A Finding Aid to the Jay DeFeo Papers, circa 1940s-1979, in the Archives of American Art
Portions of this collection are digitized

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.defejay
Creators:
DeFeo, Jay, 1929-1989
Dates:
circa 1940s-1979
Languages:
Collection is in English.
Physical Description:
1.5 Linear feet
Repository:
The papers of California painter Jay DeFeo measure 1.5 linear feet and date from circa 1940s to 1979. The collection provides scattered documentation of DeFeo's career, and details on her seminal work, The Rose, through biographical material, correspondence with friends and colleagues, personal business records, writings by others, printed material, photographs highlighting DeFeo's prominent role in her community, and artwork.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The papers of California painter Jay DeFeo measure 1.5 linear feet and date from circa 1940s to 1979. The collection provides scattered documentation of DeFeo's career, and details on her seminal work, The Rose, through biographical material, correspondence with friends and colleagues, personal business records, writings by others, printed material, photographs highlighting DeFeo's prominent role in her community, and artwork.
Correspondence, while scattered, contains some significant and illuminating letters. The series includes documentation of Bruce Conner's assistance in managing the moving and conservation of The Rose, correspondence with the Pasadena Art Museum regarding the first public showing of the work, and correspondence with the San Francisco Museum of Art and Tony Rockwell regarding its conservation. Other correspondents of note include Wallace Berman, Irving Blum and Ferus Gallery, Mark Green, Frank Lobdell, Fred Martin, David Simpson, Ruth Terrill, and Eleanor (Nell) Sinton. Throughout the series letters both to and from DeFeo provide details on her thoughts about her work, personal and professional challenges and decisions at various stages of her career, and her artistic growth as she developed her interest in photography and other media.
Writings are by others and include reflections by Fred Martin on art and travel, and poems from Wallace Berman's self-published journal, Semina. Personal business records contain significant documentation of preservation costs for The Rose, the purchase of DeFeo's work, Incision, and the lease of the flat that was the site of DeFeo's personal and artistic growth and community for over a decade. Printed material includes scattered articles on artwork by DeFeo and others, posters announcing DeFeo's group and solo exhibitions at Ferus Gallery, and announcements and catalogs for others.
Photographs provide important documentation of DeFeo's pivotal role in the San Francisco art community and include some of the most reproduced images of her and others including Wally Hedrick and Joan Brown, taken by photographers such as Jerry Burchard, Wallace Berman, Wally Hedrick, and DeFeo. Many other personal photographs of group trips to the beach and parties at the Fillmore Street flat capture the camaraderie and vitality of the community to which DeFeo belonged.
Also found are several collages made by DeFeo, and artwork by others including Wallace Berman, and sketches by Al Wong.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as 7 series
    Missing Title
  • Series 1: Biographical material, 1948-1969 (2 folders; Box 1)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1950-1979 (0.4 linear feet; Box 1, OV 3)
  • Series 3: Writings, circa 1950s-circa 1960s (0.1 linear feet; Box 1, OV 3)
  • Series 4: Personal Business Records, 1955-1974 (3 folders; Box 1)
  • Series 5: Printed Material, 1956-1975 (0.2 linear feet; Box 1, OV 3)
  • Series 6: Photographs, circa 1940s-circa 1970s (0.5 linear feet; Boxes 1-2, OV 3)
  • Series 7: Artwork, circa 1950s-circa 1960s (0.3 linear feet; Box 2)

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Expressionist and symbolist painter, photographer, and educator Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) was a central figure in the progressive community of artists, poets, and musicians of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s-1960s. She devoted eight years to producing her most celebrated painting, The Rose, and was known for her endlessly experimental cross-disciplinary work in painting, drawing, photography, and collage.
DeFeo was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, and was three years old when her family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended the University of California Berkeley and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in studio art in 1950-1951. She then traveled for eighteen months on a scholarship to France, Spain, North Africa, and Italy and spent six months in Florence producing her first significant body of work.
DeFeo returned to San Francisco in 1953 and married fellow artist Wally Hedrick in 1954. The couple rented a Victorian flat at 2322 Fillmore Street and actively participated in Beat counterculture, throwing large parties for their friends including artists, musicians, painters, poets, and photographers. Joan and Bill Brown were neighbors and the four artists shared ideas and space to such an extent that they cut a door in an adjoining wall so they could come and go between their two apartments with ease.
DeFeo's first solo exhibition was held at the Dilexi Gallery in 1959, and Dorothy Miller selected her work for her landmark Sixteen Americans exhibition the same year. After an exhibition at Ferus Gallery in 1960, DeFeo turned down other gallery affiliations to work almost exclusively on The Rose. Completed in the Fillmore Street flat in 1966, DeFeo's monumental work was first exhibited at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1969, and was later moved to the San Francisco Art Institute to await conservation.
DeFeo and Hedrick divorced in 1969, and DeFeo moved to Larkspur in Marin County to regroup from personal set-backs and the draining experience of working on The Rose. She taught part-time at various art institutions in California, and in 1981 moved to Oakland and joined the art faculty at Mills College, becoming a tenured professor in 1986. She worked prolifically as an artist to the end of her life.
The Rose underwent extensive conservation and in 1995 was purchased by the Whitney Museum of American Art for the museum's permanent collection. DeFeo's work has been exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe and can be found in the collections of major museums throughout the United States and abroad.

Administration
Author
Helen MacDiarmid and Stephanie Ashley
Sponsor
Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by The Walton Family Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated between 1975-1981 by Jay DeFeo.
Processing Information
The collection was microfilmed on 35 mm microfilm reels 1645, 908, 2673, and 3957 at some point after receipt. It was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared by Helen MacDiarmid in 2014. The collection was further processed and the finding aid was updated by Stephanie Ashley in 2021. The papers were digitized in 2022 with funding from the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Existence and Location of Copies
The collection was digitized in 2022 and is available on the Archives of American Art website.

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.
Terms of 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
Jay DeFeo papers, circa 1940s-1970s. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Materials
The Archives of American Art has an oral history interview with DeFeo conducted 1975 June 3-1976 January 23 by Paul Karlstrom for the Archives of America Art. An 83 page transcript is available online. The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley holds some of DeFeo's archival materials.

More Information

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Painters -- California -- San Francisco Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographers -- California -- San Francisco Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women artists Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women photographers Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Women painters Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Expressionism (Art) Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Symbolism Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Beat generation Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drawings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hedrick, Wally, 1928-2003 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Berman, Wallace, 1926-1976 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Terrill, Ruth Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Blum, Irving, 1930- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Conner, Bruce Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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