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Eldzier Cortor papers, circa 1930s-2009, bulk, 1972-2009

Eldzier Cortor papers, circa 1930s-2009, bulk, 1972-2009

Cortor, Eldzier, 1916-2015


Collection Information

Size: 5.2 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter and printmaker Eldzier Cortor measure 1.1 linear feet and date from circa 1930s-2009, with the bulk of the papers dating from 1972-2009. The papers contain biographical material, letters, subject files, exhibition files, writings, printed material, photographs, and artwork documenting Cortor's career as an artist.

Biographical material consists of awards from Carnegie Institute in 1947, Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977, and 3rd International Biennial Print Exhibit: 1987 ROC. Letters are from Cortor's family, friends and associates. Included are letters from Cortor's mother Ophelia, and his wife and sister. Those from his friends and associates include Acklyn Lynch, Leontine Collier, Violetta Harrigan, Halima Taha, David C. Driskell, and Carol Anderson. Letters from art institutions include Sylvan Cole Gallery, Anderson Gallery, and Kenkeleba House.

Subject files include correspondence, contracts, loan forms, purchase agreements, consignments and other documents, exhibition checklists, newspaper clippings, exhibition announcements, and photocopied images of photographs and artworks. This material relates to institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, David Anderson Gallery, Brooklyn Museum, Cosby Collection of Fine Arts, National Afro-American Museum, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Other notable subject files include Lester B. Bridaham and the Public School Mural Project.

Exhibition files consist of correspondence, printed material, newspaper and magazine clippings, statistics, photographs, inventories, exhibition announcements, writings, press releases, and loan agreements. The series is organized by institution, including Indiana University, Kenkeleba House, and Museum of Contemporary Art.

Writings consist of essays and articles about Eldzier Cortor. Printed material includes articles and clippings from publications and books, exhibition announcements and catalogs. Artwork includes ink and watercolor sketches from Cortor's student days at the Art Institute of Chicago. Photographs, undated, are primarily of Cortor's paintings, prints and drawings, as well as a several photographs of Cortor himself.

An addition of 4.0 linear feet donated 2016 includes biographical material, professional correspondence, source material, and printed material.

Biographical/Historical Note

Eldzier Cortor (1916-2015) was a painter and printmaker in Chicago, Illinois and New York, New York.


The papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in 2009 by Eldzier Cortor and in 2016 by Michael Cortor, Eldzier's son.

Related Materials

A Finding Aid to the Eldzier Cortor papers,
circa 1930s-2009, bulk 1972-2009
in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Eldzier Cortor (1916- ) is a painter and printmaker in Chicago, Ill. and New York, N.Y.
Cortor spent his professional career as a painter and printmaker in Chicago and New York. He was born in Richmond, Virginia to John and Ophelia Cortor. In 1917, a year after his birth, they moved to Chicago along with countless other African-Americans as part of the Great Migration. Cortor was interested in art from an early age, citing Leslie Roger's comic strip "Bungleton Green" as his favorite. He would copy the
Chicago Defender
strips in near identical detail. However, Cortor's father did not support his son's interest in art, and soon Eldzier had dropped out of school.
In 1936, Cortor took evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago prior to enrolling full time. Kathleen Blackshear, an instructor at the institute, recommended Cortor for employment at the Works Project Administration in 1940. It was under Blackshear's guidance that Cortor was introduced to African Art. Cortor has stated that the Works Project Administration made it possible for "me to make a series of genre paintings depicting the ordinary aspects of daily life of the Black family on the Chicago Southside." The depiction of African-Americans became the defining subject of Cortor's career, specifically the portrayal of the African-American woman, which he commonly represented nude in paintings and prints. "She conveys a feeling of eternity," said Cortor. "The continuance of life. The Black woman represents the Black race. She is the Black spirit."
In 1941, with funding by the Works Project Administration, Cortor helped found the South Side Community Arts Center in Chicago. Over the next few years he would receive two Rosenwald Fellowships, which allowed him to travel to the Sea Islands of Georgia. Afterward, Cortor transitioned to New York, and in 1946
magazine published his artwork of a nude African-American female. In 1949 he received a Guggenheim fellowship, which provided the opportunity to travel to Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti. He settled in Port-au-Prince where he taught art for two years.
Cortor married Sophia Schmidt on August 20, 1951, and they subsequently had four children: Michael, Mercedes, Stephen and Miriam. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Studio Museum of Harlem and National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston. Notable exhibitions include
Three Masters: Eldzier Cortor, Hughie Lee-Smith and Archibald John Motley, Jr.
at Kenkeleba House in 1988;
Southern Gate: African American Paintings from the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
at Duke University Museum of Art, 1999;
Eldzier Cortor: Master Printmaker
at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, 2002; and
Black Spirit: Work on Paper
by Eldzier Cortor at the Indiana University Art Museum, 2006.
The Eldzier Cortor papers are organized into 8 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1947-1987 (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 2: Letters, 1977-2005 (Box 1; 2 folders)
Series 3: Subject Files, 1960-2009 (Box 1-2; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 4: Exhibition Files, 1972-2006 (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 5: Writings, 1998-2006 (Box 1; 0.1 linear feet)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1996-2003 (Box 1; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, circa 1930s (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 8: Photographs, undated (Box 1; 0.1 folder)
The papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in 2009 by Eldzier Cortor and in 2016 by Michael Cortor, Eldzier's son.
Processing Information
The papers were processed by Justin Brancato in March, 2010.

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

Eldzier Cortor papers, circa 1930s-2009, bulk, 1972-2009. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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