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Robert Bruce Inverarity papers, circa 1840s-1997

Robert Bruce Inverarity papers, circa 1840s-1997

Inverarity, Robert Bruce, 1909-1999

Printmaker, Illustrator

Collection Information

Size: 13.8 linear ft.

Biographical/Historical Note

Robert Bruce Inverarity (1909-1999) was a painter, sculptor, illustrator, lithographer, etcher, lecturer, museum director, author, puppeteer, and state director of the Federal Art Project from Seattle, Washington and La Jolla, California. Studied at the University of Washington, Fremont University, and with Kazue Yamagishi and Mark Tobey. Exhibited in one-man shows and group exhibitions in the U.S. and Canada. Was director of the Museum of International Folk Art (1949-1954), the Adirondack Museum (1954-1965), and the Philadelphia Maritime Museum (1969-1976). He is the author/illustrator of "Blockprinting and Stencilling," and a "Manual of Puppetry."


Robert Bruce Inverarity donated his papers to the Archives in several installments between 1965 and 1993. Additional papers were received from his estate in 1999. He also loaned a small number of additional drawings and sketches for microfilming which were returned to him. A few of these drawings were included with the papers he subsequently donated to the Archives of American Art.

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Scope and Contents

The papers of artist, photographer, museum director, anthropologist, and writer Robert Bruce Inverarity are dated circa 1840s-1997 and measure 12.7 linear feet. Biographical information, correspondence, writings and notes, subject files, art work, scrapbooks, sound recordings, printed material and photographs. These document Inverarity's work as Director of the Federal Art Project in Seattle and Director of the Art and Craft Project for the State of Washington, as well as his own work as an artist, photographer, museum director, anthropologist, and writer. Nineteenth century material consists of a Japanese print, printed material, and photographs.

Among the biographical information are awards and certificates, biographical and genealogical notes, and educational records. Correspondence concerns Inverarity's activities as Director of the WPA Federal Arts Project in Washington State, 1936-1941. Additional personal and professional correspondence, 1929-1993, documents his activities as a museum director, consultant, collector, and writer. Among the friends and colleagues with whom he corresponded are: Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, Rockwell and Sally Kent, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Wolfgang Palen, Juliet and Man Ray, Mark Tobey, Edward Weston, and various individuals associated with the WPA.

Manuscripts of a few of Inverarity's many articles on topics such as anthropology, museology, and information storage and retrieval are among his writings and notes. Also included are the manuscript of an unpublished book, "Tobey Remembered," along with drafts, notes, correspondence, research materials, and photocopies of Tobey's letters to him and others. Other writings consist of book reviews, children's books, a catalog of the Inverarity Collection, and a copy of his 1946 master's thesis, "The Social-Economic Position of the American Artist." Several journals, 1928-1966, survive, including one that records his 1932 trip to study the Haida Indians of the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Subject files include general subjects such as "Folk Art" and "Preservation." Files on the museums where Inverarity was the director contain some official records as well as general information. Art work by Inverarity includes eight volumes of sketch books, 1928-1942, commercial work for Boeing, notes and drawings for book designs. Among the work by other artists are drawings, paintings and prints by friends. Of particular interest are display panels for a small exhibit on airbrush stencil prints produced by the Washington State WPA Federal Art Project. Other noteworthy items are pencil sketches and a watercolor by Mark Tobey, and prints by Hiroshige and Jan Matulka.

Five scrapbooks, 1928-1979, contain newspaper clippings, miscellaneous printed items, and a small number of photographs and letters. Three volumes document his career as an artist and museum director. One consists of biographical information and items designed by Inverarity, and another concerns publication and marketing of his monograph "Art of the Northwest Coast Indians."

Sound recordings consist of interviews and conversations. An extensive interview with Inverarity about his life and career was conducted by Craig Gilborn in 1990. Bruce and Jane Inverarity in conversation with former colleague Ernie Johnson and his wife Helen about his departure from the Museum of International Folk Art were recorded in 1980. Also included is a 1981 conversation with Grace T. Stevenson containing references to Mark Tobey and Morris Graves.

Printed material includes many items about or produced by the WPA Federal Art Project. Among the items written by Inverarity are many articles on a wide variety of topics, his book, "Art of the Northwest Coast Indians," and two published portfolios. Printed material by other authors includes articles, books and reports about or mentioning Inverarity, and books designed or illustrated by him. Among the miscellaneous printed items are catalogs and brochures of the schools where Inverarity taught and studied, and a few ephemeral items designed by him.

Photographs are of art work, people, places, the Washington State WPA Federal Art Project, and miscellaneous subjects. All photographs known to be by Inverarity are clearly marked. Art work includes views of Inverarity's collection of his own work and that of other artists hanging in his home. Photographs of people include artists, friends, colleagues, and various groups. Of special interest are Inverarity's portraits of artists, among them Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Morris Graves, Hilaire Hiler, Rico Le Brun, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Man Ray, Dorothea Tanning, and Mark Tobey. Photographs of places include the museums where Inverarity was director, places in which he lived, and travel pictures. Of note are a large group of photographs (copy prints) taken in 1932 while studying the Haida Indians in British Columbia. Nineteenth century photographs of family homes, Europe, and South America may have been taken by his father. Photographs of the Washington State WPA Federal Arts Project are of individual works of art, exhibition installations, mosaic procedures, and local art centers. Many, probably intended for display, are mounted in groups on large cardboard panels. Miscellaneous subjects include art photographs by Inverarity and the microreader he invented.

Microfilm reels 1121, 1130, NDA 16, & D-NDA 1 available at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

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