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Ben Shahn papers, 1879-1990, bulk 1933-1970

Ben Shahn papers, 1879-1990, bulk 1933-1970

Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969

Painter, Photographer, Printmaker, Illustrator

Collection Information

Size: 24.6 linear ft.

Summary: The papers of social realist painter, photographer, illustrator, printmaker, and teacher Ben Shahn (1898-1969) measure 24.6 linear feet and date from 1879-1990, with the bulk of the material dating from 1933-1970. The bulk of the collection consists of over 14 linear feet of incoming letters from artists, writers, colleagues, publishers, art organizations, galleries, and universities and colleges. Also found are biographical materials, project and source files, printed material, artwork by Shahn and others, photographs taken of and by Shahn, interview transcripts, and audio and video recordings.

Biographical/Historical Note

Ben Shahn (1898-1969) was a painter, printmaker, and photographer who worked primarily in Brooklyn, N.Y. and New Jersey. Shahn immigrated from Lithuania to the United States in 1906. He apprenticed as a lithographer, 1913-1917, and studied at the National Academy of Design from 1919 to 1922. He had his first solo exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in 1930. Shahn took photographs of rural areas for the Farm Security Administration between 1935 and 1938. During the 1940s, he made posters for the Office of War Information.


The Ben Shahn papers were donated in several installments between 1967-1991 by Shahn's widow, Bernarda Bryson Shahn.

Related Materials

In 1969, Bernarda Bryson Shahn loaned addresses and essays by Shahn, 7 royalty statements, and 3 letters from publishers for microfilming. After filming, the material was returned to the donor. The loaned material is available on 35 mm microfilm reel N70-6 at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan, which is not described in the container list of this finding aid. However, many of Shahn's writings on this microfilm were included in subsequent donations to the Archives of American Art.

The Archives of American Art holds four oral history interviews with Ben Shahn: 1964 April 14 interview conducted by Richard K. Doud for the Archives of American Art New Deal and the Arts Project in which Shahn speaks of his travels and work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the American image as portrayed by FSA; 1965 January 17 interview; 1965 October 3 interview conducted by Harlan Phillips for the Archives of American Art New Deal and the Arts Project; and 1968 September 27 interview conducted by Forrest Selvig. Most of these interviews have transcripts available online.

The Archives also holds the Bernarda Bryson Shahn papers, circa 1947-2005, and two oral history interviews with Bernarda Bryson Shahn: 1983 April 29 and 1995 July 3.


Funding for the preservation and transfer of motion picture film provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee. Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Location of Originals

  • Reel N70-6: Originals returned to lender, Bernarda Bryson Shahn, after microfilming.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2011 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center.

How to Cite This Collection

Ben Shahn papers, 1879-1990, bulk 1933-1970. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Digitization Note

This site provides access to the papers of Ben Shahn in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 41,803 images.