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Helen DeMott papers, 1896-1997

Helen DeMott papers, 1896-1997

DeMott, Helen, 1920-1997

Activist, Painter, Poet

Collection Information

Size: 7.9 linear ft.

Summary: The papers of painter Helen DeMott measure 7.9 linear feet and date from 1896-1997. DeMott's painting career from 1940-1996 is documented through her numerous sketchbooks and original artwork. Also found is biographical material, correspondence, writings and poems, scrapbooks, printed material, photographic material, audio and video recordings, and scattered material from collagist Ray Johnson.

The scattered biographical material contains official documents, DeMott's resume, circulars and receipts from the Art School of the National Academy of Design, and two obituaries. Correspondence includes letters from publishers regarding DeMott's book proposal "Geography into Landscape," correspondence with universities and scientific institutions regarding her Wave series, and personal correspondence including letters from photographer, filmmaker, and painter Rudy Burckhardt, writer Alfred Chester, painter Clifford Wright, and collagist Edith Schloss.

The bulk of the writings is DeMott's poetry, as well as some artist's statements, loose notes, a speech, travel diaries, and handwritten, typed, and edited namuscripts, including a typed namuscript of "Geography into Landscape." Writings by others include poetry by Celia Bland, Miriam Finkelstein, and Marie Ponsot. Scrapbooks document DeMott's research and artwork related to waves and includes clippings, photographs of artwork, sketches and notations, and typed notes on painting waves. Printed material inludes magazine and newpaper articles about Helen DeMott and various other artists, and many articles related to water waves.

Photographic material includes black and white photographs of DeMott's artwork and personal photographs. Of interest is a 1943 photograph of a group at the Art Students League which includes Esther Rolick, Edith Schloss, Max Eastman, and Helen DeMott. Also found are slides and transparencies of artwork and slides for lectures on waves. Audiovisual Recordings include one reel-to-reel tape and five videotapes, some related to DeMott's study of waves.

There is one folder of material from collagist Ray Johnson containing scattered letters and mail art, exhibition fliers, and collages. Measuring 4.2 linear feet, the bullk of DeMott's papers are sketchbooks and original artwok spanning her artistic career. There are numerous loose sketches, notes, sketchbooks, holiday cards, watercolors, and oversized drawings in pencil, ink, and oil pastels, much of which is related to waves. Original artwork by others includes Esther Rolcik and Edith Schloss.

Biographical/Historical Note

Helen DeMott (1920-1997) was a New York City based painter and poet; she had become well-known as an East Village community activist. In 1968, DeMott focused her work on the study of waves, specifically the structure of water wave surfaces. In 1979, DeMott exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at the ground-breaking alternative space 112 Workshop/112 Green Street.


The Helen DeMott papers were a bequest of the Archives of American Art in 2003 by James Goldiner, executive for the estate of Helen DeMott.

Related Materials

The holdings of the Archives of American Art include the Esther G. Rolick papers, 1941-1985 and the Ray Johnson papers, 1970-1971.

A Finding Aid to the Helen DeMott Papers, 1896-1997, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Helen DeMott (1920-1997) was a New York City based painter and poet and well-known East Village community activist.
In the 1940s, DeMott attended the National Academy of Design and Art Students League. In the late 1960s, DeMott began focusing her work on the scientific study of waves, specifically the structure of water wave surfaces, a theme that remained in her work for the rest of her career. In 1974-1975, DeMott completed two building murals of water wave structures in New York City:
Wave Spill
, located at 155 First Avenue and 10th Street; and
River Wave
, at 509 Amsterdam Avenue. She had a solo exhibition at the Green Mountain Gallery in 1969, and exhibited at the ground-breaking alternative space, 112 Workshop/112 Greene Street in 1979. DeMott was received a number of grants and awards throughout her career including National Community Arts Competition winner in 1974, a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts (CAPS) in 1976, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1978, and a Gottleib Foundation grant in 1983. She passed away in 1997.
The collection is arranged into 9 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1911-1997 (Boxes 1, 9; 7 folders)
Series 2: Letters and Correspondence, 1896, 1930-1995 (Boxes 1-2; 1.1 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, 1950-circa 1996 (Boxes 2-3; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 4: Scrapbooks, 1967-1989 (Box 3; 2 folders)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1961-1996 (Boxes 3, 9; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 6: Photographic Material, circa 1920s-1996 (Boxes 3-4, 9; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 7: Audiovisual Recordings, 1975, 1978, undated (Box 4; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 8: Ray Johnson, 1947, 1963, undated (Box 4; 1 folder)
Series 9: Artwork, 1941-1996 (Boxes 4-9, OV 10-13; 4.2 linear feet)
The Helen DeMott papers were a bequest of the Archives of American Art in 2003 by James Goldiner, executive for the estate of Helen DeMott.
Processing Information
In 2003, the collection was accessioned and books were cataloged and removed. The papers were processed to a preliminary level and described by Justin Brancato in September 2006. In November 2009, the collection was minimally processed and further described by Sarah Haug.

Additional Forms Available

Videotapes in the collection were digitized in September 2009 and are available upon request from the Archives of American Art.

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

Helen DeMott papers, 1896-1997. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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