenton's career as a sculptor and art instructor, as well as her life-long friendships with artist Emily Clayton and art educator Marjorie Martinet. Found are scattered biographical materials, correspondence primarily between Fenton and Martinet (approximately 1/2 of the collection), business records, notes and writings, scattered records of arts organizations, transcripts of interviews with Fenton, sketches and sketchbooks, a scrapbook, brochures, clippings, postcards, reproductions of artwork, and photographs of friends and family, travels, and artwork.
The collection includes scattered biographical material for Fenton, Emily Clayton Bishop, and Marjorie Martinet, such as biographical accounts, membership cards, and a diploma. The correspondence is primarily between Fenton and Martinet and documents the development of their close friendship and professional concerns. There are also scattered letters from Fenton's instructor, Alexander S. Calder and Emily Clayton Bishop. Personal business records include those of Fenton and Martinet and include wills, estate papers, insurance and banking records, price lists, receipts, and records from the Oldfields School where Marjorie Martinet taught for 36 years. Found within the Notes and Writings series are address books, hand-made illustrated booklets of poems by Emily Clayton Bishop, lecture manuscripts, and notes and typescripts on various topics, including a file Fenton created to promote Bishop's artwork following Bishop's death.
There is a series of scattered records of arts organizations to which Fenton belonged, including the Charcoal Club, the Three Arts Club, Lizette Wood Reese Memorial Association, and the Maryland Institute Alumni Association. Also found in the papers are interview tapes and transcripts of interviews conducted with Fenton by Mary Hamel-Schwulst and Marlene Obarzaneck, artwork consisting primarily of sketchbooks and loose drawings by Fenton and Bishop, a scrapbook concerning Martinet, additional printed material, and photographs and photograph albums depicting Fenton, Martinet, Bishop, other family, colleagues, studios, artwork, and travel destinations.
Donated 1987 and 1991 by Joan Martin, a sculptor and former student of Fenton's who inherited Fenton's studio and its contents.
Processing Information
The papers were processed in September 2006 by Jean Fitzgerald. Glass plate negatives were re-housed in 2015 with a grant provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

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

Beatrice Fenton papers, 1836-1984, (bulk 1890-1978). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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