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

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Series 2: Correspondence , 1909-1982
(boxes 1-5, OV 31; 4.3 linear feet)

Series is comprised of Cornell's personal and professional correspondence, primarily consisting of letters, postcards, and greeting cards to Cornell from family, friends, artists, dealers, collectors, galleries, museums, admirers, "helpers," and charitable institutions. Also included, to a lesser extent, are letters between and amongst other members of the Cornell family. While Cornell did not usually make copies of his outgoing correspondence, he often wrote various versions of a letter. Several examples of these can be found amongst his correspondence, though it is unclear whether or not they represent letters that were actually sent. Files also include notes and printed material that pertain to various (often notable) individuals and/or institutions. Though most likely not actual correspondents, these individuals and institutions were of interest to Cornell in one way or another, which presumably led him to collect this material. Based upon this collecting activity, there is some overlap between correspondence and source material. Correspondence relating to Cornell and his artwork can be found amongst his estate papers.
In general, the correspondence is heavily annotated by Cornell's sister, Betty Cornell Benton, who prepared his papers for donation to the Archives. In her annotations, Benton often supplies the last name of the correspondent and sometimes the date of the letter when these are not provided. Other times, she provides information about or commentary on the correspondent and his/her relations with Cornell.
According to some of Benton's annotations, it seems likely that Cornell may have originally maintained some, if not all, of his correspondence in chronological files. At some point, correspondence was organized alphabetically according to the surname of the correspondent or name of institution. It is not clear whether this was carried out by Cornell, his sister, or someone in the Archives. The existing alphabetical organization has been maintained since, with so many undated letters, it would be impossible to reconstruct a meaningful chronological order.
In the existing arrangement, general correspondence, family correspondence, and greeting cards were maintained separately in distinct groupings of files. Based upon this, the Correspondence series is arranged as three subseries:
  • 2.1: General Correspondence, 1909-1982
  • 2.2: Family Correspondence, 1909-1977
  • 2.3: Greeting Cards, 1956-1972
This series has been scanned in entirety.
2.1: General Correspondence, 1909-1982
Subseries consists of correspondence between Cornell and friends, artists, dealers, collectors, galleries, museums, admirers, individuals whom he admired or with whom he was especially preoccupied, "helpers," and charitable institutions. Included are letters (in some instances, with photographs or poems enclosed), postcards, and greeting cards, as well as some art work, three-dimensional objects, and artifacts. Also included are some notes and printed material, such as newspaper and magazine clippings, pamphlets, brochures, publications, and publicity material, pertaining to individuals, institutions, and/or topics in which Cornell had a particular interest.
Correspondence documents some of Cornell's activities involved in creating his art work, such as his practice of using multiple copies of a single image in many of his works (as in a letter from John Allen referring to Cornell's order for multiple prints of a Loie Fuller image); his early attempts to advertise his art work (as in letters from the Blaker Advertising Agency, Columbia Records, Inc., and N. W. Ayer and Son); and his later, oftentimes hesitant, transactions with galleries and dealers, including Irving Blum, Charles Egan, Richard Feigen, Julien Levy, Robert Schoelkopf, and Eleanor Ward ( See also Series 1). Correspondence relates to the sale of his art work to galleries and individual collectors, and the exhibition of his art work in museums, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum ( See Diane Waldman and Tom Messer), Pasadena Art Museum, and Whitney Museum ( See also John Baur).
The positive reception of Cornell's art work is documented in many letters from admirers (including poet, Paul Carroll, who wrote two poems about Cornell's art work, the Fourth Grade Class at Murray Avenue School, actress, Eva Marie Saint, and author, Glenway Wescott, among others). The critical reception of Cornell's art work is documented in the many letters from people who have written or express interest in writing an article about Cornell (including Howard Griffin from Art News, David Bourdon from Life magazine, and Brian O'Doherty, author of American Masters: The Voice and the Myth, among others).
Correspondence also concerns some of Cornell's major "explorations," including ones on the singers, Maria Malibran and Giuditta Pasta (as in letters from the English scholar, Richard Coe), and the ballerina, Fanny Cerrito (as in letters from Lillian Moore). Correspondence relates to his other research and collecting activities and includes numerous letters responding to his requests for information and/or material from institutions, such as the Harvard College Library, dealers, such as C. and I. K. Fletcher, and individuals, such as Marian Hannah Winter.
Correspondence documents Cornell's preoccupations with certain dancers (such as Allegra Kent, Tanaquil LeClerq, and Tamara Toumanova), actresses (such as Lois Smith), artists (Lee Bontecou), and other young women; his relationships with other artists, both young and established, including Piero Dorazio, Ray Johnson, Hubert Kappel, Roberto Matta Echauren, Dorothea Tanning, and Pavel Tchelitchew, among others; and his friendships and shared interests with individuals, such as Wayne Andrews, Charles Henri Ford, Parker Tyler, Donald Windham, and Marian Hannah Winter (their letters often entailing an exchange of ideas on topics such as literature, music, dance, art, and the pleasures of collecting). Correspondence also documents his generosity (in terms of gift giving) toward his friends (and their children) and individuals whom he admired (as in letters and notes of thanks for gifts of art work from Valerie Adams, George Bennette, Lee Bontecou, Susan Sontag, Jessica Tandy, and Tamara Toumanova, among others); and his generosity toward institutions providing public services to the less fortunate (as in letters acknowledging and expressing gratitude for donations from the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind and the Bedside Network, among others).
General correspondence is arranged in files according to correspondent and then alphabetically according the surname of the individual or the name of the institution. Items are arranged in rough chronological order within each file. When only a few items (typically less than three) are associated with a correspondent, these are arranged into general alphabetical files. Unidentified and miscellaneous items are arranged into files at the end of the subseries.
Description Container
Adams, Valerie, 1942-1959
1
33
Andrews, Wayne and Lisa, 1947, 1965-1972, undated
1
34
Ashbery, John, 1967-1969
1
35
Ashton, Dore, 1972, undated
1
36
A, 1937, 1945, 1955-1972, undated
1
37
Baur, John ( See also Whitney Museum), 1964
1
38
Beckman, Julie, 1955-1970, undated
1
39
Bennette, George and family, 1953, 1971-1972
1
40
Bergman, Edwin, 1959, 1966
1
41
Blum, Irving (Ferus Gallery), 1959, 1965-1966
1
42
Bontecou, Lee, 1961-1964
1
43
Brandon, Baby (Mary Hopkins), 1957-1958
1
44
Brown, Harriet and Bob, 1964-1971, undated
1
45
Brown, Jo, 1953-1954
1
46
Bruno, Phillip (Staempfli Gallery), 1964-1965
1
47
Burckhardt, Rudy, 1952-1968, undated
1
48
B, 1946-1972, undated
(3 folders)
Includes letter from Stan Brakhage.
1
49-51
Campbell, Sandy, 1948, 1956-1965, undated
Includes photographs of actress Lois Smith and hairpins of actress Lilian Gish.
1
52
Carrithers, Dorcas, 1967, 1970, undated
1
53
Cleveland Museum of Art, 1966, 1968
1
54
Couch, Lucile, 1967-1969, 1972
1
55
Coulter, Dorothy, 1962-1969
1
56
C, 1925, 1949-1972, undated
(4 folders)
Includes letters from: Xenia Cage, Paul Carroll (with two poems inspired by Cornell's art work), William and Noma Copley, and Cornell University.
2
1-4
De Maria, Susanne, 1963-1973, undated
(2 folders)
2
5-6
De Maria, Walter, 1967-1968
Consists of copies of correspondence between De Maria, Jan van der Marck and Marcel Duchamp (concerning the exhibition "Art by Telephone") and a photograph which constitute a work by De Maria called Chicago Project, 1968.
2
7
Delarue, Allison ( See also Series 9), 1943-1968, undated
2
8
Dorazio, Piero and Virginia ( See also Series 4), 1953-1970, undated
2
9
Duchamp, Marcel and Teeny, 1955-1968, undated
Includes Cornell's writing about a dream he had of Duchamp, and a version of a condolence letter to Duchamp's wife.
2
10
D, 1943-1970, undated
Includes letter from D'Arcy Galleries.
2
11
Eastman, Lee and family, 1962, undated
2
12
Egan, Charles, 1950-1951, 1963
2
13
Ehrich, Jo Ann, 1969-1970, undated
2
14
Ekstrom, Arnett and Parmenia, 1964-1965
2
15
Engdahl, Leonore, 1966, 1970-1971
2
16
E, 1949-1970, undated
2
17
Feigen, Richard, 1959-1969, undated
2
18
Fine, A.M., 1970
2
19
Ford, Charles Henri, 1939-1970, undated
Includes pencil drawing by Tchelitchew on the back of a card from Ford.
2
20
Ford, Ruth, 1969-1972, undated
2
21
Fried, Rose, 1962-1965
2
22
F, 1955-1970, undated
2
23
Gablik, Suzi, 1961, 1963
2
24
Gagner, Robert, 1967-1968
2
25
Garson, Inez, 1968-1970
2
26
Goodman, Trudy, 1965-1966, undated
2
27
Graham, Susan, 1971, undated
Includes ink blot drawings by Cornell.
2
28
Griffin, Howard, 1956-1957, undated
2
29
Grinstein, Elyse, 1966-1968
2
30
G, 1948-1972, undated
Includes letter from David Gahr.
2
31
Hadley, Leila, 1965, 1970-1972, undated
2
32
Halper, Ed, 1967-1969, undated
2
33
Hammond, Paul, 1968-1971
2
34
Hanson, Elizabeth, 1966-1968, undated
2
35
Hodes, Barnet, 1955-1957, 1971-1972, undated
2
36
Hussey, Howard, 1966-1972
2
37
H, 1945-1972, undated
(2 folders)
2
38-39
I, 1967, undated
2
40
Javitz, Ramona, 1946-1964
2
41
Jean, Marcel, 1958
2
42
Johnson, Ray and friends, 1966-1971, undated
(2 folders)
Includes illustrated letters, illustrations, and collages by Johnson.
2
43-44
Judreik, Sonia, 1963-1964, undated
2
45
J, 1956-1972, undated
2
46
Kappel, Hubert and Anne, 1947, 1953, 1965-1972
2
47
Kent, Allegra, 1969, undated
Most of the material was returned to Kent per Cornell's request, according to a note by Benton; however, some notes and photographs remain.
2
48
Kesl, Leonard, 1969-1972, undated
(3 folders)
Includes ink drawings by Cornell.
2
49-51
Kirschenbaum, Carol, 1962, undated
2
52
Kreger, Nancy, 1970-1972
2
53
K, 1954-1972, undated
(2 folders)
3
1-2
Le Clerq, Tanaquil, 1956-1959, 1969-1970, undated
3
3
Leve, Sandra and Harvey, 1967-1968, undated
3
4
Levy, Julien, 1953-1967, undated
3
5
Life Magazine (David Bourdon), 1967, undated
3
6
Lousada, Pat, 1963-1968, undated
3
7
Loy, Mina, 1942, 1950-1951, 1982, undated
3
8
L, 1952-1972, undated
(2 folders)
Includes postcard and Christmas card from Tilly Losch ( See also Series 4).
3
9-10
Matta, Roberto and Malitte ( See also Piero Dorazio dossier in Series 4), 1945-1966, undated
3
11
Merkel, Katherine, 1965, undated
3
12
Messer, Tom (Guggenheim Museum), 1966-1967, 1970, undated
3
13
Monnier, Jackie, 1967-1970, undated
3
14
Moore, Lillian, 1955-1962, undated
3
15
Moore, Marianne, 1944, 1959, undated
3
16
Oversize Letter to Marianne Moore
Item digitized with Box 3, Folder 16.
OV 31
Motherwell, Robert, 1946-1972, undated
Includes illustrated letters and photos of Motherwell and Maria Ferreira; see also 4.1.
3
17
Murray Avenue School, 4th Grade Class, 1967
3
18
M, 1951-1972, undated
(3 folders)
Includes letters from: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art.
3
19-21
N.W. Ayer and Son, 1951
3
22
Namuth, Hans, 1968-1972, undated
3
23
Neumann, J.B., 1946-1947
3
24
New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, 1962, 1970-1971, undated
3
25
Nodturft, Pauline, 1964, undated
3
26
N, 1961-1972, undated
3
27
O'Doherty, Brian, 1967-1969, undated
3
28
O, 1909, circa 1938, 1965-1972, undated
Includes letters from Oberlin College and actress Merle Oberon.
3
29
Page, Geraldine, 1959-1961, undated
3
30
P, 1927, 1947-1971, undated
Includes letters from Pasadena Art Museum.
3
31
Reigel, Anne, 1968-1969, undated
Includes ink blot drawings by Cornell.
3
32
Richter, Hans, 1960-1961
3
33
Rose, Isadora, 1962-1963, undated
3
34
Rothko, Mark and family, 1957-1959, undated
3
35
R, 1948-1972, undated
(2 folders)
3
36-37
Saint, Eva Marie, 1964-1972, undated
3
38
Schneeman, Carolee, 1964-1965
3
39
Schoelkopf, Robert, 1960-1968, undated
3
40
Schutte, Terry, 1965-1969, undated
3
41
Sekula, Sonia, 1944-1951, undated
3
42
Serbanne, Claude, 1945-1946, undated
3
43
Shainberg, Lawrence, 1970, undated
3
44
Siskind, Aaron, 1951, 1972, undated
3
45
Sitney, P. Adams, 1963, undated
3
46
Smillie, Gwen Van Dam, 1955-1972, undated
3
47
Smith, Lois and Moon, 1957-1971, undated
3
48
Somers, Barbara, 1965-1970, undated
3
49
S, 1945-1973, undated
(3 folders)
Includes letters from: Peter Schjeldahl, Harold Schonberg ( The New York Times), Ladislas Segy (Segy Gallery), Susan Sontag, Stable Gallery (Eleanor Ward), Allan Stone, the secretary of actress Gloria Swanson, and Katherine Sergava Szyncer.
3
50-52
Tandy, Jessica, 1947-1949, undated
Includes a piece from the dress Tandy wore onstage in A Streetcar Named Desire.
3
53
Tanning, Dorothea, 1945-1965, undated
Includes illustrated letters, pencil drawing, and a handmade book by Tanning.
3
54
Tchelitchew, Pavel, 1940-1943, 1955, 1964, undated
3
55
Thode, Elizabeth (New York Institute for the Education of the Blind), 1960-1972
3
56
Thoeren, Manina, 1951, undated
3
57
Toumanova, Tamara, 1941-1945, 1967, undated
Includes pieces of material from Toumanova's Firebird, Giselle, and Capricio costumes, as well as a dried flower from her garden and a St. Christopher pin.
4
1
Tyler, Parker, 1939-1955, 1967, undated
4
2
T, 1933-1960, undated
4
3
U, undated
4
4
Victor, Joan Berg and Daniel, 1964-1972, undated
4
5
V, 1934-1971, undated
4
6
Wade, Jane, 1959-1972, undated
4
7
Waldman, Diane (Guggenheim Museum) and Paul, 1967, undated
4
8
Whitney Museum of American Art, 1962-1963, 1966
4
9
Windham, Donald, 1946-1970, undated
4
10
Winter, Marian Hannah, 1948-1952
4
11
W, 1934, 1951-1972, undated
(2 folders)
Includes letters from: Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler (Museum of Modern Art), Trevor Winkfield, Jerome Paul Witkin, Worcester Art Museum, and actress Fay Wray.
4
12-13
Young, Vivienne, 1966-1970
4
14
Z, 1963, undated
4
15
Unidentified Collage Letters, undated
4
16
Unidentified and Miscellaneous Letters, 1944-1971, undated
4
17
2.2: Family Correspondence, 1909-1977
Subseries consists of correspondence between Cornell and various members of his immediate family, including his mother, Helen S. Cornell, his sisters, Betty Cornell Benton (often addressed as Nell) and Helen Jagger, his nieces, Sissy (Jagger) Batcheller and Jean (Jagger) Plitt, and various cousins. Some printed material, primarily clippings sent to Cornell by his mother while she was living in Westhampton during her last years, can also be found. Subseries also consists of correspondence between and amongst other members of the family, including many of those listed above, as well as Cornell's brother, Robert (subseries includes only correspondence from him), his father, Joseph I. Cornell, and his cousins, Grace Sayres and Janet (Voorhis) Traphagen. Correspondence received by Robert Cornell can be found amongst his papers in Series 11.
Cornell's family correspondence documents his close and on-going relationships with his mother, sisters, and nieces; the large role that his family played in both his personal and creative life; the many interests he shared with his siblings, including art, literature, music, and Christian Science; and his collaborative work on collages with his sister, Betty. The one important family relationship not explicitly documented in the correspondence is Cornell's relationship with his brother, Robert. Since they lived together up until the month before Robert died, they did not exchange letters in a regular fashion. Some cards and notes between the two are scattered amongst Cornell's personal papers and diaries, as well as amongst Robert's papers. To a certain extent, Cornell's diary entries also document his relationship with his brother.
Family correspondence files are arranged alphabetically according to the surname of the correspondent. Items within the files are arranged in rough chronological order.
Description Container
Batcheller, Sissy (to and from Cornell), 1963-1970, undated
4
18
Benton, Betty Cornell (to and from Cornell), 1948-1972, undated
4
19
Benton, Betty Cornell (to and from other family members), 1919-1925, undated
4
20
Cornell, Helen S. (to and from Cornell), circa 1920, 1953, 1963-1967, undated
Includes letters from Cornell while he was a student at Andover.
4
21
Cornell, Joseph I. (to and from other family members), 1909, 1916
4
22
Cornell, Robert (to Nell and Jack Benton), 1921-1965, undated
(16 folders)
4
23-38
Cornell, Robert (to Nell and Jack Benton), Postcards, 1934-1958
(2 folders)
4
39-40
Cornell, Robert (to Nell and Jack Benton), Greeting Cards, 1942-1965, undated
(2 folders)
4
41-42
Cornell, Robert (to Nell and Jack Benton), Greeting Cards, 1942-1965, undated
(4 folders)
5
1-4
Cornell, Robert (to Helen S. Cornell), Greeting Cards, 1961, undated
5
5
Cornell, Robert (to Helen, Archie, and Sissy Jagger), 1935-1941, 1958
5
6
Cornell, Robert (to Emma Storms), 1920-1925, undated
5
7
Hand, Ray (to Cornell), 1966, undated
5
8
Jagger, Helen (to and from Cornell), 1960-1971, undated
(3 folders)
5
9-11
McMonegal family (to Cornell), 1945-1971, 1977, undated
5
12
Plitt, Jean (to and from Cornell), 1946-1971, undated
5
13
Sayres, Grace (to other family members), 1950-1971, undated
(4 folders)
Includes letters to Helen S. Cornell (dating from 1950 to 1964) and to Betty Cornell Benton and siblings (dating from 1966 to 1971).
5
14-17
Storms, Ethel (to Cornell), undated
5
18
Traphagen, Janet (to Cornell and his mother), 1965-1966, undated
5
19
2.3: Greeting Cards, 1956-1972
Subseries consists of holiday and birthday greeting cards to Cornell from family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, as well as some greeting cards that were signed by Cornell but never sent.
Greeting cards are arranged in general alphabetical files according to correspondent. Unidentified, miscellaneous, and unsent cards are arranged in files at the end of the subseries.
Description Container
A, 1968-1971, undated
5
20
B, 1962-1972, undated
(4 folders)
5
21-24
C, 1960-1972, undated
5
25
D, 1957-1970, undated
5
26
E, 1956-1971, undated
5
27
F, 1968-1969, undated
5
28
G, 1968-1970, undated
5
29
H, 1966-1970, undated
5
30
I-J, 1965-1969, undated
5
31
K-L, 1960-1970, undated
5
32
M, 1957-1971, undated
5
33
N-O, 1969-1970
5
34
P, 1960-1972, undated
5
35
R, 1962, undated
5
36
S, 1956-1971, undated
5
37
T, 1966-1972, undated
5
38
U, 1957-1972, undated
5
39
W, 1962-1972, undated
5
40
Unidentified and Miscellaneous, 1966-1969, undated
5
41
Unsent Cards, 1968-1970, undated
5
42

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.