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Leon Berkowitz and Ida Fox Berkowitz papers, circa 1900-1986

Leon Berkowitz and Ida Fox Berkowitz papers, circa 1900-1986

Berkowitz, Leon, 1919-1987


Collection Information

Size: 3.0 linear feet

Summary: The collection documents the lives of painter and educator Leon Berkowitz and his first wife, poet Ida Fox Berkowitz, and provides insight into the cultural and artistic climate in 1940s and 1950s Washington D.C. through correspondence, notes, sketches, photographs, printed material, and audio cassettes. Topics include Leon Berkowitz' philosophy of painting, a 1940s U.S. Army art therapy project, the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts (1940s-1950s), WCFM radio station (1949-1953), and exhibitions of Leon's paintings. The collection also contains some of his lecture notes and photographs of the couple's European and Mexican trips. Correspondents include Helmuth F. Kern, co-founder of the WWCA; painters John Ulbricht, Elaine de Kooning, Arthur Okamura, and sculptor Scott Burton.

REEL 2786: Printed materials.

Biographical/Historical Note

Leon Berkowitz (1919-1987) was a painter in Washington, D.C.Birthdate also cited as 1911. Ida Fox was a poet. With his first wife, poet Ida Fox (1913-197?), and Helmuth Kern, Berkowitz co-founded the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts (1945-1956) and the short-lived Washington D.C.-based cooperative radio station WCFM (1949-1953).


Leon Berkowitz donated the papers of his first wife, Ida. After his death his second wife, Maureen Berkowitz, donated his papers.

A Finding Aid to the Leon Berkowitz and Ida Fox Berkowitz Papers,
circa 1900-1986
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Leon Berkowitz (1911-1987), a painter associated with the Washington Color School, was born in Philadelphia (the 1919 birth date given by Berkowitz in
Who's Who in American Art
is incorrect). He met and married his first wife, Ida Fox, between 1935 and 1937. Berkowitz received a B.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and an M.A. from George Washington University in 1948.
From 1943 to 1945, he served as a private in the U.S. Army, participating in a psychiatric program involving art therapy at Camp Lee, Virginia. Berkowitz taught art at Eastern and Western high schools in Washington, D.C. from 1945 to 1956 and taught at Western again in the late 1960s. In 1969 Berkowitz became chairman of the Corcoran School of Art's painting department and taught there until his death.
In 1945, the Berkowitzes founded the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts with Helmuth Kern. The Center, an important part of the city's cultural life during the 1940s and 1950s, offered courses in art, music, theatre and dance. Many of the artists who later became prominent in the Washington Color School taught at the center, including Morris Louis, Ken Noland, Gene Davis, Jacob Kainen and Jack Perlmutter. The center also sponsored a retrospective for Willem de Kooning in 1953. The Berkowitzes and Kern were also active in establishing the shortlived (1949-1953) cooperative radio station WCFM.
The center collapsed in 1956, shortly after the Berkowitzes' departure on a sabbatical painting trip to Spain. They spent much of the next decade abroad, including a two-and-a half year stay in Wales and a visit of several months to Jerusalem. During this period, Berkowitz expanded his interest in light, creating paintings by priming canvases with a white ground, then using multiple layers of thin oil paint washes.
Berkowitz had his first one-man museum show at the Corcoran in 1966. Ida Fox died during the 1970s and Berkowitz then married his second wife, Maureen. He continued to paint and exhibit until his death from cancer in 1987.
Poet Ida Fox (1913-197?) was born in Philadelphia. She married Leon Berkowitz between 1934 and 1937 and moved with him to Washington, D.C. where she attended American University from 1942 to 1945. During World War II she worked as a statistician for the U.S. government. In 1945 she cofounded the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts. Fox became its director in 1947, resigning the position in 1955 to accompany her husband to Spain. She published poetry in several literary and artistic periodicals, including a series, "Painting Thru a Poet's Eye," inspired by works of art. In 1970 she published a collection of poetry,
In the Wind: An American Poet in Wales
(St. David's, Wales: Antiphon Press, 1970), illustrated by Arthur Okamura.
The collection is arranged into nine series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1934-circa 1974, undated (box 1, 3 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1931-1985, undated (boxes 1-2, 27 folders)
Series 3: Teaching Files, 1939-1950s, 1985-1986, undated (box 2, 4 folders)
Series 4: Exhibitions, 1944-1985, undated (box 2, MMs, 10 folders)
Series 5: Washington Workshop Center for the Arts, 1940s-1950s (boxes 2-3, 14 folders)
Series 6: Other Projects, 1944-1985 (box 3, 4 folders)
Series 7: Notes and Writings, 1940s-1971, undated (box 3, 8 folders)
Series 8: Artwork, circa 1950s, undated (box 3, 5 folders)
Series 9: Photographs, circa 1900-1970s (box 3, 5 folders)
Series 10: Interview on Audio Cassette, [1974?] (box 3, 1 folder)
Leon Berkowitz donated the papers of his first wife, Ida. After his death his second wife, Maureen Berkowitz, donated his papers.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Rebecca Williams in 1989. The finding aid was revised by Stephanie Ashley during conversion to EAD in 2002.

Additional Forms Available

Microfilm reel 2786 available for use at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

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

Leon Berkowitz and Ida Fox Berkowitz papers, circa 1900-1986. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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