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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.

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.

Scope and Contents

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.

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

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

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