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John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1848-1999

John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1848-1999

Curry, John Steuart, 1897-1946

Art teacher, Painter, Lithographer

Representative image for John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1848-1999

The papers of John Steuart Curry and the Curry Family in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2007. The bulk of the papers have been scanned and total 10,872 images.

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

Collection Information

Size: 9.2 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter, muralist, and illustrator John Steuart Curry, and Curry family papers, measure 9.2 linear feet and date from 1848 to 1999. Papers document his career and family history through certificates, correspondence, photographs, clippings, contracts, receipts, inventories, writings, notes, and other materials. The papers contain particularly rich documentation of Curry's period as artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin, from 1936 to 1946. Mural projects in Kansas, Washington, DC, and Wisconsin are also documented.

Biographical Materials include chronologies, biographical narratives, genealogical notes, certificates and awards, and other ephemera related to Curry and his family. Family Correspondence includes the earliest records created by Curry himself, including letters home from art school and from the East Coast during his early career.

Correspondence and Project files document mural projects, appearances, gallery relationships, and other activities from the early 1930s until his death in 1946 with correspondence, photographs, clippings, contracts, writings, and other miscellany. Subject files include pictorial reference and research files created by Curry for subjects depicted in his murals and paintings. Curry's writings include essays, lectures, interviews, and notes related to his technical and philosophical approach to art, as well as notes from his various travels, and essays by others about Curry. Personal Business Records contain records of artwork, business transactions, and personal finances.

Print Materials include print copies of published artwork by Curry, including magazine illustrations from Curry's early career. Extensive clippings, exhibition catalogs, and a scrapbook created by Curry as a youth are also found. Photographs depict Curry throughout his life in formal portraits, candid snapshots, and publicity photographs, with a significant number of photographs depicting Curry creating and posing with his artwork. The Artwork series contains a few sketches by Curry and seven canvases used for testing art materials. Additional sketches are found in Subject Files and scrapbooks.

Estate Papers contain materials dated after Curry's death in 1946 and mainly document the activities of Kathleen Curry in managing her husband's estate from 1946 until her death in 2001. Estate papers contain writings about Curry, correspondence, inventories of artwork, and alphabetical files documenting sales, exhibitions, and other projects.

Biographical/Historical Note

John Steuart Curry (1897-1946) was a painter, lithographer, and instructor. Curry worked as WPA muralist and is famous as one of The Regionalists, along with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. He taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1936-1946.

Provenance

Material on reels 164-168 lent for microfilming 1971 by Curry's widow, Kathleen Curry; in 1979 she subsequently donated portions of the material lent, along with additional material (filmed on reels 2746-2748). Curry memorabilia received with the papers (baby cup, baby dress, overalls, medals, paint box, watercolor box, 2 photographs) were transferred to Spencer Museum of Art. Material on reel 2714 donated 1972 and 1975 by Mildred Curry Fike, Curry's sister; and material on reel 2743 donated 1975 by R. Eugene Curry, a brother. The home movies were donated in 1973 by Ellen Schuster, Curry's daughter. Unmicrofilmed material donated in 1991 by Daniel Schuster, Curry's son-in-law, in 1992, 1995, 1999, and 2000 by Kathleen Curry, as well as a group in 1993 by R. Eugene Curry. Additions received from Kathleen Curry between 1992 and 1999 may contain more material previously filmed as a loan on reels 164-168.

Related Materials

Curry memorabilia received with the Kathleen Curry's donation in 1979 (baby cup, baby dress, overalls, medals, paint box, watercolor box, 2 photographs) were transferred to the Spencer Museum of Art in 1985.

Portions of Kathleen Curry's initial 1971 loan were not subsequently donated. The entire loan can be viewed on reels 164-168.

The Archives of American Art holds an oral history interview with Kathleen Curry regarding John Steuart Curry conducted in 1990 and 1992.

Funding

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

Location of Originals

  • Materials loaned by Mrs. Curry in 1971 for microfilming were returned to the donor, who later donated the sketchbooks to the Worcester Museum of Art in 1999.

A Finding Aid to the John Steuart Curry and Curry Family Papers, 1848-1999, bulk 1916-1946, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.currjohn
Biographical Note
Painter, muralist, and illustrator John Steuart Curry is considered one of the three important painters of the American Regionalist movement, along with Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri and Grant Wood of Iowa. Curry was born in north-eastern Kansas in 1897, and grew up on his family's farm. Curry left high school to attend the Kansas City Art Institute briefly, and then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1916 with Edward J. Timmons and John Norton. Curry later spent a year in Paris studying with Basil Schoukhaieff in 1926 and 1927.
Curry began his career as a freelance illustrator in Leonia, New Jersey, under the influence of Harvey Dunn. Curry's illustrations were widely published in illustrated magazines such as
Boy's Life
,
Country Gentleman
, and
Saturday Evening Post
in the early 1920s. He married Clara Derrick in 1923 and lived in Greenwich Village, and then Westport, Connecticut, from 1924 to 1936. Derrick died in 1932, and in 1934 Curry married Kathleen Gould.
Curry's career shifted from illustration to painting during the 1920s and 1930s, bolstered by success in exhibitions and sales. Exhibits included the National Academy of Design (1924), the Corcoran Gallery (1927-1928), a solo exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club (1930), and the Carnegie International Exhibition (1933). Early sales include
Baptism in Kansas
, purchased by the Whitney in 1930, and
Spring Shower
, purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in 1932. Curry taught at Cooper Union (1932-1934) and the Art Student's League (1932-1934), and painted his first murals in Westport under the Federal Art Project in 1934.
In 1936, he was appointed artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture as part of a rural art program developed by rural sociologist John Burton. The purpose of his residency was to serve as an educational resource for rural people of the state. Curry stayed in this position until his death in 1946, carrying out the program's mission through lectures and visits with dozens of art and civic groups around the state, and by making himself available to rural artists through correspondence and guidance in his studio. He also helped to organize annual rural art exhibitions for UW's Farm and Home Week beginning in 1940. In return for his work, he was given a salary and a studio on campus and the freedom to execute his own work as he chose.
Under the Federal Art Program's Section of Painting and Sculpture, Curry completed two murals in the Justice Department building in Washington in 1936,
Westward Migration
and
Justice Defeating Mob Violence
, and two murals in the Department of the Interior building in 1938,
The Homestead
and
The Oklahoma Land Rush
. A design that was rejected by the government for the Justice building, a mural entitled
Freeing of the Slaves
, was later executed at the University of Wisconsin in their law library. From 1938 to 1940, Curry worked on murals for the state house rotunda in Topeka, Kansas admist a stormy, public controversy over his dramatic depiction of Kansas history. The legislature effectively blocked Curry's completion of the project through a formal resolution not to remove marble that was blocking areas that were part of Curry's design. Infuriated, Curry left the unfinished murals unsigned, and later derided the state frequently for the treatment he received. The Kansas State legislature issued a formal apology and appreciation of the completed murals in the 1990s.
Despite the lack of appreciation of his home state, Curry did receive recognition elsewhere during his lifetime as an artist of national importance. He continued to paint and exhibit in the art centers of the East Coast. In 1941, he won the Gold Medal Award at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts exhibition, and in the 1942 Artists For Victory exhibition, he won the top prize for
Wisconsin Landscape
. Curry's book illustrations were in high demand, and he contributed to books such as
My Friend Flicka
, editions of Lincoln's and Emerson's writings, and Wisconsin writer August Derleth's
The Wisconsin
. A biography of Curry written by Laurence Schmeckebier was published in 1942.
Curry died in 1946 of heart failure. A retrospective that had been planned for the living artist opened less than a month after his death at the Milwaukee Art Institute. His wife, Kathleen Curry, maintained his estate until her death, in 2001, at the age of 102. Additional retrospective exhibitions were held at Syracuse University in 1956 and in the Kansas State Capitol in 1970. In 1998, the exhibition "John Steuart Curry: Inventing the Middle West" was organized at the University of Wisconsin and traveled to the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into ten series:
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1911-1993 (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 2: Family Correspondence, 1916-1946 (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 3: Correspondence and Project Files, 1928-1946 (Boxes 1-3, OV 11; 2.3 linear feet)
Series 4: Subject Files, 1848-1946 (Boxes 3-4, OV 11-12; 0.7 linear feet)
Series 5: Notes and Writings, circa 1911-1946 (Box 4; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Personal Business Records, 1916-1952 (Box 4, OV 13; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 7: Print Materials, 1918-1985 (Boxes 4-5, 10; OV 12-13; 1.6 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographs, circa 1900-1998 (Boxes 5-6, OV 14; 1.1 linear feet)
Series 9: Artwork, 1941, undated (Box 7, OV 12, 14, 15; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 10: Estate Papers, circa 1946-1999 (Boxes 7-9 and rolled document; 2.3 linear feet)
Provenance
Material on reels 164-168 lent for microfilming 1971 by Curry's widow, Kathleen Curry; in 1979 she subsequently donated portions of the material lent, along with additional material (filmed on reels 2746-2748). Curry memorabilia received with the papers (baby cup, baby dress, overalls, medals, paint box, watercolor box, 2 photographs) were transferred to Spencer Museum of Art. Material on reel 2714 donated 1972 and 1975 by Mildred Curry Fike, Curry's sister; and material on reel 2743 donated 1975 by R. Eugene Curry, a brother. The home movies were donated in 1973 by Ellen Schuster, Curry's daughter. Unmicrofilmed material donated in 1991 by Daniel Schuster, Curry's son-in-law, in 1992, 1995, 1999, and 2000 by Kathleen Curry, as well as a group in 1993 by R. Eugene Curry. Additions received from Kathleen Curry between 1992 and 1999 may contain more material previously filmed as a loan on reels 164-168.
Location of Originals
  • Materials loaned by Mrs. Curry in 1971 for microfilming were returned to the donor, who later donated the sketchbooks to the Worcester Museum of Art in 1999.
Processing Information
Portions of the collection received a preliminary level of processing at some point after donation. The collection was typically microfilmed in the order in which it was received on reels 164-168, 2714, 2743, and 2746-2748, except for donations made after 1992, which were not microfilmed. The entire collection was fully processed, arranged, and described by Megan McShea in 2007 and digitized in 2008-2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2007 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Types of materials not digitized or partially digitized include published books and pamphlets, personal financial records unrelated to artwork, photographs of works of art, estate files related to projects and exhibitions dated after 1985, duplicate items, and copies.

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.

How to Cite This Collection

John Steuart Curry and Curry family papers, 1848-1999. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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