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Thomas Downing papers, 1946-1988

Thomas Downing papers, 1946-1988

Downing, Thomas, 1928-1985


Collection Information

Size: 1.4 linear ft. (partially microfilmed on 1 reel)

Summary: Biographical material, letters, notes, writings, art works, printed material, photographs reflect the life and career of Thomas Downing with emphasis on the late 1970s and 1980s.

REEL 4058: Eleven letters from Downing to his son, Aaron, discuss autobiographical topics (1984-1985). Seven photographs show Downing and others (1973-1984).

UNMICROFILMED: Biographical material consists of a biographical account, copies of Downing's birth and death certificates and college diploma, identity cards, passports, and horoscope charts for Downing and his wife Louise. Letters (1948-1987), primarily from Downing to his parents, friends, and colleagues including Benjamin Forgey, Grant King, Ira Lowe, Phillip Romero, Osuna Galleries, and Sidney Wordell, discuss art theory and Downing's experiences in school. Files concern Hague Warehousing (1976-1983), Louise Downing's appointment as Provincetown town clerk (1978-1979), and legal and health records (1981-1985). Receipts and shipping invoices are primarily from Artransport (1950-1986). Six notebooks (1980-1984) contain writings, notes, and drawings.

Six calendars are annotated (1969, 1980-1985). Downing's poems and short essays (1972-1986) concern art theories, his observations, and Kenneth Noland (1981). Other writings include poems and Philip Romero's essay on "Thomas Downing: The Way of the Dot" (1979). Art work consists of 3 sketchbooks and 20 drawings (1976-1984) by Thomas Downing and 2 sketchbooks and 11 drawings by Aaron Downing (ca. 1979). Printed material includes clippings (1946-1986), exhibition and auction announcements and catalogs (1951-1987), photocopies of photographs, and the books OLYMPICS OF ART and SHANKPAINTER 17 (1978). Photographs show Downing, family, friends, and art works by Downing and Tom Paterson.

Biographical/Historical Note

Painter; Washington, D.C. and Provincetown, Mass; associated with the Washington Color School. Downing studied at Randolph-Macon and Pratt and, after military service, at Catholic University under Kenneth Noland. He later shared a studio with Howard Mehring, with whom he founded the Origo, a cooperative gallery. During the 1960s, Downing taught at the Corcoran School, numbering among his students Sam Gilliam, Rockne Krebs, and Michael Clark. The last ten years of his life were spent in Provincetown, Mass.


Material on reel 4058 was lent for microfilming 1988 by Downing's son, Aaron Downing. The remainder was donated 1988 by his widow, Louise Downing.

Location of Originals

  • Reel 4058: Originals returned to the lender, Aaron Downing, after microfilming.

Alternative Forms Available

Microfilm reel 4058 available for use at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Microfilmed materials must be consulted on microfilm. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Thomas Downing papers, 1946-1988. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.