Skip to main content

Nina Howell Starr papers, 1933-1996

Nina Howell Starr papers, 1933-1996

Starr, Nina Howell, 1903-2000

Photographer, Dealer

Collection Information

Size: 21.2 linear feet

Summary: The papers of photographer and art historian Nina Howell Starr measure 21.2 linear feet and date from circa 1933 to 1996. The papers contain research files about various art historical topics, museums and galleries, photography, and artists. There are extensive files documenting Starr's relationship as researcher, dealer, and friend of folk painter Minnie Evans. Additionally, the papers include biographical materials, writings, speeches, project files, printed material collected or authored by Starr, and hundreds of artistic and documentary photographs and negatives created by Starr depicting her travels, Minnie Evans' paintings, roadside folk art, and other topics.

Biographical materials are scattered and include grant and publication applications, curriculum vitae, lists of artwork, and miscellany.

Starr's lectures, writings, and project files are arranged into one series. They include Starr's student writings, a notebook about Civil Rights, files documenting her work on a Florida public housing project, the Southern Regional Council, and the League of Women Voters. A few files of general writings and lectures mostly concern folk artist Minnie Evans and the exhibition "Women Photograph Men," held at the International Women's Arts Festival in 1976.

Subject files on artists, art history topics, photographers and photography (including Starr's work), and on folk artist and friend Minnie Evans comprise the bulk of the collection. The files are a mix of collated materials and primary sources created by Starr and others and many contain correspondence, notes, photographs, and a few sketches and orginal prints. Also included are materials related to professional and organizational groups in which Starr was involved, including the Professional Women's Photographers, Inc., the Photographic Historical Society of New York, and the Museum of American Folk Art; files on several of Starr's exhibitions; and files on artists that contain printed materials, correspondence, and photographs. The file on Ruth Starr Rose contains prints and drawings. There are also photographs taken by Stephanie Cohen. Particularly rich files are found for Stephanie Cohen; Van Deren Coke, Director of the George Eastman Company; Evelyn Daitz, Director of the Witkin Gallery; Henry DiSpirito; Walker Evans; the Fotofolio printing company; curator Henri Ghent; photographer Consuelo Kanaga and husband Wallace Putnam; Margot Starr Kernan; Lucy Lippard; Stanton Mac-Donald Wright; Sharon Arts Center; photographer Paul Strand; curator John Szarwarski; and photographer Jerry Uelsman.

The collection also documents the friendship between painter Minnie Evans and Starr, and Starr's business dealings on Evans' behalf. There is correspondence about and with Evans, several sound recordings of interviews conducted by Starr and others with Evans, many with transcripts, financial documents, publications about Evans including exhibition catalogs, clippings, journal articles and monographs, two posters, a scrapbook, and one sketch by Evans.

Printed material includes published articles, exhibition catalogs and announcements, and clippings about Starr.

Photographic materials are extensive and include photographs and slides taken by Starr of friends, family, artwork by Minnie Evans, events, exhibition openings, world travels, and folk art, especially roadside.Prominent artists and art historians photographed include: photographers Maggie Sherwood, Naomi Savage, Barbara Morgan, Linda Connor, Aaron Siskind, Consuelo Kanaga, Faith Ringgold, and Walker Evans; sculptors Louise Kruger and Helene Brandt; feminist and art historian Pat Mainardi; and curators Henri Ghent and John Szarkowski. Starr's artistic photographic work is also represented, and includes two silver gelatin prints of Minnie Evans, and subject studies on hands, people, and nature, among others.

Biographical/Historical Note

Nina Howell Starr (1903-2000) was a photographer, art dealer, and art historian who worked primarily in New York City.


Nina Howell Starr donated her papers to the Archives of American Art in 1996.


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian's Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

A Finding Aid to the Nina Howell Starr Papers, circa 1933-1996, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
Nina Howell Starr (1903-2000) was a photographer, art dealer, and art historian who worked primarily in New York City. Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1903 as Cornelia Margaret Howell, Starr attended Wellesley College and graduated from Barnard in 1926. Also in 1926, she married Nathan Comfort Starr, an English professor, and, over the years the couple lived in Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida, and New York City.
In 1963, at the age of 60, Starr received the first M.F.A. in photography granted by the University of Florida. Starr exhibited widely in both solo and group exhibitions, including
Magic Lantern
(Photographer’s Gallery, London, 1976), and the
Strength of Women
(Witken Gallery, 1991), and numerous shows featuring photographs of outsider art. Her "New Yorker" project became an exhibition in 2016. Her work is owned by several prominent museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography.
As art historian, self-proclaimed critic, and civil rights and feminist advocate, Starr lectured widely, wrote articles and letters to editors, and corresponded with many notable art world figures. She became especially interested in outsider and folk art. Starr met outsider artist Minnie Evans in 1962 and became Evans’ lifelong friend, advocate, and representative dealer. She wrote about Evans and introduced Evans’ works to galleries and other exhibition spaces in New York, including the Whitney Museum, where she guest-curated an exhibition of Evans’ work in 1975.
Starr was an active member of professional organizations including the Photographic Historical Society of New York, Professional Women’s Photographers, Inc., and the Museum of American Folk Art where she served on the Advisory Committee.
Nina Howell Starr died in 2000 in Connecticut at the age of 97.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 6 series.
Series 1: Biographical material, 1954-circa 1990 (8 folders; Box 1)
Series 2: Writings, Speeches and Projects, 1933-1995 (1.1 linear feet; Boxes 1-2)
Series 3: Subject Files, circa 1939-1996 (8.3 linear feet; Boxes 2-10)
Series 4: Minnie Evans, 1962-1996 (3.7 linear feet; Boxes 10-13, 23, OV 24)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1936-1995 (2.7 linear feet; Boxes 13-16, 23)
Series 6: Photographic Material, circa 1939-1993 (5.4 linear feet; Boxes 16-23, OV 24)
Nina Howell Starr donated her papers to the Archives of American Art in 1996.
Processing Information note
The collection was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared by Eden Orelove and Anna Rimel in 2016, with funding provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care and Preservation Fund. The Archives of American Art has implemented minimal processing tactics when possible in order to increase information about and access to more of our collections.
Minimal processing included arrangement to the series, subseries, and folder levels. Generally, items within folders were simply verified with folder titles, but not arranged further. The collection was rehoused in archival containers and folders, but not all staples and clips were removed.

Additional Forms Available

Some of the sound recordings in this collection have been digitized for research access and are available in the Archives of American Art offices.

Restrictions on Access

Use requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Nina Howell Starr papers, 1933-1996. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available