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Jack Tworkov papers, circa 1926-1993

Jack Tworkov papers, circa 1926-1993

Tworkov, Jack, 1900-1982

Painter, Printmaker

Representative image for Jack Tworkov papers, circa 1926-1993

This site provides access to the papers of Jack Tworkov in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2013, and total 11,512 images.

Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 9.7 linear feet

Summary: The Jack Tworkov papers measure 9.7 linear feet and are dated 1926-1993, with the bulk from the period 1931-1982. Tworkov's work as a painter and influential teacher, as well as his personal life, are documented by extensive journals and substantive correspondence that record his ideas about art and teaching, and illuminate his relationships with friends, colleagues, and students. Many sketchbooks, writings, interviews, photographs, and moving images are also included.

Biographical material includes Tworkov's citizenship certificate, awards, diplomas, a copy of "Jack Tworkov: Video Portrait," produced by Electronic Arts Intermix, and a motion picture film entitled "USA Artists: Jack Tworkov" produced by National Education Television.

Correspondence consists largely of incoming letters. It is both professional and personal in nature and often combines both spheres. Correspondents include artists Jennifer Bartlett, William H. Calfee, Giorgio Cavallon and Linda Lindeberg, Grace Hartigan, Helene Herzbrun (also named Helene McKinsey), Karl Knaths, Joe Summerford, Joan Thorne, and Adja Yunkers; cartoonist Robert C. Osborn; collectors Donald M. Blinken and David A. Praeger (who was also Tworkov's lawyer); illustrator Roger Dovoisin; critics Dore Ashton and Andrew Forge; critic and poet John Ashbury; galleries that represented Tworkov: Egan Gallery, Leo Castelli, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Poindexter Gallery, Stable Gallery and Zabriskie Gallery; and many museums, arts organizations, colleges and universities.

Interviews with Tworkov include one with Ricky Demarco videotaped in 1979 and two conducted by Twokov's daughter on video Helen in 1975. The remaining interviews are sound recordings, one conducted by Grace Alexander for the show, "Artists in New York," in 1967, one conducted by Michael Newman in 1980, and the remainder by unidentified interviewers. None have transcripts.

All writings are by Tworkov and include poems, an artist's statement, and documentation for two children's books by Tworkov illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. Two additional notebooks contain miscellaneous notes, teaching notes, and some specific to identified courses. Lectures exist as untranscribed sound recordings.

Tworkov's journals (33 volumes) span a period of 35 years, from 1947 until 1982, with the final entry dated a few weeks before his death. They record his reflections on painting, his challenges as a painter, aesthetics, the role of the artist in society, Jewish identity, painters he admired (especially Cézanne and Edwin Dickinson), politics, and teaching. They also recount everyday life: the comings and goings of friends and family members, social engagements, professional activities, illness, and travel.

The lone subject file concerns Mark Rothko and includes a photograph of Rothko and the guest list for the dedication of the Rothko Chapel in Houston.

Artwork consists of a small number of sketches by Tworkov in pencil and ink. Tworkov's sketchbooks (28 volumes) contain sketches and some finished drawings. Most are in pencil, but scattered throughout are a few pencil sketches embellished with colored marker or pastel, and a small number in ink.

Photographs are of people, places and events. Most photographs are of Tworkov alone and with others including Giogio Cavallon, though most friends and students are unidentified. Of note are views of Tworkov producing a series of prints at Tamarind Institute. Also found is an informal portrait of Wally Tworkov. Events recorded include the jurying of "Exhibition Momentum" in Chicago, 1956. Among the places shown are Tworkov's studios at Black Mountain College and in Provincetown. When known, photographers are noted; among them are Paul Katz, Herbert Matter, Arnold Newman, Renate Ponsold, Theo Westenberger, Dennis Wheeler, and Howard Wise.

A separate series of audiovisual recordings was established for those recordings that could not be readily identified to be arranged in other series. They consist of three videocassettes (2 VHS and 1 miniDV).

Biographical/Historical Note

New York School painter Jack Tworkov (1900-1982), best known for his Abstract Expressionist paintings and as a highly regarded teacher, lived and worked in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.


Donated in 2009 by Jack Tworkov's daughters, Hermine Ford and Helen Tworkov.

Related Materials

Among the holdings of the Archives of American Art are two oral history interviews with Jack Tworkov, one conducted by Dorothy Seckler, August 17, 1962, and another by Gerald Silk, May 22, 1981. There is also a small collection of three letters written by Jack Tworkov to friend Troy-Jjohn Bramberger.


Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Location of Originals

  • Reels N70-38 & 62 Originals returned to Jack Tworkov after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Jack Tworkov Papers,
in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
New York School painter Jack Tworkov (1900-1982), best known for his Abstract Expressionist paintings and as a highly regarded teacher, lived and worked in New York City and Provincetown, MA.
At age 13, Tworkov (born Yakov Tworkovsky) emigrated from Poland with his mother and sister to join his father already in the United States. In America, they chose to use the name of distant relatives, the Bernsteins, who were their sponsors. Eventually, Jack and his sister, Janice, reclaimed and shortened their name to Tworkov; later, she adopted the name of their hometown in Poland and became the painter Janice Biala.
As a high school student in New York City, Tworkov attended drawing classes. After graduating from Columbia University, where he had been an English major and considered becoming a writer, Tworkov instead turned to art. He studied with Ivan Olinsky at the National Academy of Design between 1923 and 1925, and from 1925 to 1926 attended painting classes taught by Guy Péne Du Bois and Boardman Robinson at the Art Students League. During his college years, Tworkov began visiting museums and became a great admirer of Cézanne. Tworkov's early paintings - still life, landscapes, and portraits - showed the influence of European modernism and Cézanne.
Tworkov spent his first summer in Provincetown while still a student and subsequently returned to study with Ross Moffet. In Provincetown he met and was greatly influenced by Karl Knaths and developed a lifelong friendship with Edwin Dickinson. By 1929, Tworkov was painting there year round. Over the years, Tworkov and his family continued to return for long stretches, and in 1958 he purchased a house in Provincetown.
During the Great Depression, Tworkov participated in the Treasury Department's Public Works of Art Project until 1934, and then moved to the easel division of the WPA Federal Art Project. He felt uncomfortable with the growing ideological and political influences on art and found it depressing to paint for the WPA rather than for himself, so he left the WPA in 1941. Tworkov, who had studied mechanical drawing while in high school, spent most of the War years employed as a tool designer and draftsman at an engineering firm with government contracts.
By the 1940s, Tworkov was painting in the Abstract Expressionist style. Between 1948 and 1953, he leased a studio on Fourth Avenue that adjoined that of his friend Willem de Kooning. During this time, they mutually influenced each other as they developed into mature Abstract Expressionists. At Yale in the 1960s, Tworkov became close friends with fellow student Josef Albers. Alber's influence on Tworkov resulted in a turn to geometric compositions of small, systematic, and repetitive strokes defined by a grid. He experimented with diagonal compositions, and later geometric work that featured large areas of color and soft texture.
Tworkov's first teaching experience was during 1930-1931 when he served as a part-time painting instructor at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. His teaching career began in earnest when he joined the faculties of Queens College, 1948-1955, and Pratt Institute, 1955-1958. During the summers he taught at various schools, most notably Black Mountain College's 1952 summer session. Tworkov was a visiting artist at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture, 1961-1963, and became chairman of its Art Department from 1963 until his retirement in 1969. In retirement he lived in Provincetown and was a visiting artist for both short and extended periods at various universities and art schools.
An avid reader of literature and poetry, Tworkov also wrote poems and essays. He published essays in
It Is
Art Digest
, and
Art In America
; his most notable piece, "The Wandering Soutine," appeared in
Art News
, November 1950. Tworkov also kept a journal for 35 years (1947-1982) that recorded his thoughts on a wide range of subjects concerning professional, personal, and philosophical issues, as well as details of everyday life.
Tworkov was among the founders of the Artists' Club or The Club in 1949, and for a decade actively participated in the stimulating discussions for which the group was known. In 1968 he helped to establish the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Its residency program enabled younger artists and writers to advance their careers and kept Provincetown's historic artists' colony active year round.
He was the recipient of the William A. Clark Award and Corcoran Gold Medal from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1963; Skowhegan School of Art's Painter of the Year Award, 1974; and Distinguished Teaching of Art Award from College Art Association, 1976. Tworkov was appointed to serve on the Massachusetts Art Commission, 1970-1971, and in 1981 was named a Fellow of The Cleveland Museum of Art and of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Following his second divorce in 1935, Rachel (Wally) Wolodarsky became Tworkov's third wife and their marriage endured. They had two daughters. Hermine Ford (b. 1939) is an artist married to fellow painter Robert Moskowitz. Helen Tworkov (b. 1943) is the founder of
Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
and the author of a book about yoga.
Tworkov remained physically and intellectually active after a diagnosis of bone cancer around 1980, and continued to paint until shortly before his death in Provincetown on September 4, 1982.
The collection is arranged as 11 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1933-1981 (Boxes 1, 9, 11, FC 13; 0.7 linear ft.)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1926-1993 (Boxes 1-5; 3.8 linear ft.)
Series 3: Interviews, 1978-1982 (Boxes 5, 9-10; 1 linear ft.)
Series 4: Writings, Notes, and Lectures, 1955-1982 (Boxes 5, 9; 0.5 linear ft.)
Series 5: Journals, 1947-1982 (Boxes 5-7; 2.0 linear ft.)
Series 6: Subject File, 1961-1977 (Box 7; 1 folder)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1952-1981 (Box 7, OV 12; 0.1 linear ft.)
Series 8: Artwork, circa 1950s-1960s (Box 7: 3 folders)
Series 9: Sketchbooks, circa 1950s-1960s (Boxes 7-8, 11; 1.0 linear ft.)
Series 10: Photographic Materials, 1941-1981 (Boxes 8-9; 0.5 linear ft.)
Series 11: Audiovisual Recordings, 1961-1975 (Box 9; 0.1 linear ft.)
Donated in 2009 by Jack Tworkov's daughters, Hermine Ford and Helen Tworkov.
Location of Originals
  • Reels N70-38 & 62 Originals returned to Jack Tworkov after microfilming.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Catherine S. Gaines in 2012. It was digitized in 2013 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Audio visual recordings that were unidentified at the time of processing, but have subsequently been reviewed, have been intellectually incorporated into the appropriate biographical material (Series 1), interviews (Series 3), and writings, notes, and lectures series (Series 4). Motion picture film reel was inspected and re-housed in 2016 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice. Contact Reference Services for more information.

Restrictions on Use

Reels N70-38 & 62 Authorization to publish, quote, or reproduce requires written permission from Helen Tworkov or Hermine Ford (see 583 for addresses).

How to Cite This Collection

Jack Tworkov papers, circa 1926-1993. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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