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Esta Nesbitt papers, circa 1942-1981, bulk bulk 1964-1975

Nesbitt, Esta, 1918-1975

Printmaker, Educator

Collection Information

Size: 10.05 Linear feet

Summary: The papers of illustrator, xerography artist, filmmaker, and educator Esta Nesbitt measure 10.05 linear feet and date from circa 1942-1981. Found within the papers are biographical material, correspondence, writings, xerography research files, project and exhibition files, and printed material. Much of the collection relates to Nesbitt's xerography art work. Additionally, the collection includes motion picture film and sound recordings related to her film and performance work.
Nesbitt's primary collaborators, correspondents, and subjects of investigation are not concentrated in any one series but rather recur throughout the collection. Nesbitt worked closely with Anibal Ambert, Merle English at Xerox Corporation, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She read and wrote about the accrual of information, Albert Einstein, Asian religion and philosophy, communication, computer technology, documentation practices, energy, psychology, Samuel Beckett, and states of consciousness. Chinese characters and an image of Allen Ginsberg appear repeatedly in Nesbitt's works. Subjects of study and experimentation include 3M and Kodak technologies, color, film, morphology, participatory and performance art, shadows, sound, street works, xerography, and Xerox machines.
Biographical material revolves mostly around Nesbitt's work as a professor at Parsons School of Design. Records include Nesbitt's resumé, an exhibition history, motion picture film of the inside of her studio, and teaching files.
Correspondence contains personal letters from family members, and professional correspondence with fellow artists and employees of Xerox Corporation. Much of the series is correspondence between Nesbitt and fellow artists Alan Leder, David Lyle, and R.E. Wood, and is philosophical in nature. Correspondence with Xerox Corporation documents her relationship with the corporation between 1970 and 1972, when they underwrote her experiments in xerography.
Writings include illustrated journals, journals, notebooks, loose notes, and transcripts. The content of the writings varies widely throughout the series and includes artwork, sketches, diagrams, annotated clippings, transcripts of conversations, Nesbitt's writings about her dreams and family, details about her daily life, and notes about artists' materials, film, and sound.
Xerography Research Files document Nesbitt's experiments with xerography, which she often refers to in her papers as "Xerox Xplore." Contents include Nesbitt's definitions of xerography terms; Xerox equipment brochures; clippings; xerography studies; notebooks about Nesbitt's plans, work with color, and xerography study details; and slides and transparencies of completed xerography prints.
Project and Exhibition Files consist of a variety of documentation related to Nesbitt's books, exhibitions, films, performance and participatory art, and other projects. This series contains the bulk of the collection's motion picture films and sound recordings. The film and sound performance piece titled "Everyman as Anyman, or Putting On, On, On, On, On," the piece Walk Up --Tape On, the film "Light Times 499," and exhibitions of Nesbitt's xerography work and her series of work called Shadow Paintings are the most prominent subjects of the series.
Printed Material includes books, clippings, magazines, exhibition announcements, catalogs, and press releases about Nesbitt's interests, artwork, exhibitions, and galleries that exhibited her work. Some of the material is annotated.

Biographical/Historical Note

Esta Nesbitt (1918-1975) was an illustrator, xerography artist, filmmaker, and educator who lived and worked in New York City. She was a fashion illustrator for about two decades before becoming a children's book illustrator, performance artist, xerography artist, and filmmaker.


The Esta Nesbitt papers were donated by Saul Nesbitt, her husband, to the Archives of American Art in 1981.

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Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources' Hidden Collections grant program.