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Esphyr Slobodkina papers, circa 1925-1995

Esphyr Slobodkina papers, circa 1925-1995

Slobodkina, Esphyr, 1908-2002

Sculptor, Painter, Author, Illustrator

Collection Information

Size: 1.7 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter, sculptor, author, and illustrator Esphyr Slobodkina measure 1.7 linear feet and date from circa 1925 to 1995. Found within the papers are personal and professional correspondence, including letters from Ilya Bolotowsky, George L.K. Morris, and Paul Kelpe; writings, including a copy of the autobiography, "Notes for a Biographer," (vol. 1); printed materials; photographs; and material on the American Abstract Artists, including administrative records, business correspondence, and publications.

Biographical/Historical Note

Painter, sculptor, author, and illustrator Esphyr Slobodkina (1908-2002) lived and worked in New York City, Great Neck, and Long Island, New York and was known for her abstract art and her children's books, including the seminal "Caps For Sale."

Provenance

Esphyr Slobodkina donated a portion of her papers in 1970, and made additional multiple gifts between 1995 and 1996.

Related Materials

Originals of material loaned for microfilming, including a travel album, printed material, notes, McDowell colony correspondence, and an American Abstract Artists financial ledger, were returned to Slobodkina in 1970. Loaned material is available on reels N70-61, but is not described in the container listing of this finding aid. Additionally, 69 rolled drawings on tracing paper were transferred to Hillwood Art Museum in 2006.

Funding

Processing of this collection was funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art 2013 September 18.

Location of Originals

  • Reel N70-61: Originals returned to lender, Esphyr Slobodkina, after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Esphyr Slobodkina Papers in the Archives of American Art
AAA.slobesph
Author
Finding aid prepared by Judy Ng
Biographical/Historical note
Painter, sculptor, author, and illustrator Esphyr Slobodkina (1908-2002) lived and worked in New York City, Great Neck, and Long Island, New York and was known for her abstract art and her children's books, including the seminal
Caps For Sale
.
Slobodkina was born in Chelyabinsk, Siberia to Solomon Slobodkin and his wife, Itta Agranovich. After the Russian Revolution and Civil War of 1917-1918, her family immigrated to Harbin, Manchuria where her father found work with Standard Oil and her mother contributed to the family's finances by working as a dressmaker. After graduating from high school in 1927, Slobodkina immigrated to the United States to join her brother in New York City where she enrolled at the National Academy of Design.
At the Academy, Slobodkina met her future husband, the artist and fellow Russian émigré Ilya Bolotowsky. In 1936, they became founding members of the American Abstract Artists, an artist run organization that worked to advance abstract art at a time when few opportunities to exhibit their works existed. She served as the organization's first secretary and later served as treasurer, president, and institutional bibliographer.
In 1937, Slobodkina met the children's author Margaret Wise Brown. After seeing her work, Brown invited Slobodkina to illustrate
The Little Fireman
, the first of their many collaborations together. In 1940, Slobodkina's first published book,
Caps For Sale
, was released and has remained in print for over 70 years. It won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958 and is considered a classic of children's literature.
Slobodkina and Bolotowsky divorced in 1938, after which she continued to produce abstract mixed media paintings and sculptures. Her first major one-person show was organized by the gallery owner A.E. Gallatin in 1940. Through the 1940s and into 1970s, Slobodkina regularly contributed to group exhibitions and her works are owned by numerous institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Hillwood Art Museum.
In addition to publishing children's books, Slobodkina authored three volumes of her autobiography,
Notes for a Biographer
(1976-1983) and edited
American Abstract Artists: Its Publications, Catalogs, and Membership
(1979) and the folio
Ilya Bolotwosky
(1985). Active until the end of her life, she oversaw the production of musical audio recordings for her 20 children's books well into her 80s, and at the age of 90, designed a museum financed through the Slobodkina Foundation. She died at her home in Glen Head, Long Island in 2002.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 5 series.
Series 1: Correspondence, 1934-1992 (0.4 linear feet; Box 1)
Series 2: Writings, circa 1920-1985 (6 folders; Box 1)
Series 3: Printed material, circa 1939-1994 (7 folders; Box 1, OV 4)
Series 4: Photographs, circa 1925-1970 (3 folders; Box 1)
Series 5: American Abstract Artists, circa 1936-1995 (0.9 linear feet, Box 1-3, OV 4)
Scope and Contents note
The papers of painter, sculptor, author, and illustrator Esphyr Slobodkina measure 1.7 linear feet and date from circa 1925 to 1995. Found within the papers are personal and professional correspondence, including letters from Ilya Bolotowsky, George L.K. Morris, and Paul Kelpe; writings, including a copy of the autobiography
Notes for a Biographer
(vol. 1); printed materials; photographs; and material on the American Abstract Artists, including administrative records, business correspondence, and publications.
Correspondence is primarily with Slobodkina's family, friends, and business associates. The series includes significant correspondence from her first husband, Ilya Bolotowsky, as well as abstract artists George L.K. Morris, Paul Kelpe, Ruth Eckstein, Leo Rabkin, and Harry Tedlie. The series also includes correspondence regarding her published works.
Writings consist of 3 essays by Slobodkina on abstract art, the autobiography
Notes for a Biographer
(vol. 1), the edited folio
Ilya Bolotowsky
, and a small notebook kept by Ilya Bolotowsky during the 1920s-30s.
Printed material includes clippings; samples of announcements and cards designed by Slobodkina; exhibition announcements and catalogs; and press releases.
Photographs are of Slobodkina and her paintings and sculptures, as well as photographs of artwork by other abstract artists.
American Abstract Artists' records includes administrative material, correspondence, writings, selected exhibitions, and printed material dating from 1936 to 1996.
Provenance
Esphyr Slobodkina donated a portion of her papers in 1970, and made additional multiple gifts between 1995 and 1996.
Separated Materials note
Originals of material loaned for microfilming, including a travel album, printed material, notes, McDowell colony correspondence, and an American Abstract Artists financial ledger, were returned to Slobodkina in 1970. Loaned material is available on reels N70-61, but is not described in the container listing of this finding aid. Additionally, 69 rolled drawings on tracing paper were transferred to Hillwood Art Museum in 2006.
Related Archival Materials note
The Archives also holds the American Abstract Artists records.
Location of Originals
  • Reel N70-61: Originals returned to lender, Esphyr Slobodkina, after microfilming.
Processing Information note
Portions of the papers were microfilmed onto reels N70-54 and N70-55 shortly after receipt. All materials were merged, processed, and described by Judy Ng in 2013 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

Portions of this collection are available on 35 mm microfilm reels N70-54 and N70-55 at the Archives of American Art offices and affliate research centers. The film is also available for interlibrary library loan but researchers should note that the film is incomplete and the arrangement of the papers as described in this finding aid does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm due to reprocessing.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Esphyr Slobodkina papers, circa 1925-1995. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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