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Wallace Berman papers, 1907-1979, bulk 1955-1979

Wallace Berman papers, 1907-1979, bulk 1955-1979

Berman, Wallace, 1926-1976

Mail artist, Assemblage artist

Collection Information

Size: 4.9 linear feet

Summary: Letters, notes from an interview of Berman, art work, issues of Berman's underground publication Semina, and one of "S.M.S.", printed materials, photographs and audio tapes provide an overview of the career of California assemblage artist and beat poet Wallace Berman, as well as the "beat" movement in California in the late 1950s through the 1970s. Approximately two thirds of the collection consists of Berman's library - mostly poetry - including many first editions, by writers of the beat movement.

Letters, 1957-1979, are from universities, publishers, museums and other business related contacts, and from artists, friends and writers of the beat movement, among them Robert Branaman, Jess (Collins), Jay DeFeo, Diane DiPrima, Bob Driscoll, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Hirschman, Ray Johnson, Larry Jordan, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Henry Miller, Stuart Z. Perkoff, and John Wieners. Also found are ten letters written by Berman, 1957-1979.

Notes from an interview, 1967, consist of sentence fragments taken from a London interview of Berman by Sandrada. Art work, 1956-1976, consists of 11 collages and 9 drawings by Berman, and 8 photograms by Robert F. Heinecken.

The file on Berman's mail art magazine Semina, 1955-1967, contains original issues No. 1-2 and 4-8, and announcements from the Semina Art Gallery. Relating to his publication S.M.S. is issue No. 1 (1968).

Printed material, 1907-1976, includes clippings; exhibition announcements and catalogs; brochures; booklets; 2 scripts entitled, "The Beard," by Michael McClure and "The Yin and The Yang," by Don Sherman, Dennis Hopper, and Peter Fonda. Included in this series are Berman's library -74 books of mostly poetry, some illustrated by Berman, by Billy Al Bengston and Ed Ruscha, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Hirschman, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Henry Miller, Kenneth Patchen, Stuart Z. Perkoff, John Wieners, and others. Also found in the series "writings" are typescripts for a book, and of poetry by McClure, Meltzer, and Wieners.

Photographs, 1956-1976, are of Berman, his wife, and his colleagues George Herms, Patricia Jordan, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, and John Wieners. There are also photographs of the Poets' Parade, 1958, and of Berman's work "Wall Painting". Audio tapes, 1962-1965, consist of 3 sound recordings, on 12 reel-to-reel tapes, of poetry readings by Michael McClure, David Meltzer, and Kenneth Patchen. Tapes include 10 duplicates of an editioned poetry reading by McClure at the Lion House, Fleishacker zoo, San Francisco, California, recorded by Bruce Conner.

Biographical/Historical Note

Wallace Berman (1926-1976) was an assemblage artist and poet in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. Born in Staten Island, N.Y., Berman moved to Los Angeles with his family in the 1930s. After being expelled from high school for gambling, he briefly attended the Jepson Art School and the Chouinard Art School. By the 1950s, he had become a full-time assemblage artist and produced a mail art publication Semina, which contained a sampling of beat poetry and images selected by Berman. In 1963, he permanently settled in Topanga Canyon near Los Angeles and created verifax collages and rock assemblages.


Donated 1991 by Tosh Berman, Berman's son.

A Finding Aid to the Wallace Berman Papers,
(bulk 1955-1979)
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Wallace Berman was born in 1926 in Staten Island, New York. In the 1930s, his family moved to the Jewish district in Los Angeles. After being expelled from high school for gambling in the early 1940s, Berman immersed himself in the growing West Coast jazz scene. During this period, he briefly attended the Jepson Art School and Chouinard Art School, but departed when he found the training too academic for his needs.
In 1949, while working in a factory finishing antique furniture, he began to make sculptures from unused scraps and reject materials. By the early 1950s, Berman had become a full-time artist and an active figure in the beat community in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Many art historians consider him to be the "father" of the California assemblage movement. Moving between the two cities, Berman devoted himself to his mail art publication
which contained a sampling of beat poetry and images selected by Berman.
In 1963, permanently settled in Topanga Canyon in the Los Angeles area, Berman began work on verifax collages (printed images, often from magazines and newspapers, mounted in collage fashion onto a flat surface, sometimes with solid bright areas of acrylic paint). He continued creating these works, as well as rock assemblages, until his death in 1976.
The collection is arranged into nine series which generally reflect material type.
With the exception of the letters in Series 1, each series is arranged chronologically. The original arrangement of the letters has been maintained, with a chronological arrangement of miscellaneous business letters and an alphabetical arrangement of the letters from Berman's more prominent colleagues.
Series 1: Letters, 1957-1979, undated (box 1, 0.5 linear feet)
Series 2: Notes from Interview, 1967 (box 1, 1 folder)
Series 3: Writings by Others, 1972, undated (box 1, 6 folders)
Series 4: Artwork, 1956-1976 (box 1, 4 folders)
Series 5: Semina, 1955-1967 (boxes 1-2, 26 folders)
Series 6: S. M. S., 1968 (box 2, 1 folders)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1907-1976 (boxes 2-5, 2.7 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographs, 1956-1976 (box 5, 6 folders)
Series 9: Sound Recordings, 1962-1965 (box 5, 6 folders)
Donated 1991 by Tosh Berman, Berman's son.
Processing Information
The collection was processed and the finding aid written by Jean Fitzgerald in 1998. The finding aid was modified during conversion to EAD by Stephanie Ashley in 2001.

Additional Forms Available

Microfilm reels 5282-5284 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.

How to Cite This Collection

Wallace Berman papers, 1907-1979, bulk 1955-1979. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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