Elizabeth Gordon Papers
FSA.A1988.03

Summary
Collection ID:
FSA.A1988.03
Creators:
Gordon, Elizabeth 1906-2000
Dates:
1958-1987
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
3 linear feet
Repository:
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
Papers, 1959-1987, of Elizabeth Gordon, editor of the periodical,
House Beautiful
from 1941-1964, mostly related to her research for the August and September 1960 issues of
House Beautiful
regarding the Japanese aesthetic concept of "shibui", and the subsequent travelling "shibui exhibition" from 1961-1964. Included are correspondence, some photocopies, 1959-1963; notes; drafts for articles and lectures; printed material including magazine and newspaper clippings, 1959-1987; 2 books, and exhibition announcements; drawings of paper and foil art; a photo album containing photos of exhibition installations; and photographs, slides, color transparencies, and lantern slides depicting people, sites, and objects reflecting the "shibui" aesthetic.

Scope and Contents note
Scope and Contents note
The Elizabeth Gordon Papers measure 4.5 linear feet and span the years 1959-1987. The collection mainly documents Ms. Gordon's research for the August and September 1960 issues of House Beautiful regarding the Japanese aesthetic concept of "shibui", and the subsequent travelling "shibui exhibition" from 1961-1964. Included are correspondence, some photocopies, 1959-1963; research notes and materials; articles; lectures; printed material including magazine and newspaper clippings, 1959-1987; 2 books, and exhibition announcements; article materials; a photo album containing photos of exhibition installations; and photographs, slides, color transparencies, and lantern slides depicting people, sites, and objects reflecting the "shibui" aesthetic.

Arrangement note
Arrangement note
This collection is organized into eight series. 1. Biographical data, 2. Shibui research, 3. Shibui issues of, House Beautiful, 4. Correspondence, 5. Shibui promotion, 6. Exhibition files, 7. Printed materials, and 8. Photographs.

Biographical Information
Biographical Information
Born in Logansport, Indiana in 1906, Elizabeth Gordon served as editor of
House Beautiful
magazine 1941 to 1964. Ms. Gordon first became interested in Japanese aesthetics during the mid-1950s. As a result she began to read and study Japanese art, history and culture. In 1959, Gordon travelled to Japan with three staff people from, House Beautiful. In Kyoto she met Eiko Yuasa, a young woman then employed by the City of Kyoto to handle foreign V.I.P.s, who was assigned to assist Gordon during her stay there. It was Ms. Yuasa who, in the course of discussions of Japanese aesthetics, introduced the term "shibui." Around that term and its related concepts ("iki", "jimi", "hade") the theme for the issue began to crystallize. In August and September, 1960,
House Beautiful
, under the editorial control of Ms. Gordon, published two extremely popular issues devoted to the subject of "shibui". Due to the popularity of the issues, museum exhibits devoted to the concept of "shibui" travelled around the United States. Ms. Gordon died in Adamstown, Maryland in 2000.
Biographical Overview
1906
Born in Logansport, Indiana
1920s
Attended the University of Chicago
1930s
Moved to New York to work as a promotional copywriter for several newspapers
1930s
Syndicated columnist on home maintenance for
The New York Herald Tribune
1930s
Editor at
Good Housekeeping
(here for 8 years)
1937
More House for your Money
by Elizabeth Gordon and Dorothy Ducas published by W. Morrow and Company: New York.
1937
Married Carl Hafey Norcross
1939
Appointed editor of
House Beautiful
1964
Left the magazine world
1972
Published a special issue on Scandinavian design and awarded the insignia of a knight, first class, in the Finnish Order of the Lion
1987
American Institute of Architects made her an honorary member
1988
Carl Hafey Norcross died
September 3, 2000
Died in Adamstown, MD
(The following biography of Elizabeth Gordon comes courtesy of curator Louise Cort. Written in consultation with Elizabeth Gordon, October 23, 1987)
The research papers, memoranda, magazines, books, photographs and color transparencies and other materials in this archives are related to the publication by Elizabeth Gordon (Mrs. Carl Norcross), editor of
House Beautiful
from 1941 to 1964 and creator of the August, 1960 issue of the magazine on the special theme of the Japanese aesthetic concept of "shibui". The "shibui issue" was followed by the September, 1960, issue of the same publication on the theme, "How to be shibui with American things." As a by-product of the issues, a "Shibui Exhibition" travelled to eleven museums in the United States during 1961-1964. Each exhibition was opened with a slide lecture by Elizabeth Gordon.
Miss Gordon first became curious about Japanese aesthetics in the mid-1950s when she began to see Japanese objects being displayed and used in the homes of Americans who had spent time in Japan during the Occupation and Japanese influence began to appear in wholesale showrooms of home furnishings manufacturers. It was clear that the time had come: she HAD to go to Japan!
She read for five years before going to Japan - history, social mores, art history. (Many of the books on Japan that she collected during this time have been presented to the library at the University of Maryland, College Park.)
An important bit of advice came from Alice Spaulding Bowen, owner of
Pacifica
, the highest quality shop of Asian antiquities in Honolulu, who told her, "Be sure to read,
The Tale of Genji
- then you'll understand everything."
She made her first trip to Japan in April, 1959, accompanied by three staff people from,
House Beautiful
. In Kyoto she met Eiko Yuasa, a young woman then employed by the City of Kyoto to handle foreign V.I.P.s, who was assigned to assist Miss Gordon during her stay there. It was Ms. Yuasa who, in the course of discussions of Japanese aesthetics, introduced the term "shibui." Around that term and its related concepts ("iki", "jimi", "hade") the theme for the issue began to crystallize.
Miss Gordon came home, planning to spend the summer researching "shibui" with the aid of the Japan Society. But she found virtually nothing written in English on the concept. So she returned to Japan in December, 1959 together with staff member Marion Gough, to dig deeper and to work out details and get better educated with Eiko Yuasa. One of their devices was to walk through department stores and discuss with sales personnel whether objects for sale were "shibui", or were "jimi" or "hade", and why. Between themselves, they did the same for the costumes of women they saw on the streets.
Lacking printed sources for information on "shibui", Miss Gordon sought out and interviewed experts, including Douglas Overton, head of the Japan Society in New York. In Japan in December, 1959, she met Yanagi Soetsu, founder of Japan's Folk Craft Movement and head of the Craft Museum in Tokyo (with an introduction from Tonomura Kichinosuke, head of the Craft Museum in Kurashiki). She met the chef Tsuji Kaichi, who was commissioned to write an article on "kaiseki" (that could not be used because of an inadequate English translation) and Frances Blakemore. She met several times with Bernard Leach and attended his lecture at Bonnier's while he was in New York in March, 1960. (He would later write a "fan letter" for the issue)
As the concept of "the shibui issue" began to take shape, a third trip in the spring of 1960 focused on photography - to produce the shooting script decided on the preceding December. This was executed by the noted photographer Ezra Stoller of Rye, New York, and John DeKoven Hill,
House Beautiful's
Editorial Director. (Mr. Hill worked with Frank Lloyd Wright except for the ten years that he was a member of the
House Beautiful
editorial staff)
Miss Gordon was back in Japan in Mid-August 1960 as the "shibui issue" was causing a sensation. Altogether she spent sixteen months in Japan.
As one of the experiences that influenced her strong interest in Japanese costumes and textiles, Miss Gordon remembers a spectacularly thorough exhibition at the
Tokyo National Museum
in Ueno on,
1200 Years of Japanese Costume
. She saw it on the last day of its exhibition (possibly 1964).
The August 1960 issue sold out quickly. Copies of the magazine, which sold for fifty cents, were sold on the "black market" for ten dollars.
The publication of the August 1960 issue was followed by an unprecedented avalanche of "fan mail". Many department heads in colleges and universities, including the Harvard-Yenching Institute and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (where Miss Gordon had worked as an undergraduate) wrote to comment on the issue. Many people in other fields of endeavor wrote: heads of firms concerned with interior design, landscape architecture, and related areas expressed their interest in the concept of "shibui" Other writers include Bernard Leach, Gertrude Natzler, Laura Gilpin, Mainbocher, the architect Yoshimura Junzo, the textile artist Marianne Strengell, Walter Kerr, Craig Claiborne, and Oliver Statler.
The "shibui issue" was followed immediately by the September issue dealing with the use of non-Japanese objects to express the concept of "shibui." (Miss Gordon convinced her advertisers, who had been skeptical about the potential success of the August issue, by promising the September issue dealing with American products.) Four American firms were involved in the production of an integrated line of paints, wallpaper, furniture and carpets expressive of the concept. Products were designed by the firms' designers following the clues offered by objects and fabrics purchased by Miss Gordon in Japan in December 1959 and spring 1960. Miss Gordon has expressed her dissatisfaction with the September issue, although public opinion was positive. She feels that some of the firms failed in the "shibui" project, though some "caught" the message: namely the paint company and the fabric/wallpaper company.
In response to strong public interest, the
House Beautiful
staff prepared a travelling exhibition to introduce the concept of "shibui" through a series of vignettes, mixing fabrics and objects, colors and textures. The museum installation was designed by John Hill of
House Beautiful
.
Japan Air Lines
underwrote shipping costs.
The exhibition began in Philadelphia in late 1961. Ezra Stoller was sent to photograph the installation in considerable detail at the
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts
in January, 1962, so that his photographs cold serve as guidelines for installations at the other museums, which included the
San Francisco Museum of Art
(April 1962), the
Newark Pubic Library
, and the
Honolulu Academy of Art
. Miss Gordon presented a lecture on "shibui" at each of the museum installations.
In appreciation of her work to introduce Americans to the concept of "shibui", the city of Kyoto presented a bolt of especially "shibui" kimono fabric executed by a Living National Treasure textile artist. Miss Gordon eventually tailored the fabric into a dress and jacket. She received the 1961 Trail Blazer Award from the New York Chapter of the National Home Fashions League, Inc. In June, 1987, Miss Gordon was named an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, with her introduction of the concept of "shibui" and her promotion of an understanding of other culture cited as her major contributions to American architecture.

Administration
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Colleen Hennessey with the assistance of Elizabeth Dedick, Suzuki Kiyoko, and curator Louise Cort. Additional processing by Linda Machado in 2002.
Author
Finding aid prepared by Colleen Hennessey and Linda Machado
Immediate Source of Acquisition note
Elizabeth Gordon donated her papers to the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives in 1988.
Provenance
Elizabeth Gordon donated her papers to the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives in 1988.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access note
Access is by appointment only, Monday through Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please contact the Archives to make an appointment: AVRreference@si.edu.
Preferred Citation
The Elizabeth Gordon Papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Gift of Elizabeth Gordon, 1988
Restrictions on Use
No restrictions on use.

Index
Index
Index to cross-referenced correspondents in series 4 - correspondence - reader mail.
Benjamin Moore & Co. Limited.
Ketcheson, Phyllis
Bois, McCay & Associates Ltd.
McCay, James T.
Bocher, Main
Mainbocher Inc.
Brooklyn Hospital
High, E. Geoffrey
Brown Jordan Metal Furniture
Nowell, Margaret
Clarke, Grace Rickey, Studio
Daniels, Jessie Clarke
Columbia University. East Asian Institute
Wilbur, C. Martin
Corcoran Gallery of Art - Fine Arts Committee
Mitchell, Eleanor
Cranbrook Art Academy
Strengell, Marianne
Dallas, Texas, Aquarium
Moore, Jeff W.
Drexel Furniture Company
Brown, Frank Penfold; Fisk, Betty
Dunbar Furniture Corporation of Indiana
Sprunger, G. W
Embassy of Japan
Shimanouchi, Toshiro
Ficks Reed Co.
Ficks, R. L.
Fine Arts Committee
Mitchell, Eleanor
Fong, Miho, Choy and Robinson
Miho, Katsuro
Geijutsu-Shincho
Yoshio
Good Housekeeping
English, John
Graham, John, and Company Architects-Engineers
Pries, Lionel H.
Greenwood Tree
Newsom(?), Sarril(?)
Hap's Capitol Lake Nursery
Schamehorn, F. H.
Harvard-Yenching Institute
Baxter, Glen W.
Hearst Corporation
Curran, Edward J.
Home Furnishings Daily
Schrader, Martin H.
Home Modernizing Guide
Harmon, A. J.
House & Home
Prentice, P. I.
House Beautiful
Schrader, Martin H.
Ikebana International
(Georgia Chapter).
Henser, Eula A.
International Cooperation Administration
Kunihiro, Masao
International Cooperation Administration
Kunihiro, Masao
Jackson Furniture Company
Jackson, Harry
Japan Air Lines Company, Ltd.
Wakasugi, Akira
Japan, Consulate General
Tanaka, Atsuko
Japan Food Corporation
Oyama, Wesley
Japan Tourist Association
Yokota, Iwao
Japan Trade Center
Yamamoto, Masato
Kougakuin University
Amano, Taro
L'Architettura
Zevi, Bruno
Lifshey, Earl
Schrader, Martin H.
Martin-Senour Paints
Stuart, William M.
Maruzen Company, Limited
Kusama, S.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Millon, Henry
Mercorney's Decorative Supplies
Priddle, D. F.
Mitsui Bussan Kaisha, Ltd.
Maeda, Y
Moore, Benjamin, & Co. Limited
Ketcheson, Phyllis
Neiman-Marcus
Thomas, Michael H.
New Homes Guide
Harmon, A. J.
New York Times
Claiborne, Craig
News
(Newspaper : N.Y.)
Garrett, Harold G.
Northern Illinois University
Parmer, J. Norman
Northwest Missouri State College
Bensusan, Guy
Popular Science Publishing Co., Inc.
Hammond, Godfrey
Public Relations Board, Inc.
Alexander, Alice
Richmond Schools (Richmond, California)
Burkett, Alyce
Scripps College
Petterson, Rich
Shinchosha Company
Sato, Yoshio
Sloane, W & J, Inc.
Fox, Frederika
Southern Pine (?) Company
Temple, T.L. Latané
Southern California School of Theology
Hatfield, John
Stockwell, C. W., Co.
Sisson, Charles F.
Stone & Schulte Inc.
Kosieris, Andrew J.
Sunset Lane Magazine Company
Mellquist, Proctor
Syracuse University
Haring, Douglas G.
Tennessee Fabricating Company
Sauer, Abe
Thaibok Fabrics Ltd.
Dewar, Muriel
Times-Picayune Publishing Company
Healy, George W., Jr.
Unitarian Church of Chico (Chico, California)
Boeke, Richard F.
United States - Japan Centennial
Hall, Nana Gaddis
University of Chicago - Oriental Institute
Wilson, John A.
University of Nebraska
Sakai, Robert K.
University of Pennsylvania
Saunders, E. Dale
University of Washington
Johnson, Pauline
University of Wisconsin
Boardman, Eugene
University of Tokyo
Yoshimura
Vaughan's Seed Company
Carleton, R. Milton
Weston Nurseries, Inc.
Mezitt, Edmund V.
Yale University - Eastern Asia Studies
Yanaga,Chitoshi
Yamanaka & Co. (Kyoto, Japan)
Yamanaka, Jiro

Custodial History note
Custodial History note
Gift of Elizabeth Gordon, 1988

Other Finding Aids note
Other Finding Aids note
Electronic finding aid available

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Claiborne, Craig Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gordon, Elizabeth 1906-2000 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Leach, Bernard Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Aesthetics, Japanese Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art, Japanese Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gardens--Japan Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
House funishings Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interior decoration Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interior decoration--Periodicals Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interior decorators Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Japan Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Landscape gardening Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museum exhibits Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Periodicals--1940-1970 Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Personal papers--1950-2000 Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
Washington, D.C., 20013
Phone: 202-633-0533
AVRreference@si.edu