Lilian Swann Saarinen papers, circa 1909-1977
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.
Stephanie L. Ashley
Scope and Contents
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 career development 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 restaurant 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 reference 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 one 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.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Lilian Swann Saarinen donated the collection in 1975. She lent additional materials for microfilming in 1976.
The Archives of American Art also holds material lent for microfilming (reels 1152 and 1192) including a scrapbook containing clippings, copies of letters and telegrams received, and reproductions of Saarinen's work. There is a copy of Saarinen's book, "Who Am I?", and three albums containing photographs of Saarinen, photographs and reproductions of her work, a list of exhibitions, quotes about her, and writings by her about sculpture. Lent material was returned to the lender and is not described in the collection container inventory.
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.
The collection was processed to a minimal level, and a finding aid was prepared by Stephanie Ashley in 2015. The collection was further processed and prepared for scanning by Stephanie Ashley in 2017.
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