Skip to main content

Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason papers, circa 1920-1978

Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason papers, circa 1920-1978

Hervey, Wilna, 1894-1979

Actor, Painter

Collection Information

Size: 4.9 linear feet

Summary: The collection is comprised mostly of letters to silent film actress and painter Wilna Hervey and her life-long companion painter Nan Mason from friends, colleagues, and Mason's father, Dan Mason, also a silent film actor. Also found are biographical materials, personal photographs and snapshots, Hervey's handwritten memoirs, as well as twelve folders of Dan Mason's papers.

Biographical/Historical Note

Wilna Hervey (1894-1979) was a silent film actress and painter in San Francisco, Calif. and Woodstock, N.Y. Nan Mason (1896-1982) was a painter and photographer from New York, N.Y. and the daughter of Dan Mason, a silent film actor who worked with Hervey. Hervey was most known for her role as Katrinka in the film adaptations of the Toonerville Trolley cartoon. In the 1960s, Hervey achieved success as an enamel painter. Mason became well known as a painter and photographer. Hervey and Mason were life partners.


Donated in 2008 by Daniel Gelfand, a friend of Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason.

A Finding Aid to the Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Haug
Biographical Note
Wilna Hervey was born in 1894 and grew up in Far Rockaway, New York. She met Nan Mason (1896-1982), daughter of silent film actor Dan Mason, while on production of
The Toonerville Trolley
silent film comedies in 1920. They were lifelong companions until Hervey's death in 1979.
As a young woman in the late 1910s, Hervey took art lessons at the Art Students League in New York City, Winold Reiss' studio at 4 Christopher Street, New York City, and during the summer of 1918 in Woodstock, New York. In 1919, she joined the Betzwood Studios in Audubon, Pennsylvania to play the role of "The Powerful Katrinka" in
The Toonerville Trolley
, a series of silent films based on Fontaine Fox's comic strip. Co-star Dan Mason, who played the Skipper, took Hervey under his wing, and Hervey lived with the Masons while filming the series. After
The Toonerville Trolley
series ended in 1921, Dan and Nan Mason traveled to Hollywood to start a new company, and Wilna followed shortly after, taking the train across the country in early 1922. The new endeavor,
Plum Street Comedies
, began at the Paul Gerson Pictures Corporation in San Francisco and was based on
The Toonerville Trolley
series; the film crew included the young Frank Capra. The
Plum Street Comedies
were in production for only one year, 1922-1923.
Around 1919-1920, Hervey's father bought Wilna a small studio in Bearsville, New York. From 1922-1929 Hervey and Nan Mason split their time between painting and farming in Woodstock, New York, and pursuing acting while living with Dan Mason in California. In 1926-1927, the women traveled to Europe and North Africa together to see museums, art, and architecture.
After the death of Dan Mason in 1929, Hervey and Nan Mason made Bearsville their permanent home. Beginning in the late 1950s, Hervey and Mason began spending winters in Anna Maria, Florida and summers in New York. Hervey and Mason achieved success as artists in the 1960s - Hervey as an enamel painter, and Mason as a painter and photographer.
Wilna Hervey passed away in 1979, and Nan Mason died in 1982.
Sources consulted include "The Biggest Girl" by Joseph P. Eckhardt (
The collection is arranged into six series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1916-1960 (Box 1; 5 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1890-1985 (Box 1-10, OV 13; 3.8 linear feet)
Series 3: Memoir Book Production, 1883-1959 (Box 11, OV 13; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 4: Artwork, 1961, undated (Box 11, OV 13; 2 folders)
Series 5: Photographs, circa 1915 - 1982 (Box 12; 5 folders)
Series 6: Personal Files of Dan Mason, 1919-1928 (Box 12; 0.4 linear feet)
Scope and Content Note
The papers of artist and silent film actress Wilna Hervey and her lifelong companion painter Nan Mason date from 1883 through 1985 and measure 4.9 linear feet. The collection is comprised mostly of letters to Hervey and Mason from friends, colleagues, and Mason's father, Dan Mason, also a silent film actor. Also found are personal photographs and snapshots, Hervey's handwritten memoirs, as well as twelve folders of Dan Mason's papers.
Biographical materials include a personal narrative, notes on family history, newspaper clippings related to family, legal and financial records, and Wilna Hervey's notes on artwork.
Hervey and Mason were friends with many artists and their correspondence includes letters from artists such as Albert Heckman, Georgina Klitgaard, Manuel Komroff, Leon Kroll, Doris Lee, Fred Dana Marsh, Henry Lee McFee, William Pachner, Caroline and Paul Rohland, Andrée Ruellan, Eugene Speicher, and Dorothy Varian. There are very few letters written by Hervey or Mason, and the correspondence is mostly personal in nature. There are over 250 letters from Elsie Speicher, wife of portrait artist Eugene Speicher. Correspondence to Dan Mason has been separated and is filed in a separate series.
Wilna Hervey wrote a a number of handwritten memoirs of her days in the
The Toonerville Trolley
film series. She had hopes of publishing these one day and worked with writer Karin Whiteley on the project. Although her memoirs were never published, Hervey and Whiteley wrote and compiled materials for the book. Included in the Memoir Book Production series are handwritten memoirs by Hervey chronicling her years prior to and during the 1920s (many of the handwritten memoirs have been typed by Karin Whiteley). It also includes research materials, such as two typed synopses of
The Toonerville Trolley
scripts from Fontaine Fox's files, newspaper clippings, and playbills, seemingly intended to provide background and verification of the memoirs.
This collection also includes a few pieces of artwork; three small watercolor sketches by an unidentified artist, and a print by Edward Chavez.
Photographs are mostly snapshots of friends and family, life in Woodstock, New York and Anna Maria, Florida. Negatives originally housed in an un-postmarked envelope with a return address labeled "Betzwood Film Co.," appear to be from the filming of
The Toonerville Trolley.
In several of the negatives Wilna Hervey is dressed as The Powerful Katrinka, and in one negative Dan Mason is The Skipper.
The personal files of Dan Mason include letters from Hervey and Nan Mason, the bulk from their trip to Europe and North Africa in 1926-1927. This series also includes Dan Mason's own handwritten and typed memoirs, newspaper clippings, and financial records.
Donated in 2008 by Daniel Gelfand, a friend of Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by graduate intern Sarah Haug in March, 2009.

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

Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason papers, circa 1920-1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available