Little Black Books: Address Books from the Archives of American Art


In this era of digital communication, contacts can be quickly updated, shared, and even deleted at the click of a button. Before smartphones and computers, traditional address books stored important, and sometimes confidential, contact information and other details. The grimy, dog-eared pages of these pocket-sized books reveal webs of personal and professional connections. Often, the depth of each relationship remains a mystery—a name jotted down in tangled ink and pencil might be a close friend, a family member, a recent acquaintance, or a critic.

These little black books lead us down a path of discovery. Textile designer Dorothy Liebes organized her contacts into curious categories including "family," "boys," "girls," "restaurants," and "Philadelphia." Assemblage artist Joseph Cornell rarely ventured beyond New York City, yet his address book comprises a wide network of avant-garde pen pals living throughout the United States and Europe. The names in the books relate—often in unexpected ways—to oral history recordings, correspondence, sketches, and photographs. These primary resources give us a rare glimpse into the everyday lives and social networks of artists.