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William E. L. Bunn papers, 1863-2009

William E. L. Bunn papers, 1863-2009

Bunn, William E. L. (Edward Lewis), 1910-2009

Muralist, Painter, Designer

Collection Information

Size: 12.8 linear feet

Biographical/Historical Note

Wiliam Edward Lewis Bunn (1910-2009) was a designer, muralist, and painter in Muscatine, Iowa and Ojai, California. Bunn studied under Grant Wood at the University of Iowa. During the 1930s he won commissions from the Federal Department of Fine Arts to paint murals in public buildings throughout the Midwest. He also worked as an industrial designer for Shaeffer Pen and Cuckler Steel. Later in life, he turned to painting placid scenes of Americana, and was particularly fond of Mississippi river boats as a subject.


Donated by Bunn in 1989 and in 2010 by Bunn's daughter, Chari Petrowski. The sketchbooks and sketches on reel 3813 were transferred with Bunn's permssion from the General Services Administration, which had received them from Bunn.

Scope and Contents

The papers of painter, muralist, and designer William E. L. Bunn measure 12.8 linear feet and date from 1863-2009. The collection documents Bunn's career as a painter, industrial designer, and his work on Treasury Department post office mural commissions through biographical material, scattered correspondence, project files, industrial design records, diaries and journals, writings and notes, printed material, photographs, and artwork. Also found are Bunn's papers regarding Grant Wood.

Biographical material consists of certificates, school records, Bunn family genealogy records, an interview transcript, and an autobiographical file maintained by Bunn containing professional summaries, lists of works, and other records. Correspondence documents exhibitions, awards, mural projects, and other commissions. Of note is correspondence with the General Services Administration, friend and fellow artist Lee Allen, and illustrated envelopes Bunn sent to his wife Annavene.

Project files contain photographs, notes, sketches, correspondence, and news clippings. Included is Bunn's notebook "Index to Projects" which provides additional information. Industrial design records include drawings and blueprints, employment records, photographs and publications, primarily from his work at Sheaffer Pen Company and Cuckler Steele Span Company.

Bunn's papers relating to Grant Wood include documentation from the Grant Wood Art Festival, as well as printed material, notes, and correspondence about Wood. Also found are photographs, including two photographs of Wood and photographs of his residence in Iowa City. Diaries and journals date from 1929-1951 and 1969-2003. Early diaries document art projects and school activities while he was a student at University of Iowa. Later journals document his work, travel, expenditures, and goals. Writings and notes include to-do lists, documentation on people Bunn knew, his artworks, lists of personal belongings, and topics of interest, such as astrology and steamboats. Also found are five notebooks on various subjects.

Printed material consists of exhibition catalogs, magazines, news clippings, and Treasury Department bulletins. Also found are announcements of mural competitions, postcards, and published images of steamboats. Photographs depict Bunn, his family, friends, and artwork. Additional photographs depict various subjects that were of interest to Bunn, including nature scenes, steamboats, airplanes, and bridges.

Artwork includes costume and theater designs created as part of William Bunn's thesis at University of Iowa. Also included are drawings and watercolors for potential art projects, as well as preliminary drawings and studies or technical drawings from his work as an industrial designer. Additionally, there are four sketchbooks, two of which include sketches and notes for the post office murals in Minden, Nebraska and Hamburg, Iowa.

Two sketchbooks (Sketchbook #4 and Sketchbook #5) in this collection are available on 35 mm microfilm reel 3813 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan.

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

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