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Lilian Swann Saarinen papers, circa 1909-1977

Saarinen, Lilian Swann, 1912-1995

Ceramicist, Sculptor, Illustrator

This site provides access to the papers of Lilian Swann Saarinen in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2017, and total 12,958 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by The Walton Family Foundation; and John R. & Barbara Robinson and Deborah Schmidt Robinson & Dr. R. Perry Robinson, The Widgeon Point Charitable Foundation.

Collection Information

Size: 9.0 linear feet

Summary: The papers of Cambridge sculptor and illustrator, Lilian Swann Saarinen, measure nine linear feet and date from circa 1909 to 1977. The collection documents Saarinen's career through correspondence with artists, architects, publishers, and gallery owners; writings and notes, including manuscripts and illustrations for children's books and publications; project and teaching files; financial records; artwork, including numerous project sketches; and photos of Saarinen and her artwork. Saarinen's personal life is also documented through diaries and correspondence with friends and family members, including Eero Saarinen, to whom she was married from 1939-1953.
Biographical material consists of resumes and biographical sketches, as well as a 1951 blueprint for the Eero Saarinen and Associates Office Building in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Correspondence documents Saarinen's personal and professional life through letters to and from Eero Saarinen and other family members including six letters from Loja Saarinen, correspondence with artists and architects including Merle Armitage, Charles and Ray Eames, Carl Koch, Henry Kreis, Carl Milles, Laszlo and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Robert Venturi and Harry Weese; and friends and colleagues at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Knoll Associates. Also documented is Saarinen's business relationship with Midtown Galleries and Caresse Crosby, and publishers and publications including "Child Life", "Interiors", Otava Publishing Company, and Reynal & Hitchcock, Inc.
Writings and Notes document Saarinen's work on several children's publications, including "Picture Book Zoo" (1935) and "Who Am I?" (1946), through correspondence, notes, manuscript drafts, and extensive sketches. This series also includes Saarinen's ideas for other publications and incorporates some early writings and notes, as well as typescripts of her reminiscences about Eliel Saarinen, the Saarinen family, and the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Diaries consist of bound diary volumes, loose-leaf journal entries, and heavily annotated engagement calendars, documenting Saarinen's personal life, artistic aspirations, and developing career from the 1930s-1970s. This material provides a deeply personal view of the emotional landscape of Saarinen's life, her struggles to balance her identity as a working artist with the roles of wife, mother, and homemaker, and the complex, and often competing, relationships within the renowned architectural family into which she married.
Project files document Saarinen's work on book cover designs, federal and post office commissions in Bloomfield, Indiana, Carlisle, Kentucky, and Evanston, Illinois, reliefs for the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois, and other important commissions including the Harbor National Bank Clock in Boston, Massachusetts, the KLM Airlines installation at JFK Airport, the "Fountain of Noah" sculpture at the Northland Center in Detroit, Michigan and the interior of Toffenetti's restuarant in Chicago, Illinois. Also documented is her role in designs for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, with Eero Saarinen.
Teaching files document Saarinen's "Language of Clay Course" which she taught at Cambridge Art Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Financial records document exhibition and sales expenses for two exhibitions, including her show at G Place Gallery in 1944.
Printed material consists of clippings about Saarinen and her family, exhibition announcements and catalogs for herself and others, and source files from the 1930s-1940s, primarily comprising clippings of animals.
Additional printed material documenting Saarinen's career can be found in one of two scrapbooks found in the collection. An additional scrapbook consists of clippings relating primarily to Saarinen's parents.
Artwork comprises extensive sketches, particularly animal and figure sketches, in graphite, crayon, ink, pastel, and watercolor. The sketches demonstrate in particular Saarinen's developing interest in and skill with animal portraiture from her childhood to the 1960s.
Photographs are primarily of artwork and Saarinen's 1944 exhibition at G Place Gallery. Also found are 1 negative of Saarinen, probably with Eero Saarinen, and a group photo including Lilian, Eero and Eliel Saarinen with the model for the Detroit Civic Center, circa 1940s.

Biographical/Historical Note

Cambridge artist and sculptor, Lilian Swann Saarinen (1912-1995), studied at the Art Students League with Alexander Archipenko in 1928, and later with Albert Stewart and Heninz Warneke from 1934-1936, before moving to Michigan where she studied with Carl Milles at the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1936-1940.


The papers were donated by Lilian Swann Saarinen in 1975.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by The Walton Family Foundation; and John R. & Barbara Robinson and Deborah Schmidt Robinson & Dr. R. Perry Robinson, The Widgeon Point Charitable Foundation.