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Sherman E. Lee papers, 1947-1997

Sherman E. Lee papers, 1947-1997

Lee, Sherman E., 1918-2008

Museum director, Author

Collection Information

Size: 10.3 linear feet

Summary: The papers of Cleveland museum director and art historian Sherman E. Lee measure 10.3 linear feet and date from 1947-1997. The records document Lee's extensive career as an art historian, curator and expert on Asian art, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, writer, educator, and consultant. His papers include scattered biographical materials, correspondence, writings, travel files, committees and organizations files, consulting files, teaching files, personal business records, printed material, photographs, and one pencil drawing.

Correspondence is with friends, scholars, editors, collectors, dealers, art societies and organizations, and other museums. Writings consist of articles, lectures, book reviews by Lee, and scattered writings by others. Writing project files contain correspondence with publishers, contracts, and printed material relating to the publication of Lee's writings. Travel files document numerous trips to Asian and European countries and include travel diaries, photographs, and lists of works of art viewed. There are files concerning Lee's membership and involvement with various committees, museums, and arts organizations. Consulting files mostly focus on Lee's work advising John D. Rockefeller III on the purchase of art, and with the Permanent Public Areas Advisory Committee of Cleveland, Ohio. Teaching files document classes he taught at Case Western Reserve and Harvard. Personal business records mostly concern Lee's personal art collection. Also found among the papers are general clippings, photographs of Lee and of artwork, and one pencil drawing.

Biographical/Historical Note

Sherman Emery Lee (1918-2008) was an recognized expert on Asian art and director of the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1958-1983. Lee's career has included positions as an author, curator, professor, and consultant of Chinese and Japanese art. In 1952, he joined the Cleveland Museum of Art as a curator of Oriental art, following jobs at the Detroit Institute of Art and the Seattle Art Museum. He served in the Navy during WWII and from 1946 to 1948 he was Advisor on Arts and Monuments at General MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo. He has written many books, including, "Chinese Landscape Painting" (1954), "A History of Far Eastern Art" (1964), and "The Genius of Japanese Design" (1981).


Donated 1997 by Sherman Lee.

A Finding Aid to the Sherman E. Lee Papers, 1947-1997, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
Sherman Emery Lee (1918-2008) was an recognized expert on Asian art and director of the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1958-1983.
Born in Seattle, Washington in 1918, Sherman E. Lee grew up in New York and received degrees from American University and a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Lee began his art career as a curator at the Detroit Institute of Art and Seattle Art Museum. During World War II, he served with the U. S. Navy and was transferred to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section in Japan. After the war he continued working as a civilian advisor on the preservation of Japanese artworks.
Sherman Lee accepted a position as curator of Oriental art at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1952 and became director in 1958, where he remained until 1983. During his long tenure there, he built one of this country's most remarkable collections of Asian art, transforming the museum from a regional presence to one of national significance. In 1973 Lee was chosen as Chairman of the Art and Archeology Delegation to the People's Republic of China, jointly sponsored by the Committee on Scholarly Communication of the People's Republic of China and the Scientific and Technical Association of the People's Republic of China.
Lee wrote or co-wrote a number of books including
A History of Far Eastern Art
(1964) and numerous articles for journals, magazines, and newspapers. He was the recipient of many honorary degrees, awards, and honors including the Order of the Sacred Treasure from Japan and Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. He taught art history courses at the Case Western Reserve University and Harvard and was consultant to John D. Rockefeller III and the Cleveland Permanent Public Advisory Committee. He retired to North Carolina where he taught at the University of North Carolina and was advisor to the University's Ackland Art Museum.
Lee was married to his wife Ruth for sixty-nine years. The two met in college and had three daughters and one son. Lee died July 9, 2008 at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 12 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1947-circa 1983 (0.4 linear feet; Box 1, 11)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1953-1996 (1.5 linear feet; Box 1-2)
Series 3: Writings and Notes, 1962-1983 (1.7 linear feet; Box 2-4)
Series 4: Writing Project Files, 1958-1997 (1.0 linear feet; Box 4-5)
Series 5: Travel Files, 1959-1994 (1.8 linear feet; Box 5-7)
Series 6: Committees and Organization Files, 1971-1997 (1.8 linear feet; Box 7-8)
Series 7: Consulting Files, 1960-1993 (1.1 linear feet; Box 8-9)
Series 8: Teaching Files, 1963-1977 (0.1 linear feet; Box 9)
Series 9: Personal Business Records, 1958-1995 (0.3 linear feet; Box 9)
Series 10: Printed Material, 1962-1987 (0.9 linear feet; Box 10-11)
Series 11: Photographs, circa 1952-1993 (0.2 linear feet; Box 10-11)
Series 12: Artwork, circa 1960s (1 folder; Box 10)
Donated 1997 by Sherman Lee.
Processing Information note
The collection was minimally processed by Jayna Josefson in 2015 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 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.

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

Sherman E. Lee papers, 1947-1997. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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