A Finding Aid to the Bernarda Bryson Shahn Papers,
1872-2004,
bulk 1904-2004
, in the Archives of American Art

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.brysbern
Creators:
Bryson, Bernarda
Dates:
1872-2004
bulk 1904-2004
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
14.6 Linear feet
Repository:
The papers of painter, printmaker, and illustrator Bernarda Bryson Shahn measure 14.6 linear feet and date from 1872 to 2004, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1904-2004. Found within the papers are family and biographical materials, correspondence, writings including sound recordings of lectures by the Shahns, voluminous notebooks, five diaries, exhibition files, personal business records, printed material, seven scrapbooks, one sketchbook and other art work, and photographs. Although the bulk of the collection documents Bernarda's work, there are materials about or created by Ben Shahn scattered throughout the collection. There is a 2.7 linear foot unprocessed addition to this collection donated 2011 that includes administrative files regarding Bernarda Shahn's work on the board of Skowhegan correspondence of both Bernarda and Ben Shahn; an inventory ledger with names of works of art by Ben Shahn; a scrapbook regarding Ben Shan's work in Japan; photographs of Ben and Bernarda Shahn and images of works of art by Ben Shahn; sketchbooks and notebooks by Ben and Bernarda Shahn; and printed material.

Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The papers of painter, printmaker, and illustrator Bernarda Bryson Shahn measure 11.9 linear feet and date from 1872 to 2004, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1904-2004. Found within the papers are family and biographical materials, correspondence, writings including sound recordings of lectures by the Shahns, voluminous notebooks, five diaries, exhibition files, personal business records, printed material, seven scrapbooks, one sketchbook and other art work, and photographs. Although the bulk of the collection documents Bernarda's work, there are materials about or created by Ben Shahn scattered throughout the collection. There is a 2.7 linear foot unprocessed addition to this collection donated 2011 that includes administrative files regarding Bernarda Shahn's work on the board of Skowhegan correspondence of both Bernarda and Ben Shahn; an inventory ledger with names of works of art by Ben Shahn; a scrapbook regarding Ben Shan's work in Japan; photographs of Ben and Bernarda Shahn and images of works of art by Ben Shahn; sketchbooks and notebooks by Ben and Bernarda Shahn; and printed material.
Biographical material includes biographical accounts for Bernarda and Ben Shahn, identification cards, membership cards, awards, appointment books and calendars, address books, and a video recording.
Correspondence is primarily between Bernarda Bryson Shahn and publishers, educational institutions, and colleagues and friends including Leo Lionni, Russell Lynes, Robert Osborn, and Warren Robbins.
There are four linear feet of notes, notebooks, typescripts, and other writings by Bernarda Bryson Shahn and others, many of which concern Ben Shahn. Included are numerous files of research notes for published and planned books about Ben Shahn, notebooks concerning art-related topics, card files of art work, lists, sound recordings of lectures by the Shahns and Gwen Knight, and many typescripts of writings about art and Ben Shahn, among other topics. There is also a folder of notes by Ben Shahn for the Mural for the Rural Rehabilitation Program. Five of Bernarda Shahn's diaries contain very brief daily entries and some illustrations. The 1972 diary contains much more elaborate illustrations.
The exhibition files contain letters, notes, and printed material concerning exhibitions of art work by Ben Shahn.
Personal business records include files concerning property, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, miscellaneous contracts, files concerning publishing, art price lists, and other scattered legal and/or financial records.
Printed material includes clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, press releases for Bernarda Bryson Shahn, Ben Shahn, and others, books including A Partridge in a Pear Tree, illustrated by Ben Shahn, and printed reproductions of art work. Seven scrapbooks also contain printed materials, notes, and photographs. Scrapbooks 1-4 document the creation of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial for which Jonathan Shahn created the large portrait bust. Scrapbooks 5-7 concern a book by Bernarda Bryson Shahn, and scrapbook 8 contains obituaries for Ben Shahn.
Art work includes a sketchbook with annotations, drawings, a portfolio of drawings, lettering designs, watercolor sketches, and layouts for publications.
Photographs are of unidentified and identified Shahn family members, Ben Shahn, Ben Shahn with friends and colleagues including Alexander Calder, Helen Hayes, Senator Jacob Javitz, and Nelson Rockefeller, Ben Shahn's studio, exhibition installations, and art work by Bernarda Bryson Shahn, Ben Shahn, and others. There are also travel photographs.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as 11 series:
  • Series 1: Biographical Material, 1937-1999 (Box 1, 13; 35 folders)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, 1934-2004 (Box 1-5, 13, OV 14; 3.6 linear feet)
  • Series 3: Notes and Writings, 1946-2001 (Box 5-9; 4.0 linear feet)
  • Series 4: Diaries, 1965-1985 (Box 9; 5 folders)
  • Series 5: Exhibition Files, 1955-2000 (Box 9; 5 folders)
  • Series 6: Personal Business Records, 1932-2001 (Box 9, 10; 0.8 linear feet)
  • Series 7: Printed Material, 1904-2004 (Box 10-11, 13, OV 14-15; 1.2 linear feet)
  • Series 8: Scrapbooks, 1945-1978 (Box 11, 13, OV 15; 30 folders)
  • Series 9: Art Work, 1970-2002 (Box 11-13, OV 14; 70 folders)
  • Series 10: Photographs, 1872-1985 (Box 12; 34 folders)
  • Series 11: Unprocessed Addition, circa 1904-2004 (Box 16-19, OV 20; 2.7 linear feet)

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
Bernarda Bryson Shahn (1903-2004) worked primarily in New Jersey as a painter, printmaker, and illustrator. She was married to Ben Shahn and often collaborated with him.
Bernarda Bryson was born on March 7, 1903 in Athens, Ohio, the daughter of the owner-editor of newspaper The Athens Morning Journal. After receiving early drawing and painting lessons from her mother, Bryson attended a private girls' school where she continued her studies in art and art history.
At Ohio University, Bryson majored in philosophy and attended art classes in which David Smith was a classmate. She later attended the Cleveland Art School where she studied printmaking.
Following graduation, Bryson taught etching and lithography at the art school of the Columbus Gallery of Fine Art. She also wrote for The Ohio State Journal and became editor of community paper The South Side Advocate. While in New York City to interview Diego Rivera, she met Ben Shahn who was assisting Rivera in painting the mural at Rockefeller Center. Bernarda Bryson and Ben Shahn were married in 1935.
Bernarda Bryson Shahn moved to New York and helped organize the Artists' Union and exhibited at the Whitney Gallery on Eighth Street. She then went to Woodstock to study lithography with Bolton Brown and was invited to set up a lithographic shop for the Resettlement Administration in Washington, D.C.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Bernarda Bryson Shahn executed illustrations for Harper's Magazine, Scientific American and Fortune in addition to random assignments from Life, Sports Illustrated and other publications. She illustrated many books including Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice as well as writing and illustrating her own books Gilgamesh, The Twenty Miracles of Saint Nicolas, and The Zoo of Zeus. Following the death of her husband in 1969, she wrote and designed a large monograph Ben Shahn, published by Abrams.
In the mid-1970s, Bernarda Bryson Shahn won further recognition when she returned to painting.
Bernarda Bryson Shahn died on December 12, 2004 in Roosevelt, New Jersey.

Administration
Processing Information
The collection was arranged and described by Jean Fitzgerald in September 2011. An additional donation of papers is unprocessed.
Author
Jean Fitzgerald
Provenance
Donated 1983 by Bernarada Bryson Shahn and in 2005 and 2011 by Bernarda Brsyon Shahn estate via Jonathan Shahn and Abigail Shahn, co-executors.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Bernarda Bryson Shahn papers, 1872-2004, bulk 1904-2004. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Restrictions on Access
Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.
Ownership and Literary Rights
The Bernarda Bryson Shahn papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Related Material
Also found in the Archives of American Art are two oral histories with Bernarda Bryson Shahn, one completed in 1983 by Liza Kirwin and another in 1995 by Pamela Meecham. The Archives also holds the Ben Shahn papers.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Women painters -- New Jersey -- Roosevelt Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sound recordings Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scrapbooks Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketches Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Diaries Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Illustrators -- New Jersey -- Roosevelt Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drawings Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painters -- New Jersey -- Roosevelt Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketchbooks Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Printmakers -- New Jersey -- Roosevelt Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Watercolors Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women artists -- New Jersey -- Roosevelt Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rockefeller, Nelson A. (Nelson Aldrich), 1908-1979 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Osborn, Robert Chesley, 1904-1994 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Robbins, Warren M. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Shahn, Jonathan, 1938- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Shahn, Ben, 1898-1969 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Calder, Alexander, 1898-1976 -- Photographs Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lionni, Leo, 1910- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Knight, Gwendolyn Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lynes, Russell, 1910-1991 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Javitz, Jacob Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hayes, Helen, 1900-1993 Personal 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/