Patricia K. Craig
Scope and Contents
The personal papers of Millard Sheets (1907-1990) measure 27.6 linear feet and date from circa 1907-2000, with bulk dates of 1956-1981. The collection reflects Sheets's career as a designer, painter, and muralist, as well as his other personal and professional interests, through correspondence, writings, lectures, clippings, blueprints, drawings, slides, photographs, and ephemera.
The Project Files comprise the largest group of materials in the collection and document design work undertaken by Sheets through his company Millard Sheets & Associates Designs. Sheets and his associates produced concept drawings and blueprints and supervised the construction for a wide range of design projects that ranged in scale from architectural plans for private residences to bid proposals for shopping malls and financial institutions located in California and the Southwest.
Sheets designed interior and exterior plans for over forty Home Savings and Loan bank branches in California. The distinctive modular design which Sheets created and then customized by integrating interior and exterior art elements that highlighted local historical events or natural features became synonymous with the image of Home Savings and Loan. Sheets also teamed up with the architect Edward Durrell Stone to produce a proposal for the Capitol Mall Project, an urban renewal project for the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Sacramento. Researchers will find correspondence, job costs and billing statements, and notes that trace the development of these and other building construction projects. In some instances the documents are supplemented by blueprints, photographs, and/or drawings of the project, but in many cases, visual documentation is missing.
The Project Files also document work done by Millard Sheets on public projects such as the Family of Man mural in the Los Angeles City Hall Annex, a mosaic dome in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., and the Word of Life mural at the University of Notre Dame, Ind., along with numerous other murals and mosaics created for private individuals and corporations.
The Correspondence Series primarily reflects the interaction between Sheets and his clients, colleagues, and personal acquaintances. These files will prove valuable to researchers who are interested in the way that Sheets's beliefs about the role of art in everyday life impacted the way he conducted business and managed both large and small design projects. The correspondence also reflects Sheets's interest in popular American culture, travel, political issues of the day, and art collecting.
The Membership Files document the wide variety of interests that Sheets maintained through active membership in associations and organizations. The material in this series consists primarily of correspondence, minutes of meetings, and notes which Sheets created or used as he served as a board member or trustee on a number of organizational boards, such as the California Institute of the Arts, the Claremont Colleges, Virginia Steele Scott Foundation, Webb School of California, and Goodwill Industries of Southern California.
Also found in this series is material that documents his interest and participation in various recreational and professional organizations. Sheets maintained a long association with the Economic Roundtable, a group of businessmen who met regularly to give presentations and share discussion on contemporary political and social issues. Sheets was a frequent speaker and his talks given at the Economic Roundtables can be found in Lectures and Speeches, a subseries of the Writings Series.
Included in the Millard Sheets & Associates Designs, Inc. series are records that reflect the day-to-day operations of Sheets's design firm. Found here are chronological copies of correspondence that were sent out, files Sheets maintained on various independent contractors that the design firm frequently used, resumes and letters of recommendation that Sheets received regarding potential employees, as well as records relating to the cost and maintenance of Sheets's office building.
The Teaching and Workshop Files document the instructional activities undertaken by Sheets throughout his career in the arts. Although Sheets became pivotal in establishing a regionally recognized art department at Scripps College in Claremont, California, the files that reflect his academic position there are limited in scope and depth. Researchers will find more substantive the files that he maintained on the numerous art demonstrations and paintings workshops that he conducted privately throughout his career. Sheets traveled extensively around the world through his teaching activities and the files in this series track his path.
Closely related to the Teaching and Workshop Files is the Painting Trips series. The material in these files document Sheets's service as an American Specialist in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the USIS, Department of State. Sheets served two times as a cultural arts representative in Turkey in 1960 and in the former USSR in 1961. Sheets also made numerous trips to South East Asia, which had proved an area of fascination for him since his experiences as a war correspondent in Burma and India in World War II. The files in this series document his painting trips to Tahiti, the Pacific Ocean Rim, and Hawaii. Also found are files that detail his painting activities in Mexico.
The Exhibition Files reflect the records that Sheets maintained regarding his participation in art exhibitions, as well as his files on art shows that he personally directed or organized for public or private groups or organizations. Although Sheets exhibited his work predominantly in the West and Southwest, the files in this series demonstrate that he exhibited both nationally and internationally as well.
Also found within the records for this series are files relating to Sheets's representation of his artwork through established galleries and art agents. The Dalziel Hatfield Galleries of Los Angeles, California, served as his primary agent for most of his painting career. Correspondence between Sheets and the Hatfields provide insight into Sheets's development into a regionally and nationally significant watercolorist and painter. The files relating to the Kennedy Galleries in New York and the Circle Gallery in Chicago reflect Sheets's efforts to maintain a national presence in the arts community.
The Jury Files document Sheets's involvement as a juror in regional, as well, as national shows. The files reveal the great variety of professional watercolor and painting exhibitions in which Sheets participated as either a jury panelist or solo judge.
The Writings Files provide an excellent source for researchers interested in Sheets's philosophical beliefs about the relationship between art and everyday life. His articles, lectures, and speeches predominantly address the role of the artist, the relationships that exist between artists and the community, and the role that art can play in making a fuller, more productive life. Also found in the files of this series are articles written by others about Sheets.
The Biographical Material series provides a short introduction to Millard Sheets. The files consist of the calendars maintained by Sheets and his wife and staff, which were used to coordinate his many commitments and appointments. Also found in the files of this series are family chronologies that were created by Mary Baskerville Sheets. Medical records and resumes provide personal information about Sheets's background and health. A small file of military memorabilia provides information about Sheets's contributions to the war effort in World War II.
The Printed Matter series documents family activities and personalities through publicity clippings. Also found are exhibition catalogs and announcements that Sheets saved regarding other artists. Miscellaneous interests and activities of Sheets are found through magazine articles, brochures, and flyers.
The Photographs series includes photographic documentation for Sheets's artwork, horses, and major projects. A small group of photographs of Sheets are also in this series.
The files in the Artwork series include original drawings by Mary Baskerville Sheets and Millard Sheets.
There is a 4.6 linear foot unprocessed addition to this collection donated 2018 that includes writings; sketchbooks and sketches; photographs and negatives of works of art, images of Millard Sheets and others including family; printed material, including two scrapbooks; and scattered correspondence regarding Sheet's projects.
Millard Sheets lent material for microfilming in 1965. Mary B. Sheets, Millard's widow, donated the papers to the Archives of American Art in 1992. Carolyn Owen-Toole, Sheet's daughter, gave a small addition of material in 2018.
The Archives of American Art also holds material lent for microfilming (reels LA 10) including a biographical sketch, career resume, and a list of sheets' work prepared in 1964. Loaned materials were returned to the lender and are not described in the collection container inventory.
The collection was processed by Patricia K. Craig in 1999 with funding provided by the Ahmanson Foundation in Beverly Hills, California. The finding aid was modified by Stephanie Ashley in 2001 during EAD conversion.