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José de Rivera papers, 1930-1991

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 Flight 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 Infinity 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.