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James Brooks and Charlotte Park papers, 1909-2010, bulk 1930-2010

Biographical Note

James Brooks (1906-1992) and Charlotte Park (1919-2010) were Abstract Expressionist painters in East Hampton, N.Y. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Brooks spent his childhood in Colorado, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Texas. He begn drawing as a young boy, finding inspiration in magazine illustrations and comic strips. Before moving to New York City in 1926, he studied at Southern Methodist University (1923-1924) and at the Dallas Art Institute.
In New York, Brooks studied illustration at the Grand Central Art School. After exposure to museums led him to differentiate between illustration and fine art, Brooks enrolled at Art Students League. During this period he supported himself by doing lettering for magazine advertisements. From 1936-1942 he participated in the WPA Federal Art Project, executing murals at Woodside Library, Queens, New York (destroyed); the Post Office, Little Falls, New Jersey; and his famous Flight at LaGuardia Airport's Marine Air Terminal (painted over in the 1950s and restored in 1980).
During World War II Brooks served in the United States Army as an art correspondent in Cairo. When at the Office of Special Services, Washington, DC, he met Charlotte Park who worked there as a graphic artist and later became his wife. The couple moved to New York City in 1945 and married in 1947. Brooks resumed friendships with artists he knew from the WPA including Philip Guston, Bradley Walker Tomlin, and Jackson Pollock. Brooks and Park were especially close with Pollock and Lee Krasner; after they moved to Long Island, Brooks and Park, soon followed, first to Montauk and later to the Springs, East Hampton, New York.
By the late 1940s, Brooks had turned away from figural painting in the social realist style and moved toward abstraction. In the early 1950s, he was experimenting with enamel, gouache, and diluted oil paints, staining various grounds in ways that produced interesting shapes, adding spontaneous splashes of color over which he painted more deliberately. In the 1960s he switched to acrylics, leading to wider use of color and broader strokes.
Peridot Gallery presented Brooks' first solo exhibition in 1949. He helped organize and participated in the famous Ninth Street Show of 1951, earning critical acclaim. This assured him a place in two of the Museum of Modern Art's most important exhibitions of the period, Twelve Americans (1956) and New American Painting (1958). He showed at the Stable Gallery, Kootz Gallery, Martha Jackson Gallery and others. During his lifetime Brooks enjoyed five traveling retrospective exhibitions.
Prizes and awards included Carnegie Institute's Pittsburgh International Exhibition 5th prize for painting (1952), The Art Institue of Chicago's 62nd American Exhibition Logan Medal and Prize for Painting (1957) and 64th American Exhibition Harris Prize (1961), The National Arts Club Medal (1985), and a citation of appreciation for Flight from The North Beach Club Marine Air Terminal, LaGuardia Airport (1986).
Brooks taught for nearly three decades: drawing at Columbia University (1947-1948) and lettering at Pratt Institute (1948-1955); was a visiting critic, Yale University (1955-1960), University of Pennsylvania (1971-1972), and Cooper Union (1975); and served on the Queens College faculty (1966-1969). In addition, he was an artist-in-residence at The American Academy in Rome (1963), the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1969), and a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant (1973).
Brooks developed Alzheimer's disease around 1985 and died in East Hampton, New York in 1992.
Charlotte Park graduated from the Yale School of Fine Art (1939) and during World War II, when working in Washington, D.C., she met James Brooks. They moved to New York City in 1945, where she studied with Australian artist Wallace Harrison. Park taught children's art classes at several private schools in the early 1950s and at the Museum of Modern Art, 1955-1967.
Park's approach to Abstract Expressionism featured curved or linear shapes with vibrant colors and dynamic brushstrokes. Tanager Gallery presented her first solo show in 1957 and her work was included in numerous group exhibitions from the 1950s through 2000s, mainly in New York City and Long Island. After Park's second solo exhibition, held in 1973 at Elaine Benson Gallery, Bridgehampton, New York, interest in her work revived; other one-person shows followed at Guild Hall (1979), Ingber Gallery (1980), and paired with James Brooks at Louise Himelfarb Gallery. The National Institute of Arts and Letters honored Park with its Art Award in 1974. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Parrish Art Museum, Guild Hall Museum, Telfair Museum of Art, and in many private collections.
Charlotte Park died in 2010.