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John Outterbridge papers, 1953-1997

John Outterbridge papers, 1953-1997

Outterbridge, John Wilfred, 1933-

Sculptor, Painter, Arts administrator

Collection Information

Size: 4.9 linear feet

Summary: The papers of Los Angeles African American painter, sculptor, and arts administrator John Outterbridge measure 4.9 linear feet and date from 1953 to 1997. The papers include biographical material, correspondence, writings, professional and project files, Watts Towers Arts Center files, exhibition files, printed material, photographs, a scrapbook, and one motion picture film reel.

Biographical material includes life documents, awards, interview transcripts, a few sketches, teaching certificates, and a motion picture film reel entitled, "John Outterbridge: Black Artist."

The bulk of the correspondence consists of letters to John Outterbridge from family, artists, colleagues, museums, and universities. Notable correspondents include Maya Angelou, Johnny Otis, and Charles White.

Writings include teaching notes, an artist statement, nine typescript essays by Outterbridge, as well as papers written by students, and poems by various artists.

Professional and project files document Outterbridge's involvement in conferences, symposiums, membership records, and fellowships. There are grant and job applications, contracts, correspondence, project plans, and administrative records. There is documentation of the Metro Art for Rail Transit project and of his work as director of the Communicative Arts Academy. Outterbridge's directorship of the Watts Towers Arts Center (WTAC) are arranged in a separate series; files document administration, annual programs and events, and special projects.

Exhibition files are found for several exhibitions in which Outterbridge participated in the mid-1990s. Printed material includes clippings about John Outterbridge and the Watts Towers Arts Center, exhibition catalogs, announcements, books, and magazines.

There is one scrapbook that contains clippings, award certificates, and photographs of the Watts Towers Arts Center events. There are photographs of Johnny Otis, Nina Simone, and L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley.

Photographs are of John Outterbridge and his artwork, studio, family, friends, and events. Among those depicted in the photographs are Bob Marley and Gregory Hines.

Biographical/Historical Note

John Outterbridge (1933- ) is an African American painter, sculptor and arts administrator in Los Angeles, California.


The John Outterbridge papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by John Outterbridge in 1997.

Related Materials

A copy of the film, "John Outterbridge: Black Artist," is available in the Samella Lewis papers, in the Rose Library at Emory University.

A Finding Aid to the John Outterbridge Papers, 1953-1997, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
John Outterbridge is an African American painter, sculptor and arts administrator in Los Angeles, California.
John Wilfred Outterbridge was born in Greenville, North Carolina in 1933. He attended Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro, North Carolina and studied engineering for one year before joining the U.S. Army in 1953. He served two years in Europe where he started painting street scenes in his spare time. His paintings were liked and his Captain found a studio space for him, where he painted murals and artwork in offices, clubs, and American schools.
Outterbridge decided that he needed a formal education in art and after his discharge from the Army in 1955, he relocated to Chicago and enrolled first in the Chicago Academy of Art, and later in the American Academy of Art. He became active in the Chicago art scene and opened a gallery with artists John Pinkney, Elliot Hunter, and Jose Williams. While attending school, he also worked for a graphic arts firm running errands and as a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver.
Outterbridge married his wife Beverly in 1960 and they moved to Los Angeles in 1963. He worked at a production studio for a while and got an offer from another studio to become its art director. After a few years, Outterbridge took two years off and began experimenting with with other medium, such as found objects and sculpture.
Outterbridge then took a job in the art installation department of the Pasadena Art Museum where he met artists such as Peter Alexander, Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol while helping with their exhibits. In addition to working on installations, Outterbridge taught sculpture classes at the museum and at several colleges such as Pasadena City College, Claremont College, Cal State Dominguez Hills, and University of California at Irvine.
From 1969-1975, Outterbridge was the director of the Compton Communicative Arts Academy. From 1975-1993, Outterbridge was the director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, a focal point in Los Angesle for African American visual and theatrical arts and the sponsor of the Watts Towers Jazz Festival and Day of the Drum Festival. He retired in 1993 to dedicate more time to his art.
Outterbridge’s art can be found at the California African American Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He has received awards throughout his career including fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Getty Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He received an honorary doctorate from Otis College of Art and Design in 1994.
Arrangement note
This collection is arranged as 9 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1953-1997 (0.7 linear feet; Box 1, OV 6, FC 9)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1970-1997 (1.1 linear feet; Boxes 1-2, OV 7)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1980-1996 (0.2 linear feet; Box 2)
Series 4: Professional and Project Files, circa 1970-1997 (0.5 linear feet; Boxes 2-3, OV 8)
Series 5: Watts Towers Arts Center, 1976-1997 (0.4 linear feet; Box 3)
Series 6: Exhibition Files, 1992-1996 (0.2 linear feet; Box 3)
Series 7: Printed Materials, 1968-1997 (1.1 linear feet; Boxes 3-4)
Series 8: Scrapbook, 1968-1997 (0.5 linear feet; Box 5)
Series 9: Photographs, 1953-1995 (0.2 linear feet; Box 4-5)
The John Outterbridge papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by John Outterbridge in 1997.
Processing Information note
The collection was processed and a finding aid created by Rihoko Ueno in 2016. A motion picture film reel was inspected and re-housed in 2016 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Institution 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. Contact Reference Services for more information. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

How to Cite This Collection

John Outterbridge papers, 1953-1997. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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