Scope and Contents
The papers of painter, muralist, and designer William E. L. Bunn measure 13.4 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. Forty-one 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.
The collection was donated by William E. L. Bunn in 1989 and in 2010 by Bunn's daughter, Chari Petrowski. In 1986 two sketchbooks and sketches were transferred with Bunn's permssion from the General Services Administration, which had received them from Bunn.
The collection was processed in 2011 by Erin Kinhart. Motion picture film reels were inspected and re-housed in 2017 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.