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Jan Butterfield papers, 1950-1997

Jan Butterfield papers, 1950-1997

Butterfield, Jan, 1937-2000

Author, Art critic

Collection Information

Size: 15 linear feet

Biographical/Historical Note

Jan Butterfield (1937-2000) was an author and art critic from San Francisco, Calif.


Jan Butterfield donated the Robert Irwin material in 1980. Most of the interviews and audio tapes were donated in 1989. An additional 12 feet of papers, including materials previously loaned and microfilmed, and two additional audio tapes,were donated by Butterfield's brother, and Trustee of the Jan Butterfield Trust, Derek Van Alstine in 2002.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources Hidden Collections grant program.

Location of Originals

  • Reel 1042 (2 v. scrapbooks): Originals returned to Jan Butterfield after microfilming.

Scope and Contents

The papers of Jan Butterfield measure 15 linear feet and date from circa 1950 to 1997. Papers contain hundreds of recorded interviews with and lectures by artists, panel discussions of artists and art historians, as well as extensive writings by Butterfield. Also found are project files, personal business records, printed materials, photographs, and additional sound and video recordings related to art subjects.

Interviews and Lectures include hundreds of interviews conducted by Butterfield between 1971 and 1987 with contemporary artists about whom she was writing at the time. The artists Robert Irwin and Sam Francis are represented particularly well. Also found are slide talks, class discussions, and lectures given by artists, which are assumed to have been recorded by Butterfield in most cases. Also among the recordings are recorded performances by John Cage, Joe Goode, Newton and Helen Harrison, Jim Roche, and George Greene. Panel discussions include two notable recordings involving Milton Resnick, one with the painter Edward Dugmore in 1959, and the other with the painter Ad Reinhardt at The Club in 1961, which was later dubbed "The Attack."

The bulk of the writings relate to Butterfield's published work, "The Art of Light and Space," represented here in multiple drafts, research, and photographs of works of art by the artists discussed in the work including Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Maria Nordman, Douglas Wheeler, Bruce Nauman, Eric Orr, Larry Bell, DeWain Valentine, Susan Kaiser Vogel, and Hap Tivey. Also found are extensive drafts and research for catalog essays for exhibitions of Larry Bell, Richard Shaw, Robert Hudson, and Elmer Bischoff. Drafts of articles and publicity writing are mainly about artists but also some galleries and other art events. There are a few transcripts of recorded interviews, and it appears that many of the writings are based on Butterfield's interviews.

Project files include records relating to Butterfield's involvement with the production of a catalog for the corporate art collection of Pacific Enterprises. These also include additional artist interviews and artist files containing research and writing, mainly by her associate Michael Karp. Also found are photographs and sound recordings for the Waterfront Project at the San Francisco Art Institute, an interdisciplinary community-centered development project that involved Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Melinda Wortz, Eric Orr, Dr. E. Wortz, Frank Gehry, Newton and Helen Harrison, Josh Young, and students at the Art Institute. And finally, project files include photographs, interviews, and printed material related to publications of Lapis Press, where Butterfield was Executive Director.

Personal business records include correspondence, price lists, financial records, notes, press releases, and career documentation of Butterfield. Printed materials include articles by Butterfield, articles about Butterfield, and articles by Henry Hopkins, most of which are photocopies. There are also clippings, exhibition catalogs, exhibition posters, and publicity. Of note is a disassembled scrapbook pertaining to the controversial Ed Kienholz exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1966, and a directory of art spaces in Los Angeles from 1978.

Most of the photographs are of works of art by artists about whom Butterfield wrote. Also found are a few files of photographs of artists, some taken by Butterfield, including Philp Guston, Ed Kienholz, Henry Hopkins with Clyfford Still, Robert Irwin, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Turrell. Additional video and sound recordings include artist installations, a documentary on Sam Francis, and an acoustiguide for an Ed Ruscha exhibition.

Some of the sound recordings in this collection were digitized during processing and are available for research access at the Archives of American Art offices.

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

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