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Romare Bearden papers, 1937-1982

Romare Bearden papers, 1937-1982

Bearden, Romare, 1911-1988

Art historian, Painter, Illustrator

The papers of Romare Bearden in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2005. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 2,217 images.

Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Collection Information

Size: 2.0 linear ft.

Loan: 279 items.

Summary: The papers of Romare Bearden measure two linear feet and date from 1937 to 1982. The collection includes biographical information, correspondence, writings by and about Bearden, miscellaneous legal and financial material, photographs, drawings, and printed material.

Biographical/Historical Note

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) was an African-American painter from New York, N.Y.

Provenance

Correspondence and unmicrofilmed material donated 1977-1983 by Romare Bearden. Material on reel N68-87, except correspondence, lent for microfilming 1968.

Related Materials

Within the Archives holdings are two oral history interviews with Romare Bearden. One was conducted in 1968 by Henri Ghent and another in 1980 by Avis Berman. Both have been transcribed and the 1968 interview transcript is available on the Archives website and on microfilm.

Funding

Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Location of Originals

  • Reel N68-87, except for correspondence: Originals returned to Bearden after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Romare Bearden Papers,
1937-1982
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.bearroma
Author
Finding aid prepared by Barbara Aikens
Biographical/Historical note
Born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in 1914, Bearden's family relocated to New York City when Bearden was a toddler. Living in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Bearden was exposed to such luminaries as writer Langston Hughes, painter Aaron Douglas, and musician Duke Ellington. While attending New York University, Bearden became interested in cartooning and became the art editor of the NYU Medley in his senior year. He received his B.S. in mathematics in 1935, initially planning to pursue medical school. Realizing that he had little interest in the other sciences however, Bearden began attending classes at the Art Students League in the evenings, studying under George Grosz.
In the mid-1930s Bearden published numerous political cartoons in journals and newspapers, including the
Afro-American
, but by the end of the decade, he shifted his emphasis to painting. Bearden's first paintings, on large sheets of brown paper, recalled his early memories of the South. After serving in the Army, Bearden began exhibiting more frequently, particularly in Washington, D.C. at the G Street Gallery and in New York with Samuel Kootz.
During a career lasting almost half a century, Bearden produced approximately two thousand works. Although best known for the collages of urban and southern scenes that he first experimented with in the mid-1960s, Bearden also completed paintings, drawings, monotypes, edition prints, public murals, record album jackets, magazine and book illustrations, and costume and set designs for theater and ballet. His work focused on religious subjects, African-American culture, jazz clubs and brothels, and history and literature. Not confining his abilities to the visual arts, Bearden also devoted attention to writing and song writing. Several of his collaborations were published as sheet music, among the most famous of which is "Seabreeze," recorded by Billy Eckstine. In addition, Bearden coauthored three full-length books:
The Painter's Mind: A Study of the Relations of Structure and Space in Painting
(1969) with painter Carl Holty;
Six Black Masters of American Art
(1972); and
A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present
(posthumously, 1993), the latter two with journalist Harry Henderson.
Bearden was also active in the African-American arts movement of the period, serving as art director of the Harlem Cultural Council, a founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, and organizer of exhibitions, such as the Metropolitan Museum's "Harlem on My Mind" (1968). Romare Bearden died in 1988.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged into seven series based on type of materials. Documents within each of the seven series have been arranged in chronological order, except for the writings which have been further subdivided by creator and are undated. Printed materials have been arranged primarily according to form of material and are in rough chronological order.
Series 1: Biographical, 1977, undated (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1944-1981, undated (Box 1-2; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings By and About Bearden, circa 1950s-1980s (Box 3; 6 folders)
Series 4: Legal and Financial Material, 1970-1977 (Box 3; 3 folders)
Series 5: Photographs, undated (Box 3; 2 folders)
Series 6: Drawings, undated (Box 3, OV 6; 4 folders)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1937-1982 (Box 3-5; 1 linear foot)
Scope and Contents note
The papers of Romare Bearden measure two linear feet and date from 1937 to 1982. The collection includes biographical information, correspondence, writings by and about Bearden, miscellaneous legal and financial material, photographs, drawings, and printed material.
Correspondence is with family, friends, artists, galleries, museums, publishers, universities, arts associations, and colleagues, primarily concerning gallery space, exhibitions, sales of artwork, publishing, and arts events. Also found are numerous letters referring to African-American art movements of the 1960s and 1970s, including exhibitions, publications, associations, and scattered letters of a more personal nature. Many of the letters are illustrated with Bearden's doodlings and drawings. Although most of the letters are from galleries, museums, publishers, and arts associations, scattered letters from Charles Alston, Jacob Lawrence, Ad Reinhardt, Carl Holty, and Sam Middleton are found. In addition, there are letters from the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, and letters concerning its founding.
Writings by Bearden include lectures, speeches, talks, essays, and prose. Many are handwritten, annotated, and edited in Bearden's hand and several are illustrated with Bearden's doodlings and sketches. Included are a memorial delivered upon artist Carl Holty's death, a tribute to Zell Ingram, autobiographical essays, essays on art, and African-American art, artists, and cultural life. Also found are several handwritten examples of Bearden's prose and poetry. There are also writings by others and one folder of fragments and notes assumed to be by Bearden.
The collection houses two folders of photographs and snapshots of Bearden, family members, other unidentified artists or friends, classes and/or lectures, and works of art. Also found are several undated ink drawings, sketches in pencil and ink, and a hand-drawn and colored map with overlay of Paris. Printed material includes examples of Bearden's commissioned artwork for publications, press releases, exhibition catalogs and announcements, invitations, newspaper and magazine clippings, and miscellaneous printed materials. Although much of the printed material concerns Bearden's work, a fair portion concerns African-American art, artists, and cultural movements.
Provenance
Correspondence and unmicrofilmed material donated 1977-1983 by Romare Bearden. Material on reel N68-87, except correspondence, lent for microfilming 1968.
Separated Materials note
In 1968 Romare Bearden loaned a scrapbook, photographs, catalogs, clippings, and writings for microfilming on reels N/68-87. These materials are not described in this finding aid.
Related Archival Materials note
Within the Archives holdings are two oral history interviews with Romare Bearden. One was conducted in 1968 by Henri Ghent and another in 1980 by Avis Berman. Both have been transcribed and the 1968 interview transcript is available on the Archives website and on microfilm.
Location of Originals
  • Reel N68-87, except for correspondence: Originals returned to Bearden after microfilming.
Processing Information note
All accessions were merged and fully processed, arranged, and described in 2003 by Barbara Aikens. A portion of an earlier loan that was microfilmed on reel N/68-87 was merged and processed with the later accessions.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2005 and is available online via AAA's website.

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

Romare Bearden papers, 1937-1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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