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Mildred Constantine papers, 1945-2008

Mildred Constantine papers, 1945-2008

Constantine, Mildred, 1913-2008


Collection Information

Size: 5.3 linear feet

Summary: The papers of Mildred Constantine measure 5.3 linear feet and are dated 1945-2008. Subject files, writings, photographs, and a scrapbook provide an overview of her curatorial work in the Architecture and Design department of the Museum of Modern Art, and subsequent activities as an independent curator, and art consultant. Especially well documented is the book, "Whole Cloth" that she wrote with Laurel Reuter.

Correspondence, though mostly business related, often touches on personal matters since many of the artists and art world figures with whom she corresponded were also friends. Correspondents include Miguel Angel Corzo, Arthur C. Danto, Dorothy Dehner, Allen Hart (who sent more than 40 illustrated letters), Elizabeth Wilder, and Donald L. Weisman. She also corresponded with many art institutions and organizations, among them the Cleveland Museum of Art, Independent International Design Conference, El Museo del Barrio, Museum of New Mexico, Ohio State University, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Estate of David Smith.

Subject files reflect Constantine's activities and interests. A large portion of this series concerns "Whole Cloth," a book written with Laurel Reuter, that presents an historical look at how artists have used cloth in their work. Correspondence between the two authors, with artists, institutions, and others concerns researching and writing the volume. Also documented are the successes and failures of Constantine's decade long pursuit to publish the book. Other substantive files relate to the Cleveland Museum of Art, Getty Conservation Institute, Sheila Hicks, Jack Lenor Larsen, Rhode Island School of Design, and Soviet Film Posters. Files concerning the University of the Arts' 2003 Commencement include a videocassette.

Writings by Constantine are lecture material and notes. Also found are transcripts of interviews with Constantine and writings by others. Printed material includes newspaper and magazine articles about Constantine and her career. A scrapbook of printed material and photographs documents an exhibition of Latin American posters at the Library of Congress organized by Constantine.

Photographs of people include Mildred Constantine with family, friends, artists, and others at public and private events around the world. Notable photographs include: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Anni Albers, Alfred Barr, Luis Barragan, Lou Block, Louise Bourgeois, Jagoda Buic, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Charles Coiner, James Marston Fitch, Mathias Goeritz, Ingeborg Ten Haeff, Ann d'Harnoncourt, Sheila Hicks, Richard Koch, Nancy Koenigsberg, Jack Lenor Larsen, Leo Lionni, Roberto Burle Marx, Ruth Reeves, Laurel Reuter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ben Shahn, Massimo Vignelli, Ulfert Wilke, and Claire Zeisler. Also, there are photographs of artwork by a wide range of artists.

Biographical/Historical Note

Curator and writer Mildred Constantine (1913-2008) was associated with the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Architecture and Design from 1943 to 1971.


Donated 2009 by Judith Bettelheim and Vicki McDaniel, Constantine's daughters.

Related Materials

A Finding Aid to the Mildred Constantine papers,
in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Curator and writer Mildred Constantine (1913-2008) was associated with the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Architecture and Design from 1943 to 1971. She then became an art consultant and independent curator, and wrote on fiber and textiles, decorative arts, photography, caricature and cartoons.
Mildred Constantine (known as "Connie") began her career at College Art Association. Hired as a stenographer in 1930, she soon was promoted to editorial assistant for
, the forerunner of
Art Journal
Constantine left the College Art Association in 1937 to study at New York University and earned BA and MA degrees. She then continued her education at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In 1940, Constantine worked in the Office of Inter-American Affairs at the Library of Congress; it was there that she met René d'Harnoncourt.
Influenced by her 1936 travels in Mexico, Constantine's first curatorial effort was an exhibition of Latin American posters. Drawn from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition was held at the Library of Congress.
At the urging of René d'Harnoncourt, The Museum of Modern Art's Architecture and Design Department hired Constantine in 1943. The majority of her 28 year tenure at the museum was spent working with the department's founder, architect Philip Johnson. As a curator during the 1950s and 1960s, Constantine's innovative exhibitions brought lesser known portions of the museum's collection to public attention. Among her exhibtions were: "Words and Images," that focused on graphic design and posters; "Polio Posters," the first Museum of Modern Art show dedicated to social issues; "Olivetti: Design in Industry;" "Signs in the Street;" and "Lettering by Hand." She also published books on Art Nouveau, contemporary package design, and other subjects.
In 1971, Constantine left the Museum of Modern Art to become an independent curator and art consultant. Exhibitions included "Frontiers in Fiber: The Americans," and "Small Works in Fiber" with Jack Lenor Larsen.
Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life
, Constantine's book on the photographer, actress, model, and political activist, appeared in 1974. That same year, she and Alan Fern produced
Revolutionary Soviet Film Posters
that focused on works from the 1920s. Her last published work,
Whole Cloth
, was written with Laurel Reuter and published in 1997. Constantine continued to research and write, and at the time of her death was working on a large, international survey of the study of thread.
Mildred Constantine and Ralph W. Bettelheim (1909-1993) were married for 50 years. They had two daughters, Judith and Vicki.
Mildred Constantine died from heart failure on December 10, 2008, at home in Nyack, New York.
The Mildred Constantine papers are organized into 8 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1947-1997 (Boxes 1, 6; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1964-2008 (Boxes 1, 6; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 3: Subject Files, 1964-2008 (Boxes 2-5; 3.3 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings, 1991-2008 (Box 5; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1961-2006 (Box 5; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 6: Photographs, 1993 (Box 5; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, 1945 (Box 5; 1 folder)
Series 8: Scrapbook, circa 1940s (Box 6; 0.1 linear feet)
Donated 2009 by Judith Bettelheim and Vicki McDaniel, Constantine's daughters.
Processing Information
The papers were processed and a finding aid prepared by Justin Brancato in December of 2009.

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

Mildred Constantine papers, 1945-2008. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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