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Bernarda Bryson Shahn papers, 1872-2004, bulk 1904-2004

Bernarda Bryson Shahn papers, 1872-2004, bulk 1904-2004

Bryson, Bernarda, 1903-2004

Painter, Printmaker

Collection Information

Size: 14.5 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter, printmaker, and illustrator Bernarda Bryson Shahn measure 11.9 linear feet and date from 1872 to 2004, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1904-2004. Found within the papers are family and biographical materials, correspondence, writings including sound recordings of lectures by the Shahns, voluminous notebooks, five diaries, exhibition files, personal business records, printed material, seven scrapbooks, one sketchbook and other art work, and photographs. Although the bulk of the collection documents Bernarda's work, there are materials about or created by Ben Shahn scattered throughout the collection.

Biographical material includes biographical accounts for Bernarda and Ben Shahn, identification cards, membership cards, awards, appointment books and calendars, address books, and a Japanese videotape about Ben Shahn.

Correspondence is primarily between Bernarda Shahn and publishers, educational institutions, and colleagues and friends including Leo Lionni, Russell Lynes, Robert Osborn, and Warren Robbins.

There are four linear feet of notes, notebooks, typescripts, and other writings by Bernarda Shahn and others, many of which concern Ben Shahn. Included are numerous files of research notes for published and planned books about Ben Shahn, notebooks concerning art-related topics, card files of art work, lists, sound recordings of lectures by the Shahns and Gwen Knight, and many typescripts of writings about art and Ben Shahn, among other topics. There is also a folder of notes by Ben Shahn for the Mural for the Rural Rehabilitation Program. Five of Bernarda Shahn's diaries contain very brief daily entries and some illustrations. The 1972 diary contains much more elaborate illustrations.

The exhibition files contain letters, notes, and printed material concerning exhibitions of art work by Ben Shahn.

Personal business records include files concerning property, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, miscellaneous contracts, files concerning publishing, art price lists, and other scattered legal and/or financial records.

Printed material includes clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, press releases for Bernarda Shahn, Ben Shahn, and others, books including, "A Partridge in a Pear Tree," illustrated by Ben Shahn, and printed reproductions of art work. Seven scrapbooks also contain printed materials, notes, and photographs. Scrapbooks 1-4 document the creation of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial for which Jonathan Shahn created the large portrait bust. Scrapbooks 5-7 concern a book by Bernarda Shahn, and scrapbook 8 contains obituaries for Ben Shahn.

Art work includes a sketchbook with annotations, drawings, a portfolio of drawings, lettering designs, watercolor sketches, and layouts for publications.

Photographs are of unidentified and identified Shahn family members, Ben Shahn, Ben Shahn with friends and colleagues including Alexander Calder, Helen Hayes, Senator Jacob Javitz, and Nelson Rockefeller, Ben Shahn's studio, exhibition installations, and art work by Bernarda Shahn, Ben Shahn, and others. There are also travel photographs.

An addition of 2.6 linear feet donated in 2011 includes administrative files regarding Bernarda Shahn's work on the board of Skowhegan consisting of correspondence, contact lists, newsletters, notes, mission statements, and by-laws; correspondence of both Bernarda and Ben Shahn; an inventory ledger with names of works of art by Ben Shahn; a scrapbook containing clippings and photographs from an exhibition of Ben Shahn's work in Japan; photographs of Ben and Bernarda Shahn at parties, exhibitions, and events, installation photographs of Ben Shahn's 1947 MoMA retrospective, and contact prints of Ben Shahn's works of art; Ben and Bernarda Shahn's sketchbooks and notebooks; and small exhibition catalogs, playbills, and gallery announcements regarding exhibitions of Ben and Bernarda Shahn's work.

Biographical/Historical Note

Bernarda Bryson Shahn (1903-2004) was a painter and printmaker from Roosevelt, New Jersey. Bernarda was the wife of artist Ben Shahn.


Donated 1983 by Bernarada Bryson Shahn and in 2005 and 2011 by Bernarda Brsyon Shahn estate via Jonathan Shahn and Abigail Shahn, co-executors.

Related Materials

A Finding Aid to the Bernarda Bryson Shahn Papers,
bulk 1904-2004
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Bernarda Bryson Shahn (1903-2004) worked primarily in New Jersey as a painter, printmaker, and illustrator. She was married to Ben Shahn and often collaborated with him.
Bernarda Bryson was born on March 7, 1903 in Athens, Ohio, the daughter of the owner-editor of newspaper
The Athens Morning Journal
. After receiving early drawing and painting lessons from her mother, Bryson attended a private girls' school where she continued her studies in art and art history.
At Ohio University, Bryson majored in philosophy and attended art classes in which David Smith was a classmate. She later attended the Cleveland Art School where she studied printmaking.
Following graduation, Bryson taught etching and lithography at the art school of the Columbus Gallery of Fine Art. She also wrote for
The Ohio State Journal
and became editor of community paper
The South Side Advocate
. While in New York City to interview Diego Rivera, she met Ben Shahn who was assisting Rivera in painting the mural at Rockefeller Center. Bernarda Bryson and Ben Shahn were married in 1935.
Bernarda Bryson Shahn moved to New York and helped organize the Artists' Union and exhibited at the Whitney Gallery on Eighth Street. She then went to Woodstock to study lithography with Bolton Brown and was invited to set up a lithographic shop for the Resettlement Administration in Washington, D.C.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Bernarda Bryson Shahn executed illustrations for
Harper's Magazine
Scientific American
in addition to random assignments from
Sports Illustrated
and other publications. She illustrated many books including
Wuthering Heights
Pride and Prejudice
as well as writing and illustrating her own books
The Twenty Miracles of Saint Nicolas
, and
The Zoo of Zeus
. Following the death of her husband in 1969, she wrote and designed a large monograph
Ben Shahn
, published by Abrams.
In the mid-1970s, Bernarda Bryson Shahn won further recognition when she returned to painting.
Bernarda Bryson Shahn died on December 12, 2004 in Roosevelt, New Jersey.
The collection is arranged as 10 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1937-1999 (Box 1, 13; 35 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1934-2004 (Box 1-5, 13, OV 14; 3.6 linear feet)
Series 3: Notes and Writings, 1946-2001 (Box 5-9; 4.0 linear feet)
Series 4: Diaries, 1965-1985 (Box 9; 5 folders)
Series 5: Exhibition Files, 1955-2000 (Box 9; 5 folders)
Series 6: Personal Business Records, 1932-2001 (Box 9, 10; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1904-2004 (Box 10-11, 13, OV 14-15; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 8: Scrapbooks, 1945-1978 (Box 11, 13, OV 15; 30 folders)
Series 9: Art Work, 1970-2002 (Box 11-13, OV 14; 70 folders)
Series 10: Photographs, 1872-1985 (Box 12; 34 folders)
Donated 1983 by Bernarada Bryson Shahn and in 2005 and 2011 by Bernarda Brsyon Shahn estate via Jonathan Shahn and Abigail Shahn, co-executors.
Processing Information
The collection was arranged and described by Jean Fitzgerald in September 2011.

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

Bernarda Bryson Shahn papers, 1872-2004, bulk 1904-2004. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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