Finding: Source Material in the Archives of American Art

Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell created assemblages and collages from evocative objects he found in antique shops and secondhand stores. The deeply romantic artist was drawn to the symbolism found in a wide range of ephemeral materials.

He maintained dossiers and portfolios on numerous people and celebrities with whom he felt a special connection (real or imagined). This selection of source material from Cornell’s personal papers sheds light on his preoccupation with Romantic ballet, specifically his appreciation for the famous ballerina Tamara Toumanova. The files likely pertain to the Swan Lake shadow boxes he made in the 1920s in tribute to Toumanova. The worn folder held photographs, sheet music, and critical reviews of the ballerina’s performances. Often combined in collage with other materials, these records offer insight into how Cornell found harmonies between unrelated ideas, people, and things.