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

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Series 10: Joseph Cornell Estate Papers , circa 1911, 1944-1986
(boxes 19-22; 3.5 linear feet)

Series is comprised primarily of correspondence, legal documents, and printed material created and accumulated by Betty Cornell Benton in her role as residuary legatee of Cornell's estate, as well as some miscellaneous family papers. Estate papers relate to Benton's administration of the part of Cornell's estate for which she was responsible and her various legal disputes with the executors of the estate. They shed light, to a certain extent, on the exhibition and sale of Cornell art works, as well as on the disposition of Cornell material, during the period of time after his death and up until the mid-1980s. Estate papers document Benton's efforts to safeguard the memory of Cornell and to foster the memory of their brother, Robert, who was often wrongly portrayed as being mentally disabled; to carry on Cornell's legacy by contributing to charitable institutions and donating art works to museums and universities; and to organize and appropriately dispose of Cornell's papers, books, records, and source material. They also document the relationships Benton forged with some of Cornell's friends and acquaintances, as well as with curators, museum directors, collectors, dealers, and artists.
The Joseph Cornell Estate Papers series is arranged as four subseries:
  • 10.1: Correspondence, 1954-1986
  • 10.2: Legal Files, 1966-1968, 1973-1983
  • 10.3: Printed Material, 1944-1982
  • 10.4: Miscellaneous Family Papers, circa 1911, 1944-1964
The bulk of this series has been scanned with the exception of printed materials such as books, magazines and exhibition catalogs for artists other than Cornell; typically only covers, title pages, and/or relevant pages of these items have been digitized.
10.1: Correspondence, 1954-1986
Subseries consists of correspondence sent and received by Benton in the administration of Cornell's residual estate, as well as some printed material and photographs that were accumulated in the same files. Correspondents include: lawyers, collectors, dealers, galleries, museums, curators, scholars, writers, art critics, artists, admirers of Cornell, the executors of Cornell's estate, and charitable institutions, as well as some of Cornell's former "helpers," friends, and acquaintances.
Correspondence generally relates to the exhibition, loan, appraisal, auction, and sale of Cornell art work. It documents, in particular, Cornell exhibitions at the ACA Galleries, Art Institute of Chicago, Castelli Feigen Corcoran Gallery, Hopper House, Washburn Gallery, and Washington University in St. Louis; and the major Cornell retrospectives, "Joseph Cornell" at the Museum of Modern Art (November 1980-January 1981) and "Joseph Cornell: An Exploration of Sources" at the National Museum of American Art (November 19, 1982-February 27, 1983). Correspondence also relates to the disposition of Cornell material and art work, including donations of his papers, books, records, and/or source material to various cultural institutions (such as the Anthology Film Archives, Museum of Modern Art, Archives of American Art, and National Museum of American Art, among others), and gifts of art work to various museums and galleries (such as Meadow Brook Art Gallery at Oakland University, Mead Art Gallery at Amherst College, and Williams College Museum of Art, among others). Correspondence also concerns Benton's gifts of art work (particularly, collages and book objects), source material, memorabilia, and copies of some of Cornell's papers to various individuals.
Correspondence documents Benton's many efforts to continue Cornell's legacy and to preserve his memory, including her monetary donations to charitable institutions in memory of her brothers; her attempts to correct misinformation and misrepresentations of Cornell and his family published in various articles (as in a letter to New York Magazine correcting a mistake about the nature of Robert's handicap in an article written by Thomas Hess); and her concern to have the right person do a "Cornell book" (as reflected in correspondence with Wayne Andrews, Dore Ashton, Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Diane Waldman, and Don Windham). Correspondence also documents her role in facilitating research on Cornell, including that of graduate students, such as Sherry Friend and Helen Haroutanian ( See also Series 9), and that of scholars such as David Porter; her work organizing and cataloging Cornell's papers and source material; and the various requests she fielded for information about or authentication of certain Cornell works.
Description Container
ACA Galleries (Sidney and Pearl Bergen), 1975-1977
19
23
Ader, Richard, 1983
19
24
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1972, 1978
19
25
American Dovecote and Shooting Gallery (Castelli Feigen Corcoran Gallery), 1977-1982, undated
19
26
Andrews, Wayne and Lisa, 1972-1974, undated
(2 folders)
19
27-28
Anthology Film Archives, 1976-1983, undated
(3 folders)
19
29-31
Art Institute of Chicago, 1982-1983
19
32
Ashton, Dore, 1973, undated
19
33
A, 1954, 1973-1980, undated
19
34
The Bedside Network ( See also Series 2 and 11), 1973-1980
19
35
Behringer, Hurley and Hurley ( See also Subseries 10.2), 1973-1978
(3 folders)
19
36-38
Bellevue Hospital Center, 1973-1977
19
39
Bennette, George and Shirley (Lighthouse Music School), 1973-1976
19
40
Bergman, Edwin and Lindy, 1975-1983, undated
19
41
Bergman, Robert, 1975-1983, undated
19
42
Bishop, Elizabeth, 1974-1978
19
43
Brown, Jo, 1979-1981, undated
19
44
B, 1973-1981, 1986, undated
19
45
Campbell, Mariruth, 1973-1974
19
46
Carrithers, Dorcas, 1977
19
47
Charles Hamilton Galleries, 1981
19
48
Corcoran, James, 1976-1979
19
49
Coulter, Dorothy, 1973-1976
19
50
C, 1974-1983, undated
19
51
Demetrion, James, 1973-1983, undated
(3 folders)
20
1-3
Dorazio, Virginia, 1973-1975
20
4
D, 1974-1977
20
5
Ethe, Solomon, 1974-1977, 1983
20
6
E, 1973-1975
20
7
First Church of Christ, Scientist, Bayside, 1973, 1977-1980
20
8
Fourcade, Droll Inc. ( See also Subseries 10.2), 1973-1976
(4 folders)
20
9-12
Friend, Sherry, 1975-1978
20
13
F, 1965, 1976-1981, undated
Includes letters from Edward Flower, who was the lawyer for Helen Batcheller.
20
14
Guggenheim Museum, 1976
20
15
Gussow, Alan, 1977-1981
20
16
G, 1973-1979
Includes letters from the Gallery Association of New York State, Inc. and Henry Geldzahler (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
20
17
Halper, Edward and family, 1973-1984, undated
(4 folders)
20
18-21
Haroutanian, Helen, 1977-1982
20
22
Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe ( See also National Museum of American Art), 1975-1983, 1986, undated
(5 folders)
20
23-27
Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe, "Special Folder,", 1983-1984, undated
(2 folders)
20
28-29
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gallery, 1981-1983, undated
20
30
Historical Society of Rockland County, 1963, 1972-1974
20
31
Hopper House (The Edward Hopper Landmark Preservation Foundation), 1977-1984, undated
(2 folders)
20
32-33
Hussey, Howard, 1972-1978
20
34
H, 1972-1978
20
35
Indiana, Robert, 1975-1977
20
36
Johnson, Ray, 1977, 1984, undated
20
37
J, 1976-1979
Includes letter from Larry Jordan alluding to his film on Cornell.
20
38
Kahn, Max, 1975-1983
20
39
Kappel, Hugh, 1973-1976, 1981, undated
20
40
K, 1973-1980
Includes letters from Yayoi Kusama (with some annotations by Betty Cornell Benton), Rolf Koppel, and Kraushaar Galleries, and a handmade Christmas card from Allegra Kent.
20
41
Lane, Alvin S., 1975
20
42
League in Aid of Crippled Children, 1973-1979
(2 folders)
20
43-44
Licka, Sean, 1977-1983, undated
20
45
L, 1973-1982
Includes letter from Jean Farley Levy (wife of Julien Levy) and brief correspondence with Tanaquil LeClerq.
20
46
MacWhinnie, John, 1980, undated
Includes art work by MacWhinnie.
21
1
Museum of Modern Art, 1973-1974, 1980, undated
21
2
Myers, John Bernard, 1973-1976, 1981
21
3
M, 1973-1984, undated
Includes letters from MD Medical News Magazine, Tom Messer (Guggenheim Museum), and the Minnesota Historical Society.
21
4
National Museum of American Art (formerly National Collection of Fine Arts and currently Smithsonian American Art Museum), 1974-1983
(2 folders)
21
5-6
National Museum of American Art, Exhibition ( See also Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe), 1982-1984
(2 folders)
21
7-8
New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, 1973-1975
21
9
Noble, Alastair and Lindsay, 1982-1983, undated
21
10
Novak, James, 1976, undated
21
11
N, 1973-1979
Includes letters from Hans Namuth and copies of Betty Cornell Benton's letters to the editors of New York Magazine and the New York Times (clearing up a point about the legal dispute between the family and executors discussed in an article by Hilton Kramer).
21
12
Oakland University (Meadow Brook Art Gallery), 1984-1985
21
13
Paine, Stephen, 1973-1977
21
14
Parke Bernet, 1979
21
15
Philatelic Hobbies for the Wounded, 1967-1970, 1976
21
16
The Phillips Collection, 1975-1976
21
17
Plandome Book Auctions, 1976
21
18
Porter, Aline, 1975-1981
21
19
Porter, David, 1976-1981
21
20
P, 1973-1978, undated
Includes letters from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Anne d'Harnoncourt), Anne and Fairfield Porter, and Eve Propp (a former "helper").
21
21
Queens Museum (formerly Queens County Art and Cultural Center) ( See also M file), 1973-1982
21
22
Roseman, Harry, 1973-1978
21
23
R, 1974-1977
21
24
Smithsonian Institution, 1973-1983
(2 folders)
21
25-26
Southampton College, 1974-1977
21
27
Stiglitz, Ruth, 1973-1976
21
28
Szyncer, Katherine Sergava, 1973-1978
21
29
S, 1973-1981, undated
Includes letters from Terry Schutte, Lewis Shepard (Department of Fine Arts, Amherst College), and Sandra Starr.
21
30
Tate Gallery, 1974
21
31
T, 1973, 1976
Include letter from Dickran Tashjian.
21
32
University of Massachusetts, 1976-1977
21
33
U, 1973
21
34
Valparaiso University, 1977-1982
(2 folders)
21
35-36
Viking Press, 1974-1975
21
37
von Furstenberg, Betsy, 1973, 1980, undated
21
38
Vondrak, Deanna Mayer, 1975-1983
21
39
V, 1973
21
40
Waldman, Diane, 1976-1977, 1981-1982
21
41
Washburn Gallery, 1973-1983
21
42
Washington University in St. Louis, 1981-1982
(2 folders)
21
43-44
Whitney Museum of American Art, 1977-1979
21
45
Williams College Museum of Art, 1973-1976
21
46
Windham, Donald, 1975
21
47
Wolff, Ted, 1981
21
48
W, 1973-1981
21
49
Z, 1975-1978
21
50
10.2: Legal Files, 1966-1968, 1973-1983
Subseries is comprised of Benton's files pertaining to various legal matters that arose in the course of administering Cornell's residual estate. Files primarily consist of copies of correspondence sent and received by Benton's lawyer, Dennis Hurley (of the firm, Behringer, Hurley and Hurley), on her behalf; copies of legal documents such as briefs, exhibits, court reporter's minutes, petitions, affidavits, and compromise agreements; and copies of income tax returns.
Files primarily relate to the legal dispute between the executors of Cornell's estate (Richard Ader and Wayne Andrews) and members of Cornell's family (namely, Benton and her niece, Helen Batcheller). The main issue of dispute was the ownership of Cornell art works in the possession of family members. Also at issue was the ownership of the non-Cornell art works owned by Cornell, as well as whether or not certain Cornell material (such as source material and ephemera) was to be considered art work (since art works went to the Trust and remaining material went to Benton as part of the residual estate). Files also relate to the case in United States Tax Court, determining whether the value of the works transferred to Benton and Batcheller were includable within the gross estate of Cornell for federal estate tax purposes.
To a lesser extent, files (especially correspondence) also relate to the estate tax proceedings of the Helen S. Cornell estate ( See also Series 1); the issue of ownership of the Bebe Marie doll (which initially belonged to Cornell's cousin, Ethel Storms, and was subsequently used by Cornell in the box, Untitled (Bebe Marie), in the 1940s); the charitable trust, the C and B (Cornell and Benton) Foundation, that Benton established as part of the compromise agreement with the executors; payment of gift taxes on works owned by Batcheller; and the appraisal, insurance and loan of Cornell works owned by Benton.
Description Container
Helen S. Cornell Estate Papers, 1966-1968
(4 folders)
21
51-54
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, 1973-1974
(6 folders)
21
55-60
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, 1973-1974
(2 folders)
22
1-2
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, Betty Cornell Benton's Notes, 1973-1974, undated
22
3
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, Correspondence between Lawyers, 1976-1976
22
4
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, Correspondence with Special Investigations, 1974
22
5
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, Correspondence with Potential Witnesses, 1974-1975
22
6
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, Partial Synopsis of Testimony on Behalf of Elizabeth C. Benton, undated
22
7
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, Compromise Agreement, 1974-1976
22
8
Case Re: Joseph Cornell Estate, Settlement, 1975
22
9
Correspondence, General, 1973-1977
22
10
Correspondence re: Bebe Marie, 1974-1978
22
11
Correspondence with Fourcade, Droll Inc., 1975
22
12
Correspondence re: Income, Estate, and Gift Taxes, 1975-1977
22
13
Cornell and Benton Foundation, 1975-1980
(4 folders)
22
14-17
Case in United States Tax Court, Motion to Intervene, 1978
22
18
Case in United States Tax Court, Response to Informal Request for a "Discovery List,", 1981
(3 folders)
22
19-21
Case in United States Tax Court, 1983
22
22
10.3: Printed Material, 1944-1982
Subseries is comprised of printed material, some of which was most likely collected by Cornell and either shared with his sister during his lifetime or bequeathed to her along with the rest of his papers, and some of which was created and/or accumulated by Benton during the time she was administering Cornell's residual estate.
Printed material collected by Cornell includes various clippings, a legal publication, issues of National Geographic magazine (with pages cut out), and stamps. It is possible that some of this printed material (particularly the magazines) constitutes part of Cornell's source material, which he may have used in his own box constructions and collages or shared with Benton for her to use in her collages.
Printed material collected by Benton includes announcements and catalogs for exhibitions of Cornell works; clippings on or related to Cornell; publications (such as Architectural Digest and Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago) with articles on or referencing Cornell or his art works; lists (created by Benton) of Cornell material given to the Anthology Film Archives and of Cornell's record collection (parts of which seem to have been given to different institutions, including the Lighthouse Music School, the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, and Southampton College, among others); and a brief biography of Robert Cornell written by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan for the International Year of Disabled Persons at the Smithsonian Institution.
Description Container
Printed Material Collected by Cornell, Miscellaneous, 1944-1971
22
23
Printed Material Collected by Cornell, Clippings on Stamps, 1954, 1959
22
24
Printed Material Collected by Cornell, National Geographic Magazines, 1956-1957
(2 folders)
22
25-26
Printed Material Collected by Cornell, Stamps, undated
(6 folders)
22
27-32
Exhibition Announcements, 1966, 1982
22
33
Clippings on Comet Kohoutek, 1973
22
34
Exhibition Catalogs, 1974-1978
22
35
Clippings on or related to Cornell, 1974-1983
22
36
Publications with articles on or referencing Cornell, 1977-1982
(2 folders)
22
37-38
Lists of Cornell Material Given to Anthology Film Archives, 1976-1977
22
39
Robert Cornell Biography by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, 1981
22
40
Lists of Cornell's Record Collection, undated
22
41
Newspaper Clippings, undated
22
42
10.4: Miscellaneous Family Papers, circa 1911, 1944-1964
Subseries consists of fragments of the papers of Betty Cornell Benton and Helen S. Cornell.
Betty Cornell Benton's papers include kindergarten art work, a printed inventory of Robert Cornell's train collection (which she compiled in collaboration with Robert during the time period from 1962 to 1963), and notes. Some of Benton's notes concern Cornell's biography and magazine collection, and may relate to certain activities in handling his estate.
Helen S. Cornell's papers include printed material on Flushing and the World's Fair (which took place in Flushing in 1939), as well as some writings. The printed material, collected and oftentimes annotated by Mrs. Cornell, documents some of the interests she shared with her son and relates to certain formative experiences shared by the family (such as their repeated visits to the World's Fair, which seems to have been a special time for all).
Beyond the fact that they were stored together, it is unclear how the rest of these fragments relate to Cornell's estate papers. Related papers can be found amongst biographical material, family correspondence, and Robert Cornell's papers.
Description Container
Betty Cornell Benton Papers, Kindergarten Art Work, circa 1911
22
43
Betty Cornell Benton Papers, Inventory of Robert Cornell's Train Collection, 1962-1963, undated
22
44
Betty Cornell Benton Papers, Miscellaneous Notes, undated
22
45
Betty Cornell Benton Papers, Notes on Cornell Biography, undated
22
46
Helen S. Cornell Papers, Printed Material on World's Fair, 1939-1940
22
47
Helen S. Cornell Papers, Printed Material on Flushing, 1944-1949, 1957, undated
22
48
Helen S. Cornell Papers, Writings, 1952-1964, undated
22
49

Make a Request

  • To request an appointment to view materials, make your selections using the checkboxes and click the "Reading Room" button. Please note, you will receive the full box.
  • To request reproductions, make your selections using the checkboxes and click the "Reproduction" button.