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Irving and Hela Norman papers, circa 1920-2010

Irving and Hela Norman papers, circa 1920-2010

Norman, Irving, 1906-1989


Collection Information

Size: 10.0 linear feet

Summary: The papers of Irving and Hela Norman measure 10.0 linear feet and date from circa 1920 to 2010. The papers document the career of painter Irving Norman through biographical material; correspondence with family, friends, curators, art galleries, and museums; writings, exhibition records, personal business records, printed material, personal photographs, and photographs of his artwork. Also found are numerous audio and video interviews of Irving and Hela Norman.

Researchers should note that the collection primarily documents Irving Norman's late career and Hela Norman's work to manage the exhibition and sale of Irving's work after his death. Almost all of the Norman's drawings and personal records were lost in a house and studio fire in December 1988.

Biographical/Historical Note

Irving Norman (1906-1989) was a painter in San Francisco, California.


A small amount of material was donated by Irving and Hela Norman in 1988-1989. The bulk of the collection was donated in 2011 by Hela Norman via Tom Von Tersch, Trustee.

Related Materials

Also in the Archives of American Art is a videorecording of an interview with Irving Norman, produced by Bay Area Video Coalition, Zeke Richardson and Larry Andrews, in cooperation with the Archives of American Art. The interview was conducted by Michael S. Bell, March 5, 1988.

A Finding Aid to the Irving and Hela Norman Papers, circa 1920-2010, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
Irving Norman (1906-1989) was a social surrealist painter in San Francisco, Calif. He married Hela Bohlen (1927-2010) in 1955.
Norman was born Irving Noachowitz in Vilna, Russia in 1906. He emigrated to the United States in 1923 and worked in a barber shop in Monticello, New York. In 1934 he moved to Los Angeles and opened his own barber shop in Laguna Beach. A few years later he volunteered for service in the Abraham Lincoln battalion in Spain, and upon returning to California , he joined a life drawing group. He attended the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1940, studying with William Gaw and Spencer Macky, and in 1945 had his first major solo exhibition. At this time he also won the San Francisco Art Association's Albert Bender Memorial Prize. In 1946 he studied at the Art Students' League in New York and traveled to Mexico. He received much press when one of his paintings was removed from an exhibition at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum for obscenity in 1950. Despite this setback, he continued to regularly exhibition his work over the next decade.
A renewed interest in Irving Norman's work occurred in the mid-1970s, at which time he exhibited many new paintings. During the 1980s he continued to exhibit his work and participated in several video interviews. In 1988 a storm caused a fire which destroyed his house and studio, including drawings and most personal papers. Irving Norman passed away at home in July 1989 and a memorial retrospective of his work was held at San Jose State University the following year. Hela Norman continued to manage the sale and exhibition of Irving's artwork until her death in 2010.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 8 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1929-2010 (0.4 linear feet; Box 1)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1951-2010 (3 linear feet; Box 1-4)
Series 3: Interviews, circa 1974-2008 (3 linear feet; Box 4-7)
Series 4: Writings, circa 1974-2010 (5 folders; Box 7)
Series 5: Exhibition Records, 1980-2008 (1 linear foot; Box 7-8)
Series 6: Personal Business Records, 1974-2010 (0.8 linear feet; Box 8-9)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1940s-2000s (0.3 linear feet; Box 9)
Series 8: Photographs, circa 1920-2010 (1.4 linear feet; Box 9-10)
A small amount of material was donated by Irving and Hela Norman in 1988-1989. The bulk of the collection was donated in 2011 by Hela Norman via Tom Von Tersch, Trustee.
Processing Information note
The collection was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared by Erin Kinhart in 2013. The collection has been minimally rearranged and retains the existing/original folder titles when possible. All materials have been rehoused in archival folders and boxes for long-term stability, but often staples and other fasteners have not been removed. Materials within folders have not been rearranged.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

How to Cite This Collection

Irving and Hela Norman papers, circa 1920-2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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