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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: 12.9 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter, muralist, and designer William E. L. Bunn measure 12.9 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, one motion picture film reel of home movies, 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.

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.

A Finding Aid to the William E. L. Bunn Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
William E. L. Bunn (1910-2009) was a designer, muralist, and painter in Ft. Madison, Iowa and Ojai, California. Bunn was born in Muscatine, Iowa and received his B.A. in Graphic and Plastic Arts and an M.A. in Theater Design, both from the University of Iowa. In 1937 he was awarded a one-year post-graduate fellowship as an art intern for Grant Wood. From 1938 to 1942 he won four commissions from the Treasury Department to produce murals for Federal buildings. He also exhibited paintings, primarily depicting Mississippi River steamboats, at the National Academy of Design, Art Institute of Chicago, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and other group shows. Beginning in 1943 Bunn worked as an industrial designer at several companies including Sheaffer Pen Company (1946-1967) and Cuckler Steele Span Company (1967-1977). After his retirement, he and his wife, Annavene, moved to California, and he continued to paint. Bunn was also active in the Theosophical Society and had an interest in aviation.
The collection is arranged as 10 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1910-2009 (Box 1, 12; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1927-2006 (Box 1; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 3: Project Files, circa 1925-2002 (Box 1-3, 12, OV 15-19, RD 31; 2.2 linear feet)
Series 4: Industrial Design Records, circa 1944-1977 (Box 3, 12, OV 20; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 5: Papers Relating to Grant Wood, 1935-2006 (Box 3-4, 12; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 6: Diaries and Journals, 1929-2003 (Box 4-6; 2.2 linear feet)
Series 7: Writings and Notes, circa 1928-2004 (Box 6-7; 1.0 linear foot)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1896-2009 (Box 7-8, 12, OV 21; 1.4 linear feet)
Series 9: Photographs, 1863-1990s (Box 8-9, 13; 1.6 linear feet)
Series 10: Artwork, circa 1926-2004 (Box 9-11, 14, OVs 22-30, RD 32; 2.3 linear feet)
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.
Processing Information
The collection was processed in 2011 by Erin Kinhart.

Additional Forms Available

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.

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

William E. L. Bunn papers, 1863-2009. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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