A Finding Aid to the Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears Papers, 1920-1991, in the Archives of American Art

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.blackath
Creators:
Blackshear, Kathleen, 1897-1988
Spears, Ethel, 1903-1974
Dates:
1920-1991
Languages:
English
.
Physical Description:
9.2 Linear feet
Repository:
The papers of educators and painters Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears measure 9.2 linear feet and date from 1920 to 1991. The papers focus primarily on Blackshear's career but also document the career of Blackshear's partner Ethel Spears, and the involvement of both women in the Chicago, Illinois art scene. Papers include biographical material, correspondence, handmade holiday and greeting cards, artist files, research and subject files, and printed material.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The papers of educators and painters Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears measure 9.2 linear feet and date from 1920 to 1991. The papers focus primarily on Blackshear's career but also document the career of Blackshear's partner Ethel Spears, and the involvement of both women in the Chicago, Illinois art scene. Papers include biographical material, correspondence, handmade holiday and greeting cards, artist files, research and subject files, and printed material.
Biographical materials include address books, sketches, teaching records, personal business records of both Blackshear and Spears, and photographs of the two women. Correspondence is scattered but comments on Spears's participation with the Works Progress Administration. Handmade holiday cards are from friends, colleagues, students, and fellow artists, and were sent to Blackshear and Spears throughout their decades-long partnership. The bulk of the papers consist of files kept by Blackshear on artists and various art-related subjects.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as 7 series.
  • Series 1: Biographical Material, 1920-1967 (0.4 linear feet; Box 1)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, 1925-1986 (0.2 linear feet; Box 1)
  • Series 3: Handmade Holiday Cards, circa 1920-circa 1960 (2.8 linear feet; Boxes 1-4
  • Series 4: Writings and Notes, 1920-1950s (0.7 linear feet; Boxes 4-5)
  • Series 5: Artist Files, 1922-1981 (0.9 linear feet; Box 5)
  • Series 6: Research and Subject Files, circa 1920s-circa 1960s (Boxes 6-9; 4.0 linear feet)
  • Series 7: Printed Material, 1925-1991 (0.2 linear feet; Box 10)

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Kathleen Blackshear (1897-1998) was a painter, writer, and educator. Ethel Spears (1903-1974) was a painter and educator. Blackshear and Spears were longtime partners and both were active in Chicago, Illinois.
Kathleen Blackshear was born in Navasota, Texas in 1897. She attended Baylor University and the Art Students League before settling at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she took graduate classes and served as a teaching assistant under Helen Gardner. She succeeded Gardner as teacher and subsequently held that position for thirty-five years, expanding Gardner's legacy of introducing students to the history of art by placing a special emphasis on artistic traditions outside of Western Europe. The importance and influence of Blackshear's teaching focus is reflected in several subsequent generations of students, including Whitney Halstead and the Chicago Imagists group. Blackshear also lectured at other institutions.
In addition to teaching, Blackshear contributed analytical drawings for Helen Gardner's publications, painted two cycloramas for the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago in 1933-1934, and exhibited her prints and paintings. As a painter, Blackshear was known for her depictions of African Americans.
Ethel Spears was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1903. She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and studied under Alexander Archipenko at the Art Students League in New York City before returning to the School of the Art Institute to teach. Spears was known for her paintings of urban scenes.
It is likely that Blackshear and Spears met while teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They lived together in Chicago and moved to Navasota, Texas upon retiring. They remained together until Spears's death in 1974. Blackshear died in 1988.

Administration
Processing Information
The collection was processed, and a finding aid prepared by Jayna Josefson in 2021.
Author
Jayna M. Josefson
Sponsor
Processing of this collection received federal support from the Collections Care Initiative Fund, administered by the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative and the National Collections Program
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears papers were donated in 1990 by William Terrell, Blackshear's nephew and executor.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
Conditions Governing Use
The Archives of American Art makes its archival collections available for non-commercial, educational and personal use unless restricted by copyright and/or donor restrictions, including but not limited to access and publication restrictions. AAA makes no representations concerning such rights and restrictions and it is the user's responsibility to determine whether rights or restrictions exist and to obtain any necessary permission to access, use, reproduce and publish the collections. Please refer to the Smithsonian's Terms of Use for additional information.
Preferred Citation
Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears papers, 1920-1991. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Painters -- Illinois -- Chicago Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Educators -- Illinois -- Chicago Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women artists Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women educators Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women painters Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Diaries Genre_form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketchbooks Genre_form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gardner, Helen, d. 1946 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art Institute of Chicago Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art Institute of Chicago. School Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001
https://www.aaa.si.edu/services/questions
https://www.aaa.si.edu/