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Burt Chernow papers, 1930-2002

Burt Chernow papers, 1930-2002

Chernow, Burt, 1933-1997

Art historian, Educator, Arts administrator

Collection Information

Size: 21.8 linear feet

Summary: The papers of Burt Chernow measure 21.8 linear feet and consist mainly of research materials gathered and produced in the course of writing "Christo and Jeanne-Claude: A Biography," over an extensive period of close contact with the subjects, from the early 1980s until Chernow's death in 1997. Research materials for the biography include photocopies of personal documents of the Christos, hundreds of recorded interviews with Christo, Jeanne-Claude, their family members, and their associates, transcripts of interviews and research on interview subjects, other collected research material compiled chronologically, drafts of the biography written by Chernow, drafts of the biography and its epilogue produced after Chernow's death, and business records related to the book's production, which include significant correspondence with the Christos. Also found are the published German and U.S. editions of the biography, printed materials and photographs related to the book's subject matter, and fabric samples from five of the Christos' projects undertaken during Chernow's association with them.

Biographical/Historical Note

Burt Chernow (1933-1997) was an art historian, writer, educator, collector, and dealer who founded the Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and who, upon his retirement from Housatonic Community College, became the authorized biographer of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, which he researched through close contact with the Christos from 1984 until his death in 1997.

Provenance

Donated 2002 by Ann Chernow, the widow of Burt Chernow.

Funding

Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' Hidden Collections grant program.

A Finding Aid to the Burt Chernow Papers, 1930-2002, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.cherburt
Finding aid prepared by Megan McShea
Scope and Contents note
The papers of Burt Chernow measure 21.8 linear feet and consist mainly of research materials gathered and produced in the course of writing
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: A Biography
over an extensive period of close contact with the subjects, from the early 1980s until Chernow's death in 1997. Research materials for the biography include photocopies of personal documents of the Christos, hundreds of recorded interviews with Christo, Jeanne-Claude, their family members, and their associates, transcripts of interviews and research on interview subjects, other collected research material compiled chronologically, drafts of the biography written by Chernow, drafts of the biography and its epilogue produced after Chernow's death, and business records related to the book's production, which include significant correspondence with the Christos. Also found are the published German and U.S. editions of the biography, printed materials and photographs related to the book's subject matter, and fabric samples from five of the Christos' projects undertaken during Chernow's association with them.
Chernow's career as an art critic, writer, educator, and arts advocate, primarily in Southern Connecticut, is documented in Chernow's other writings, organizational records, printed materials, and photographs. Other writings include drafts of articles, lectures, exhibition reviews, and catalog essays, some of which include research material gathered on the subjects. Artists written about by Chernow include Arman, Milton Avery, Barkley Hendricks, Francisco Zuñiga, Lester Johnson, Gabor Peterdi, and Jean Woodham, among many others, and including many Connecticut artists. A recorded interview with Arman, as well as transcripts of multiple interviews with Zuñiga, are filed with these writings. Also found are many writings and lectures related to the value of visual art in public life and in elementary and higher education. Numerous lectures by Chernow about several of the Christos' large-scale projects are also found, one of which, on the
Wrapped Reichstag
, is recorded on video.
Organizational records document Chernow's involvement in various art education organizations, his years of teaching at Housatonic Community College, his development of the Housatonic Museum of Art collection, and his work with several local arts organizations in Westport, Conn., including the Westport Arts Advisory Council, the Westport Arts Center, the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection Committee, and the Westport Weston Arts Council. Types of documents found include correspondence, clippings, photographs, flyers, and notes.
Printed material includes many of the books written by Chernow, and monographs and magazines which included essays on specific artists by Chernow. A file of clippings about Chernow spanning his career is also found. Photographs include prints, negatives, and contact sheets, and consist mainly of photographs of artists, many of which were taken by Chernow, and many of which are signed by the artists with a personal note to the Chernows. A handful of personal photographs of the Chernows are also found.
Biographical/Historical note
Burt Chernow was an art historian, writer, educator, collector, and dealer who founded the Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and who, upon his retirement from Housatonic Community College, became the authorized biographer of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, which he researched through close contact with the Christos from 1984 until his death in 1997. Although he had not completed the biography when he died, his wife Ann Chernow saw the manuscript through to publication, and the biography,
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: A Biography
, was first published in Germany in 2000, and then in the United States in 2002.
Born in New York City in 1933, Chernow earned a master's degree in art education at New York University in 1960, and began his career as an art teacher in the Westport, Connecticut public schools, later joining the faculty of the Art Department at the Housatonic Community College, where he eventually became the department's director. He also taught at the Museum of Modern Art, organizing the Children's Art Carnival in Harlem through the museum, and at Silvermine School of the Arts, the A.B.C.D. Arts Center in Bridgeport, Conn., and the Stamford Museum. While on faculty at Housatonic Community College, he began collecting original artworks, mainly through donations directly from the artists, for what eventually became the Housatonic Museum of Art. Over the course of nearly 30 years he amassed over 4000 works for the collection, the largest of its kind for a community college, and remained the museum's Emeritus Director until his death. He remained active in civic arts organizations in Westport as well, where he was a founding member of the Westport Arts Center, served on the Westport Arts Advisory Council, and helped to establish the annual Westport Arts Awards.
Upon his retirement from the Housatonic faculty in 1984, Chernow approached Christo and Jeanne-Claude about becoming their authorized biographer. He had participated in their project
Surrounded Islands
in Miami in 1983, and had played a role in exhibitions and artist talks by Christo at the Aldrich Museum (1981) and the Wadsworth Atheneum (1978) as well. He and his wife Ann Chernow attended and helped to document the
Wrapped Pont Neuf
(1985) in Paris, and then visited Christo's family in Bulgaria in 1986. It was after their Bulgarian trip that Christo and Jeanne-Claude agreed to authorize him to write their biography, and Chernow's research began in earnest. He conducted hundreds of interviews with them, their family, and associates, participated in the major large-scale projects that took place between 1985 and 1995, and completed a draft of the biography up to the year 1982 before he died suddenly in 1997. After his death, his wife Ann Chernow saw the biography through to publication. It was published with an epilogue by Wolfgang Volz, the Christos' official photographer, bringing the Christos' story up to date from where Chernow had left off, first in Germany, and later in the United States and Italy.
Chernow wrote many books, catalogs, and articles about other artists as well, including Milton Avery, Francisco Zuniga, Gabor Peterdi, Will Barnet, Jean Woodham, and Lester Johnson, among others, and published and lectured widely on the subjects of art education and public art.
Arrangement note
Collection is arranged as 5 series.
Series 1: Research Material for
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: A Biography
, 1930-2002 (17.1 linear feet; Boxes 1-17, 23, OV 24)
Series 2: Other Writing, 1962-1999 (1.5 linear feet; Boxes 17-19)
Series 3: Organizational Records, 1963-2000 (1.1 linear feet; Boxes 19-20, 23, OV 24)
Series 4: Printed Material, 1960-2002 (1.3 linear feet; Boxes 20-21, 23)
Series 5: Photographs, 1950-1997 (0.8 linear feet; Boxes 21-23, OV 24)
Provenance
Donated 2002 by Ann Chernow, the widow of Burt Chernow.
Processing Information note
The collection was fully processed and a finding aid prepared by Megan McShea in 2014 with funding provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Hidden Collections" grant program.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

Restrictions on Use

Interview with Jeanne-Claude conducted by Michael Cullen: Authorization to publish, quote, or reproduce must be obtained from: Ann Chernow, 2 Gorham Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

How to Cite This Collection

Burt Chernow papers, 1930-2002. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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