Skip to main content

Dorothy Dehner papers, 1920-1987, bulk 1951-1987

More Information

Jennifer Meehan
Scope and Contents
The papers of Dorothy Dehner measure approximately 4.5 linear feet and date from 1920 to 1987, with the bulk of the material dating from 1951 to 1987. The collection documents the life and work of the sculptor. Papers include extensive correspondence, business and financial papers, writings, interviews, printed material, photographs, student papers, one item of art work, and scattered personal papers and material relating to David Smith.
Comprising a series of biographical material are interviews (mostly untranscribed), personal papers such as notes on Dehner's biography and career, list of things taken from Bolton Landing, recipes, and a wedding announcement for her stepdaughter, Abby Mann Thernstrom, and material relating to David Smith such as a copy of his last will and testament, a letter of introduction (dating from their trip to Europe in the mid-1930s), and a chronology of Smith's life.
Correspondence consists of numerous letters and enclosures concerning both professional and personal matters. Correspondents include artists, museums, galleries, art dealers, researchers, curators, friends, and relatives. Correspondence documents Dehner's various personal and professional relationships, the active role she played in promoting and exhibiting her art work, as well as the key role she played in fostering art historical research (on David Smith, herself, and other artists of her era), and her many other creative activities, including her various writing efforts.
Found amongst Dehner's business and financial papers are records relating to various galleries and/or exhibitions, including the Willard Gallery and exhibitions at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and Parsons-Dreyfuss Gallery, and to various projects, such as the Committee for the American Participation in the Triennale and the Great Southwest Industrial Park, as well as scattered records relating to personal business matters and finances, such as lists, tax records, authentication of art works, and sales agreements.
Dehner's writings include poems (including one dated from high school and drafts of ones published in Tracks), various pieces on John Graham (including versions of a memoir, which were published as a foreword to the re-issue of System and Dialectics of Art and as an article in Leonardo) and on David Smith (including articles on their first meeting and on Smith's 1940 work, "Medals for Dishonor"), lectures and speeches, and various pieces on art and other topics. Writings shed light on other aspects of Dehner's creativity and concern. Also included are writings of others, some of which shed light on Dehner's life and work.
Also found amongst Dehner's papers are printed material, including exhibition catalogs, announcements, and clippings (on herself and Smith, and to a limited extent, on other artists); an undated etching by Dehner which seems to have originally belong to Garnett McCoy, former Curator of the Archives; and photographs of Dehner, her second husband, Ferdinand Mann, John Graham, and various works of art, as well as an abstract photograph by David Smith, dating from circa 1934.
The Dorothy Dehner papers were donated 1967-1987 in increments by Dorothy Dehner. She also lent materials for microfilming between 1967 and 1977, some of which was subsequently donated. The art work in the collection most likely belonged to Garnett McCoy originally, and was included in the collection during processing in 2005.
Separated Material
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming on reels D298 (portions), D298A, 1269 (portions) and 1372, including photographs of Dorothy Dehner and David Smith, sketchbooks, correspondence between Dehner and Smith, an inventory, and some printed material. Lent materials were returned to the lender. To aid researchers, an attempt has been made to note the corresponding reel number for each folder in the collection container listing.
Related Material
Other resources in the Archives relating to Dorothy Dehner include oral history interviews with Dehner, October 1965 and December 1966, and a photograph of Dehner by Dena, 1966.
Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Processing Information
The Dorothy Dehner papers were typically microfilmed in the order they were loaned and/or donated; material comprising the last donation made in 1987 was never microfilmed. Portions of the collection received a preliminary level of processing. The microfilmed and unmicrofilmed portions were integrated, and the entire collection processed, arranged, and described in accordance with archival standards by Jennifer Meehan in 2005-2006 as part of the Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Grant.