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William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955

William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955

Pearmain, William Robert, 1888-1912

Painter

Representative image for William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955

The papers of William Robert Pearmain in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 666 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 0.4 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter and activist William Robert Pearmain (1888-1912) and the Pearmain family measure 0.4 linear feet and date from 1888-1955. Papers are found for William Robert Pearmain, his wife Nancy Douglas Brush (later Bowditch), their daughter Mary "Polly" Pearmain, and other members of the Pearmain family. There are biographical materials; family correspondence; a watercolor; a travel diary and school essays by Pearmain; printed materials, including clippings and two publications by the Industrial Workers of the World; and photographs of the Pearmain family and artwork.

Biographical/Historical Note

William Robert Pearmain (1888-1912) was a painter from Dublin, N.H. The Pearmain family were neighbors of George de Forest Brush in Dublin, N.H., where many artists lived. Samuel Clemens was also a neighbor. Pearmain left Harvard after his first semester to study painting with Brush in Italy. He married Brushs' daughter, Nancy, in 1909, and returned to New York and became active in socialist causes, joining the I.W.W. and working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the Westinghouse Electric Co. He died of leukemia in 1912. Nancy later married Dr. Harold Bowditch.

Provenance

Donated 1973 and 1974 by Nancy Bowditch and Edward F. McClennen, Pearmain's widow and grandson. The photograph of the drawing was lent for microfilming by W. Robert Pearmain, Pearmain's nephew, 1974. Some of the items have been annotated by Pearmain's younger brother, Jack. The collection was microfilmed in 1993.

Related Materials

Also found in the Archives of American Art is the Nancy Douglas Bowditch papers, circa 1900s-1970s that contain materials relating to her first husband, William Robert Pearmain and an oral history interview with Nancy Douglas Bowditch conducted on January 30, 1974 by Robert F. Brown.

Funding

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Location of Originals

  • Drawing of a young Pearmain by [Will?] Loring: Original returned to W. Robert Pearmain after photographing.

A Finding Aid to the William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain Family Papers,
1888-1955
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.pearwill
Author
Finding aid prepared by Jayna Hanson
Biographical Note
William Robert Pearmain (1888-1912), known as Robert, was a painter and political activist working in Boston and New York City. Born to a wealthy family in New England, Pearmain attended Harvard University to study architecture and studied painting in Italy under George de Forest Brush.
Between 1907 and 1908, Pearmain travelled through France and Italy studying with Brush and other artists. Upon returning to the United States, Pearmain married the eldest daughter of his mentor, Nancy Douglas Brush in Dublin, New Hampshire. Also an artist, Nancy settled with Robert in Boston and later in New York City. While in New York, Pearmain worked as an assistant to muralist Barry Faulkner. In 1911, the Pearmains welcomed their daughter Mary Alice, whom they called Polly.
While in New York, Pearmain grew dissatisfied with his artistic career. He discovered an interest in the conditions of the working class and his social and political viewpoints became increasingly radical. Despite his privilaged upbringing, he immersed himself in the world of manual labor. Leaving his wife and daughter behind, Robert walked from New York City to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to work at the Westinghouse Electric Company. Additionally, Pearmain became associated with the Industrial Workers of the World organization and participated in anarchist demonstrations.
Soon after arriving in Pittsburgh, Pearmain's health started to fail. His family believed the hard working conditions caused his illness and a doctor suggested that he return to Massachusetts to recover. In September of 1912, Robert Pearmain died of leukemia. Later, Nancy remarried Dr. Harold Bowditch.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into 6 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1888-circa 1955 (Box 1; 5 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1899-1955 (Box 1; 0.25 linear feet)
Series 3: Artwork, circa 1910 (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 4: Writings and Notes, circa 1900-1908 (Box 1; 3 folders)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1907-1913 (Box 1; 3 folders)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1900-1911 (Box 1; 2 folders)
Scope and Content Note
The papers of painter and activist William Robert Pearmain (1888-1912) and the Pearmain family measure 0.4 linear feet and date from 1888-1955. Papers are found for William Robert Pearmain, his wife Nancy Douglas Brush (later Bowditch), their daughter Mary "Polly" Pearmain, and other members of the Pearmain family. There are biographical materials; family correspondence; a watercolor; a travel diary and school essays by Pearmain; printed materials, including clippings and two publications by the Industrial Workers of the World; and photographs of the Pearmain family and artwork.
Scattered biographical information includes materials concerning the Pearmain and Upton families including a wedding invitation, school transcripts, biographical sketches and a debutate ball program from 1931.
Much of the correspondence is from William Robert Pearmain to his family written while in school and in Europe. Pearmain's correspondence with his family discusses his career, marriage, daughter, travel, and political views. Later correspondence is from both Robert and Nancy to family members. Other family correspondence is between Nancy, Polly, Sarah Upton, Sumner, Alice, Margaret, and Jack Pearmain.
There are a few incoming letters to Robert, including one from Margaret Sanger. There are condolence letters to Nancy from John Graham Brooks, Rockwell Kent, William Sanger, and Alexander Beckman. A letter from George de Forest Brush to Robert's mother, possibly dated 1906, discusses her unhappiness about Robert leaving Harvard and staying with the Brushs' in Italy. A photocopy of a letter from Samuel Clemens to George de Forest Brush is found. Additional correspondents include Charles F. Dole and William E. Trautmann.
Artwork consists of one watercolor by William Robert Pearmain. Writings and notes include one diary written by Robert while in Europe (1907), school essays, and a list of European trip expenses. Printed materials include clippings, and one issue each of
Solidarity
, and
Mother Earth
. Photographs are of a drawing of William Robert Pearmain by Will Loring and family snapshots of Robert, Nancy, and Polly Pearmain in New Hampshire (1911).
Provenance
Donated 1973 and 1974 by Nancy Bowditch and Edward F. McClennen, Pearmain's widow and grandson. The photograph of the drawing was lent for microfilming by W. Robert Pearmain, Pearmain's nephew, 1974. Some of the items have been annotated by Pearmain's younger brother, Jack. The collection was microfilmed in 1993.
Separated Material
A drawing by Will Loring of William Robert Pearmain as a child was microfilmed and photographed by the Archives of American Art and returned to William Robert Pearmain, nephew of the sitter.
Related Material
Also found in the Archives of American Art is the Nancy Douglas Bowditch papers, circa 1900s-1970s that contain materials relating to her first husband, William Robert Pearmain and an oral history interview with Nancy Douglas Bowditch conducted on January 30, 1974 by Robert F. Brown.
Location of Originals
  • Drawing of a young Pearmain by [Will?] Loring: Original returned to W. Robert Pearmain after photographing.
Processing Information
The William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers were microfilmed upon receipt. The collection was fully processed, arranged, and described by Jayna Hanson in 2009 and digitized in 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The William Robert Pearmain papers were digitized in 2009 and are available via the Archives of American Art's website.

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 Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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