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

More Information

Jean Fitzgerald
Scope and Contents
The papers of painter, printmaker, and illustrator Bernarda Bryson Shahn measure 11.9 linear feet and 5.88 GB 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. There is a 2.7 linear foot unprocessed addition to this collection donated in 2011 that includes administrative files regarding Bernarda Shahn's work on the board of Skowhegan correspondence of both Bernarda and Ben Shahn; an inventory ledger with names of works of art by Ben Shahn; a scrapbook regarding Ben Shan's work in Japan; photographs of Ben and Bernarda Shahn and images of works of art by Ben Shahn; sketchbooks and notebooks by Ben and Bernarda Shahn; and printed material.
Biographical material includes biographical accounts for Bernarda and Ben Shahn, identification cards, membership cards, awards, appointment books and calendars, address books, and a video recording.
Correspondence is primarily between Bernarda Bryson 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 Bryson 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, some in digital format, 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 Bryson 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 Bryson 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 Bryson Shahn, Ben Shahn, and others. There are also travel photographs.
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 Material
Also found in the Archives of American Art are two oral histories with Bernarda Bryson Shahn, one completed in 1983 by Liza Kirwin and another in 1995 by Pamela Meecham. The Archives also holds the Ben Shahn papers.
Processing Information
The collection was arranged and described by Jean Fitzgerald in September 2011. An additional donation of papers is unprocessed. Born-digital materials were processed by Kirsi Ritosalmi-Kisner in 2020 with funding provided by Smithsonian Collection Care and Preservation Fund.