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Holger Cahill papers, 1910-1993, bulk 1910-1960

Holger Cahill papers, 1910-1993, bulk 1910-1960

Cahill, Holger, 1887-1960

Curator, Author

Representative image for Holger Cahill papers, 1910-1993, bulk 1910-1960

The papers of Holger Cahill in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2004 from 20 reels of microfilm. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 30,077 images.

Funding for the digitization of the microfilm of this collection was provided by Jane Blumenfeld.

Collection Information

Size: 16.0 linear ft.

Summary: The collection offers researchers fairly comprehensive documentation of Cahill's directorship of the Works Progress/Projects Administration's (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP) in addition to series documenting his work as a writer and art critic. Material includes correspondence, reports, artist files, scrapbooks, printed material, and photographs.

Biographical/Historical Note

Holger Cahill (1887-1960) was the National Director, Federal Art Project (FAP); New York, N.Y. Born Sveinn Kristjan Bjarnarson in St. Paul, Minn., of Icelandic-born parents, he took the name Edgar Holger Cahill around 1919, while working as a newspaper reporter. After working at the Newark Museum (1922-1931) and at the Museum of Modern Art (1932-1935), Cahill was appointed national director of the WPA Federal Art Project. He married Dorothy Canning Miller, his second wife, in 1938. The FAP fell under the jurisdiction of Federal project No. 1 of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to aid unemployed artists. Cahill was director of the FAP for its entire existence (1935-1943).

Provenance

Donated by Dorothy C. Miller, the widow of Holger Cahill, 1964-1995. Portions were donated to Francis V. O'Connor who used the papers for research on his book FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR THE VISUAL ARTS: THE NEW DEAL AND NOW, and was subsequently given to AAA at Miller's request.

Related Materials

Funding

Funding for the digitization of the microfilm of this collection was provided by Jane Blumenfeld.

Location of Originals

  • Interviews conducted by Joan Pring: Original tape located at: Columbia University.

A Finding Aid to the Holger Cahill Papers,
1910-1993
,
bulk 1910-1960
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.cahiholg
Biographical Note
Holger Cahill was born Sveinn Kristjan Bjarnarson in Iceland in a small valley near the Arctic Circle, on January 13, 1887. His parents, Bjorn Jonson and Vigdis Bjarnadottir, immigrated to the United States from Iceland sometime later in the 1880s. In 1904, his father deserted the family, forcing Sveinn to be separated from his mother and sister to work on a farm in North Dakota. He ran away and wandered from job to job until settling in an orphanage in western Canada, where he attended school and became a voracious reader.
As a young man, he worked at many different jobs and attended night school. While working on a freighter, he visited Hong Kong, beginning his life-long interest in the Orient. Returning to New York City, he eventually became a newspaper reporter, continued his studies at New York University, and changed his name to Edgar Holger Cahill. In 1919 he married Katherine Gridley of Detroit. Their daughter, Jane Ann, was born in 1922, but the couple divorced in 1927.
Cahill met John Sloan circa 1920, and they shared a residence. Cahill also wrote publicity (until 1928) for the Society of Independent Artists, through which he made many friends in the arts. From 1922 to 1931, he worked under John Cotton Dana at the Newark Museum, where he received his basic experience in museum work, organizing the first large exhibitions of folk art.
From 1932 to 1935, he was the director of exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art. In 1935, Cahill was appointed director of the Works Progress/Projects Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP), until its end in June 1943. In 1938, Cahill organized a countrywide exhibition "American Art Today" for the New York World's Fair. He also married MoMa curator Dorothy Canning Miller in that year.
Profane Earth
, Cahill's first novel, was published in 1927, followed by monographs on Pop Hart and Max Weber, miscellaneous short stories, and a biography of Frederick Townsend Ward, entitled
A Yankee Adventurer: The Story of Ward and the Taiping Rebellion
. Following the end of the Federal Art Project, Cahill wrote two novels,
Look South to the Polar Star
(1947) and
The Shadow of My Hand
(1956).
Holger Cahill died in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in July 1960.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into nine series:
Series 1: Biographical Material and Personal Papers, 1931-1988 (Box 1; 19 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence Files, 1922-1979, 1993 (Boxes 1-2; 1.5 linear ft.)
Series 3: Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, 1934-1970 (Boxes 2-14, 18, MMs009; 10.75 linear ft.)
Series 4: Writings, Lectures and Speeches, 1916-1960 (Boxes 14-15, 18; 1.0 linear ft.)
Series 5: Minutes of Meetings and Panel Discussions, Non-FAP, 1939-1947 (Box 15; 5 folders)
Series 6: Notes and Research Material, 1935-1970 (Boxes 15-16; 0.25 linear ft.)
Series 7: Artwork, undated (Boxes 16, 18; 2 folders)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1910-1985 (Boxes 16-17; 1.8 linear ft.)
Series 9: Photographs, circa 1917-1960 (Box 17; 6 folders)
Provenance
Donated by Dorothy C. Miller, the widow of Holger Cahill, 1964-1995. Portions were donated to Francis V. O'Connor who used the papers for research on his book FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR THE VISUAL ARTS: THE NEW DEAL AND NOW, and was subsequently given to AAA at Miller's request.
Location of Originals
  • Interviews conducted by Joan Pring: Original tape located at: Columbia University.
Processing Information
The collection was donated in several installments and typically microfilmed in the order in which it was received at some point after receipt. The entire collection was processed by Jean Fitzgerald in 1998. The microfilm was digitized in 2005 with funding provided by Jane Blumenfeld.

Additional Forms Available

The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.

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

Holger Cahill papers, 1910-1993, bulk 1910-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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