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Louise Nevelson papers, circa 1903-1982

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Jennifer Meehan and Christopher DeMairo
Scope and Contents
The papers of Louise Nevelson measure 30.5 linear feet and date from circa 1903 to 1988. The collection documents aspects of the life and work of the sculptor, focusing especially on her later career. Papers include correspondence, personal business records, writings, scrapbooks, some of Nevelson's early art work, photographs, interviews, awards and honorary degrees, books, and an extensive amount of printed material.
Interviews, awards, and honorary degrees comprise a series of biographical material, along with scattered personal papers such as a graduation program, wedding announcement, teaching certificate, invitations, miscellaneous notes, and material relating to Nevelson's family. Correspondence consists of letters and enclosures from a wide range of professional contacts, including museums and art centers, universities, art associations, women's and charitable organizations, artists, and philanthropists, among others, concerning the exhibition, sale, and donation of Nevelson's art work, and her various arts-related activities, as well as some letters from friends and family. Correspondence can also be found amongst the subject files, which also include clippings, notes, printed and other material organized according to subject and relating to certain exhibitions, and various artistic and professional activities. Whether this organization originates with Nevelson, one of her assistants, or Archives staff is unknown.
Found amongst Nevelson's business records are consignment receipts, statements, correspondence, inventories, disposition cards, notebooks, and lists, stemming from her business dealings with the Martha Jackson Gallery and related matters, usually carried out by her assistant at the time. Business records relate in particular to the large and complex project of inventorying Nevelson's art work undertaken sometime in the early-1960s. Nevelson's writings consist of poems and poem fragments, a short-lived dream journal, scattered writings on art, and drafts from Dawns and Dusks: Taped Conversations with Diana MacKown by Louise Nevelson and Diana MacKown. Also found are a large number of scrapbooks and an extensive amount of printed material, which likely stem in large part from Nevelson's concern to document and keep a record of her accomplishments. Scrapbooks contain clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, and other material documenting Nevelson's early career from roughly the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s. Also included are loose items comprising a scrapbook of sorts on son Mike Nevelson and various scrapbooks compiled by others as mementos of particular events. Printed material includes an extensive amount of clippings and publications, exhibition catalogs and announcements, and a variety of other printed material relating or referring to Nevelson or merely featuring her name in print. Also included are several books, some of which are about or feature segments on Nevelson. This material documents both her critical and commercial success, and her role as personality and minor celebrity in the mass media later in her career, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.
Art work consists of early drawings and watercolors made by Nevelson as a child and adolescent and while studying art in high school and New York, which document her artistic tendencies as youth and her early development as an artist and which provide an interesting contrast to her later work in sculpture. Photographs include ones of the Berliawsky family and Nevelson as a child, adolescent, and young woman in the 1920s and 1930s before she became known as an artist; ones of Nevelson from the mid-1950s to the 1980s, once she had become known, and began to be honored, as an artist; and ones of Nevelson's art work, as well as of various exibitions and installations of her work. Also included are a number of slides of the artist and her art work, including photographs taken by Dorothy Dehner in the mid-1950s at Louise Nevelson's house on Thirtieth Street.
Donated 1966-1979 by Louise Nevelson and in 2018 by the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine via Michael Komanecky, Chief Curator. The Farnsworth Art Museum received the materials from Louise Nevelson, her son Mike Nevelson, brother Nathan Berliawksy, and others that were close to the artist.
Related Material
Other resources relating to Louise Nevelson in the Archives include oral history interviews with Nevelson conducted by Dorothy Seckler, June 1964-January 14, 1964, and Arnold Glimcher, January 30, 1972. Also related are a 4 part untranscribed audio recording of an interview with Nevelson by Barbaralee Diamonstein, an audio recording of an interview with Nevelson conducted by Barbara Braun in 1983, and a video recording of Nevelson's 1958 exhibition installation at Grand Central Moderns gallery.
Funding for a portion of the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Additional processing received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
Processing Information
Early donations of the Louise Nevelson papers received a preliminary level of processing and were microfilmed on reels D296, D296A-D296E, 440 and 1817. Previously microfilmed and unmicrofilmed portions were fully merged, re-processed and described by Jennifer Meehan in 2005, and the bulk of the collection was scanned, with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Within the collection, boxes 30-43 consist of material donated by the Farnsworth Art Museum; some of this material was previously processed by the Farnsworth. The addition was then further processed and the finding aid updated by Christopher DeMairo in 2020.