Skip to main content

Joseph Cornell papers, 1804-1986, bulk 1939-1972

Cornell, Joseph, 1903-1972

Assemblage artist, Sculptor, Collagist

The papers of Joseph Cornell were digitized in 2005 and 2009 by the Archives of American Art. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 38,643 images.

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

Collection Information

Size: 24.9 Linear feet

Summary: The papers of Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) measure approximately 24.9 linear feet and date from 1804 to 1986 with the bulk of the material dating from 1939-1972. The collection documents the life, work, interests, and creative activities of the self-taught artist, who was best known for his shadow box constructions, assemblages, and collages. Papers include correspondence, diaries, source material, notes, writings, photographs, printed material, two- and three-dimensional ephemera, art works, and books, as well as a limited amount of legal and financial records, and some miscellaneous personal and family papers. The collection also includes the papers of his sister, Betty Cornell Benton, relating to the handling of Cornell's estate and the personal papers of his brother, Robert Cornell.

Biographical/Historical Note

Joseph Cornell, assemblagist, collagist, and filmmaker, was born on December 24, 1903 in Nyack, New York. He was the oldest son of Joseph I. Cornell, a textile salesman and designer, and Helen Storms Cornell, and had two younger sisters, Elizabeth (b. 1905), nicknamed Nell and later Betty, and Helen (b. 1906), and a younger brother, Robert (b. 1910), who suffered from cerebral palsy. Cornell shared close relationships with his siblings, and was especially attached to his brother whom he took care of as an adult. His fondest childhood memories included family Christmas celebrations, outings to Manhattan where he saw vaudeville shows and strolled around Times Square, and trips to Coney Island where he encountered penny arcade machines. These childhood memories, among others, inspired some of the themes later explored in his art work.

Provenance

The Joseph Cornell papers were donated and microfilmed in several installments from 1974 to 1989 by Joseph Cornell's sister, Betty Cornell Benton. Most, but not all, of the correspondence, which was loaned for microfilming in 1974, was subsequently donated in 1989. Additional material was donated in 2004 by the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.

Related Materials

Funding

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