Skip to main content

Rudolph Schaeffer papers, 1880s-1994

Rudolph Schaeffer papers, 1880s-1994

Schaeffer, Rudolph Frederick, 1886-1988

Designer, Educator

Collection Information

Size: 13.1 linear feet

Summary: The collection measures 13.1 linear feet, dates from the 1880s-1994, and documents the life and varied career of Rudolph Schaeffer, artist, designer, teacher, writer, collector of Asian art, and pioneer in the field of color study who founded the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design in San Francisco in 1926. The papers include biographical information, correspondence, subject files, writings, diaries, journals, artwork, scrapbooks, sound recordings, photographs and printed material.

Correspondence documents Schaeffer's personal and professional activities as well as the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design. Subject files contain various combinations of correspondence, photographs, printed material, and drawings reflecting Schaeffer's activities, projects, and interests. Within the subject files is correspondence with artists, including Mark Tobey. Extensive writings include manuscripts for published and unpublished articles and drafts, notes, and manuscripts of several unpublished books including, "Collected Lectures of Rudolph Schaeffer on Color and Design", "Color and Design", "Prismatic Color Theory", and "Rhythmo-Chromatics", all undated. Diaries include a volume recording Schaeffer's 1936 trip to Japan. 42 volumes of journals, compiled between 1954 and 1987, contain entries on a wide range of subjects including lists of errands, invitation lists, class notes, drafts of letters, notes including staff assignments and staff meetings, autobiographical notes and reminiscences, and musings on religion and philosophy.

The Artwork series houses artwork by Schaeffer and his students. Found are hand-made Christmas cards, designs, sketches, and sketchbooks. Seven scrapbooks document Rudolph Schaeffer's career, his school and former students, and the San Francisco art scene. They contain printed material, photographs, letters, and a small amount of artwork. Volume 3 is devoted to East West Gallery, and volume 7 documents Rudolph Schaeffer's 90th Birthday and the 50th Anniversary of the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design.

Most untranscribed sound recordings (audio cassettes and reels) are of lectures by Schaeffer and others delivered at the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design.

Printed material concerns the career of Rudolph Schaeffer, his school and former students, the San Francisco art scene, and general art topics. Included are articles and a book by Schaeffer, catalogs and other items produced by the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design, and miscellaneous items about or mentioning Schaeffer and his school. Items of note are announcements of courses taught by Schaeffer in Piedmont and San Francisco prior to the opening of his school, and theatre programs from productions with sets and some costumes designed by Schaeffer in the early 1920s.

Photographs are of artwork, people, places, events, stage designs, and miscellaneous subjects. Artwork includes some designs by Rudolph Schaeffer; people include Schaeffer, his family, friends, and students. Of particular note are a photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright's visit to the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design, and one of Rudolph Schaeffer and Imogen Cunningham. Places include interior and exterior views of the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design at its St. Anne Street and Mariposa Street locations.

An addition of 1.8 linear feet donated 2007 and 2017, circa 1908-1986, contains printed materials, including those relating to the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design; artwork, including small paintings done by students of the school, hand-batiked fabric samples from the Weiner Verkstatte, Volume 1 of an unfinished folio of flower arrangements by Schaeffer and drawings of stage sets; photographs of Schaeffer and friends, Schaeffer's collection of art work and interior designs, three photographs by Ansel Adams of the home of Fred and Caroline Frey, and a hand-crafted photograph album; a 1982 oral history interview with Schaeffer; a 1974 manuscript by Schaeffer entitled, "Rythmo-Chromatic Design and the Creative Process" and other published books; scattered writings, lesson plans and a 1942 diary; letters from Schaffer to Peter Docili and one letter to Schaeffer's mother; and other miscellaneous materials.

Biographical/Historical Note

Rudolph Schaeffer (1886-1988) was a designer, set designer, and educator from San Francisco, Calif. Schaeffer founded the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design, San Francisco, 1925-1984.


Donated 1991 by Rudolph Schaeffer and the Schaeffer school administrator Peter Docili and in 1999 and 2000 by James Alexander, a friend of both Schaeffer and Docili, who had been storing portions of Docili's estate after his death in 1998, with the assistance of Frances Valesco, a fiber artist and researcher. An addition was received in 2007 by William Woodworth, a close friend and caretaker of Schaeffer's and in 2017 by Frances Valesco.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center.

How to Cite This Collection

Rudolph Schaeffer papers, 1880s-1994. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.