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José de Rivera papers, 1930-1991

José de Rivera papers, 1930-1991

De Rivera, José Ruiz, 1904-1985


Collection Information

Size: 5.3 linear feet

Summary: The papers of sculptor José de Rivera date from 1930 to 1991 and measure 5.3 linear feet. Found within the papers are biographical materials, letters, scattered personal business records, commission files, art work including four sketchbooks, printed material, and photographs. One of the commission files includes a motion picture film.

Biographical material consists of a biographical account, resumé, military service records, an interview transcript, certificates, addresses, and miscellaneous notes and writings.

Twenty-nine folders of letters are primarily from De Rivera's patron, attorney Howard Goldsmith, but also include single letters from Marcel Breuer, John Canaday, Emlen Etting, Dag Hammarskjold, and G. Vantongerloo.

Scattered personal business records include rental records, sculpture inventories, a contract, receipts, and miscellaneous records.

Commission files contain letters, contracts, receipts, clippings, blueprints, miscellaneous printed material, and photographs concerning several of De Rivera's commissions, including "Brussels Construction" for the Brussels Universal and International Exhibition, his sculpture for the 1964 New York World's Fair, and "Infinity", commissioned for the Smithsonian. A file for "Construction #73" completed for the American Iron and Steel Institute also contains a reel of 16mm motion picture film.

Art work consists of four sketchbooks, drawings, and geometric collages including detached cut out shapes.

Printed material includes primarily clippings and exhibition announcements and catalogs. There is also a copy of the book, "José de Rivera Constructions," by Dore Ashton and Joan M. Marter. Photographs are of De Rivera, miscellaneous art-related events, his studio, his art works, and of miscellaneous exhibition installations. Commission files also contain photographs.

Biographical/Historical Note

José de Rivera (1904-1985) was a sculptor from New York, N.Y.


The José de Rivera papers were donated by the artist and the Grace Borgenicht Gallery in 1982. Additional material was donated by de Rivera's son, Joseph A. Ruiz II, in 1998.

Related Materials

Location of Originals

  • Portions of reel N70-32: Originals returned to Jose de Rivera after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the José de Rivera Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
José de Rivera (1904-1985) worked primarily in New York as an abstract expressionist sculptor known for twisting steel or bronze bands into space-defining three-dimensional shapes.
José A. Ruiz was born on September 18, 1904 in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of Joseph and Honorine Montamat Ruiz. He would later take the surname of his maternal grandmother, de Rivera. Early in his life his family moved to New Orleans where his father was a sugar mill engineer on a plantation. De Rivera became adept at repairing machinery and doing blacksmith work with his father. Shortly after completing high school in 1922, de Rivera moved to Chicago where he was employed in foundries and machine shops as a pipe fitter and tool and die maker. His 1926 marriage to Rose Covelli ended in divorce.
Beginning in 1928 de Rivera attended night drawing classes conducted at the Studio School by painter John W. Norton. De Rivera was impressed by the Egyptian collections at the Field Museum. The work of Mondrian, Brancusi, and Georges Vantongerloo also exerted a strong influence on him. In 1932, he traveled through southern Europe and North Africa visiting Spain, Italy, France, Greece, and Egypt. Upon his return to the United States he decided to become a sculptor.
From 1937-1938, de Rivera was employed by the Works Progress Administration-Federal Art Project and created the sculpture
for the Newark, New Jersey airport. During World War II, he first served in the U.S. Army Corps from 1942 to 1943. For the following three years, he designed and constructed ship models used as training aids in the U. S. Navy.
De Rivera's first solo exhibition was in 1946 in New York at the Mortimer Levitt Gallery. In 1953, de Rivera taught sculpture at Brooklyn College. For the following three years, he was a critic in sculpture at Yale University and taught at the School of Design at North Carolina State College from 1957 to 1960. De Rivera married Lita Jeronimo in 1955.
In 1961 de Rivera was given a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. One of his most notable works
was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution for the front of its newly built Museum of History and Technology in 1963.
José de Rivera died on March 19, 1985 in New York City.
The collection is arranged as 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1942-1984 (Box 1; 11 folders)
Series 2: Letters, 1938-1988 (Box 1; 29 folders)
Series 3: Personal Business Records, 1947-1984 (Box 1; 11 folders)
Series 4: Commission Files, 1955-1977 (Box 1-2, 6-7, OV 10; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 5: Art Work, 1960-1984 (Box 2, 6, OV 8; 0.9 linear feet)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1931-1991 (Box 2-4, 6; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 7: Photographs, 1930-1985 (Box 4-7, OV 9-OV 10; 1.7 linear feet)
The José de Rivera papers were donated by the artist and the Grace Borgenicht Gallery in 1982. Additional material was donated by de Rivera's son, Joseph A. Ruiz II, in 1998.
Location of Originals
  • Portions of reel N70-32: Originals returned to Jose de Rivera after microfilming.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Jean Fitzgerald in March 2011.

Additional Forms Available

In 1970, JosÔe de Rivera loaned some papers for microfilming. Loaned material is available on reel N70-32.

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

José de Rivera papers, 1930-1991. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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