A Finding Aid to the Chaim Gross Papers, 1920-2004, in the Archives of American Art

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.groschai
Creators:
Gross, Chaim, 1904-1991
Dates:
1920-2004
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
20.9 Linear feet
Repository:
The papers of New York City sculptor and teacher Chaim Gross measure 20.9 linear feet and date from 1920-2004. The collection provides comprehensive documentation of Gross's career through biographical material, personal and professional correspondence with family, artists, writers, galleries, museums, educational institutions, and religious and philanthropic organizations, writings, personal business records, extensive printed and published material including motion picture film and video recordings of four documentaries, one hundred and fifteen sketchbooks spanning the bulk of Gross's career, and photographs of Gross, his family, many friends and colleagues from the art world, his studio, personal art collection, and works of art.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The papers of New York City sculptor and teacher Chaim Gross measure 20.9 linear feet and date from 1920-2004. The collection provides comprehensive documentation of Gross's career through biographical material, personal and professional correspondence with family, artists, writers, galleries, museums, educational institutions, and religious and philanthropic organizations, writings, personal business records, extensive printed and published material including motion picture film and video recordings of four documentaries, one hundred and fifteen sketchbooks spanning the bulk of Gross's career, and photographs of Gross, his family, many friends and colleagues from the art world, his studio, personal art collection, and works of art.
Biographical material includes records collated to document awards and honors given to Gross documenting the recognition he received for his lifelong achievements in the last two decades of his career, including from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Design. The series also includes Gross's birth certificate printed in 1920, some biographical notes and resumes prior to the 1970s, documentation of Gross's business and personal contacts through addresses and business cards, and a motion picture film of a documentary about Gross, Art and the Model, made in 1976 by Thea Bay and edited by Bob Worth.
Personal and professional correspondence constitutes the largest series in the collection and documents all aspects of Gross's prolific career including: personal letters from friends and family such as daughter Mimi Gross and Red Grooms; professional correspondence with galleries, museums, and other art institutions including the Jewish Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Whitney Museum of American Art; correspondence documenting commissions, loans, and sales of Gross's artwork through galleries including Forum Gallery; and correspondence with synagogues including International Synagogue, Temple Sharaay Tefila, and Temple Sinai, Pittsburgh, and multiple other Jewish organizations such as Hadassah and State of Israel Bonds. Correspondence also documents publications by and about Gross including letters from Abe Lerner, the Jewish Publication Society of America, Chaim Potok, and Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; Gross's work as a teacher including at the Educational Alliance and the New School for Social Research; and the significance of Gross's personal collection of African art through correspondence with Warren M. Robbins, the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, and others. Gross's work for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project and Treasury Relief Project, as well as for the 1939 World's Fair, is also documented in this series and includes contracts and correspondence with Ed Rowan.
Correspondence includes many letters from artist friends and colleagues including Isabel Bishop, Peter Blume, Eliot Elisofon, Eugenie Gershoy, Milton Hebald, Lewis Jacobs, Karl Knaths, Arnold Newman, Elias Newman, Saul Rosen, Moses Soyer, Raphael Soyer, Nicholas Sperakis, William and Marguerite Zorach, and many others. Writers and scholars who corresponded with Gross include Samuel French Morse, Jack C. Rich, Shea Tenenbaum, Roberta Tarbell, and others.
Writings primarily consist of a partial draft of Gross's book The Technique of Wood Sculpture but also include a copy of his first published article in 1938 in the American Federation of Arts Magazine of Art, and a few short writings by Gross on other artists. Writings by others include a memoir of Gross's boyhood written by his brother, poet Naftoli Gross.
Gross's personal business records are scattered, as many transactional records are included with his correspondence. They do include lists of Gross's artwork and his personal art collection, two agreements for rights to use his work, appraisals of twelve of his works of art, and receipts of consignments, sales, loans, and gifts of artwork.
Printed material is a comprehensive and substantial record of Gross's exhibitions, and his prolific engagement in the arts and his community throughout his long career. This series includes announcements and catalogs for many of his exhibitions, brochures and programs for art organizations for which he exhibited, taught, donated to, or was otherwise represented in, notably the Educational Alliance, the New School for Social Research, the Sculptors Guild, Inc., and numerous other private and public museums, galleries, and institutions. Also found is circa one linear foot of clippings about Gross that span his career from newspapers, magazines, and journals, including some Hebrew and Yiddish publications. The series also houses video recordings of the documentaries Tree Trunk to Head and A Sculptor Speaks, and an NBC broadcast of an interview with Gross entitled The Two Chaims, as the motion picture film, A Sculptor Speaks.
Sketchbooks provide a unique visual record of Gross's development and the shifting focus of his subject matter from 1933 to right before his death in 1991. They record his early subjects of acrobatic models, family bonds, and landscapes, and the emergence of darker "fantasy" drawings in the wake of the Holocaust and World War II which brought the news of the murder of his brother and sister and her family by the Nazis. The sketchbooks document Gross's travels abroad during the 1960s, and his incorporation of Jewish iconography and Old Testament themes in the 1960s and 1970s. They also illustrate how the constant theme of the celebration of the human form persisted in his work to the end of his life.
Photographs of people and events, although only measuring 0.7 linear feet, provide a rich visual record of Gross's life and his professional and personal relationships from the time he arrived in the United States in 1920 to the late 1980s. The earliest photographs picture Gross with his brothers and with new friends at the Educational Alliance including Moses and Raphael Soyer, Peter Blume, and Elias Newman. There are many photographs of Gross working in his studios, and at the Bedi-Makky Art Foundry in Brooklyn, photographs taken at parties, exhibition openings, receptions, and other events, and photographs of Gross's art collection and exhibition installations. Photographs picture artists such as Hyman Brown, Jose de Creeft, Joseph Hirsch, Moses Soyer, and Raphael Soyer; and gallery owners and collectors including Bella Fishko, Joseph Hirshhorn, Sidney Janis, and Warren M. Robbins. The series also houses photographs of works of art, primarily sculpture, executed by Gross between 1922 and 1987.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as seven series.
  • Series 1: Biographical Material, 1920-circa 1991 (0.35 linear feet; Box 1, FC23)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, 1926-1997 (8.75 linear feet; Boxes 1-9, 22)
  • Series 3: Writings and Notes, 1938-circa 1980s (0.25 linear feet; Boxes 9-10)
  • Series 4: Personal Business Records, circa 1936-1982 (0.25 linear feet; Box 10)
  • Series 5: Printed Material, 1925-2004 (3.7 linear feet; Boxes 10-14, 22, FC 24)
  • Series 6: Sketchbooks, 1933-1991 (6.1 linear feet; Boxes 14-19, 22)
  • Series 7: Photographs, circa 1921-circa 1990s (1.5 linear feet; Boxes 20-22)

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
New York City sculptor and teacher Chaim Gross (1904-1991) is considered one of America's foremost sculptors, known for his semi-abstract bronzes celebrating the human form, and his pioneering work in direct wood carving. Gross taught for over fifty years at the Educational Alliance Art School and for forty years at the New School for Social Research.
Born in 1904 in Wolowa, Galicia, in what is now the Ukraine, Gross studied at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest in 1919 and at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna in 1920 before immigrating to New York in 1921. He attended the Lower East Side Educational Art School in New York City from 1921-1927 where he began lifelong friendships with artists Moses Soyer, Raphael Soyer, Peter Blume and other important twentieth century artists. Gross also studied with Elie Nadelman at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and Robert Laurent at the Art Students League. He began teaching at the Educational Alliance in 1927 where his students included Louise Nevelson.
Gross married Renee Nechin in 1932 and they had two children, Yehuda and Miriam (Mimi). Mimi Gross is a New York-based artist who was married to artist Red Grooms from 1963-1976.
Gross's first solo exhibition was held at Gallery 144 in New York City in 1932, and he began to develop a reputation as a major contemporary sculptor when he joined the Federal Art Project in 1934 and won a commission from the Treasury Department competition for art works for public buildings in 1936. His projects included relief panels for the Federal Trade Commission building in Washington, D. C., and a large-scale family group for the France Overseas and Finnish Buildings at the 1939 New York World's Fair. In 1938 Gross founded the Sculptors Guild with William Zorach and served as the guild's first president. His work began to be acquired by major American museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art which in 1939 awarded Gross a $3000 purchase prize for his wood sculpture of circus performer Lillian Leitzel.
In 1938 filmmaker Lewis Jacobs produced a thirty minute film, Tree Trunk to Head, of Gross carving a wood sculpture of Renee Gross in his studio. Lewis subsequently produced a seventeen minute film, The Sculptor Speaks, of Gross working in his studio in 1957. That same year Gross published an influential how-to book The Technique of Wood Sculpture, featuring photographs by Eliot Elisofon.
Much of Gross's early work focused on performers such as acrobats and dancers, family groups, and the mother and child bond. The bulk of his work was in wood, particularly hardwoods with a dark or pronounced grain. In the 1940s, after hearing that his brother Pincus and sister Sarah and her family had been murdered by the Nazis, Gross devoted time daily to sketching in his notebooks, producing a visual diary of the emotional trauma involved in processing their horrific fate and navigating his own grief. A collection of the drawings was published in Chaim Gross: Fantasy Drawings (Beechurst Press) in 1956. Gross carved My Sister Sarah – in Memoriam (no. 36) in 1947 and made the first of seven trips to Israel in 1949.
By the late 1950s Gross was working less in direct carving and was focusing primarily on modeling in plaster on an armature for casting in bronze. In 1957 and 1959 he traveled to Rome, Italy, and worked with the Nicci Foundry. Bella Fishko began representing Gross's work after establishing Forum Gallery in New York City in 1961. After 1947 Gross had begun to incorporate more Jewish iconography and Old Testament themes into his work, designing and casting large scale menorahs for synagogues such as Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh and the Menorah Home for the Aged in Brooklyn during the 1960s. He executed six bronze panels, entitled Six Days of Creation, for Temple Sharaay Tefila in New York City in 1964, and Ten Commandments for the International Synagogue at Kennedy Airport in 1970-1971. In 1973 Gross illustrated The Book of Isaiah, published by the Jewish Publication Society of America.
Gross was active in many art-related and philanthropic organizations throughout his life and was the recipient of numerous awards, honors, and honorary degrees. He was elected to membership of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1964, became an Academician at the National Academy of Design in 1983, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1984. A solo exhibition Chaim Gross: Sculpture and Drawings, was held at the Smithsonian's National Collection of Fine Arts in 1974. In 1977 Gross had three retrospective exhibitions at the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami, the Montclair Art Museum, and the Jewish Museum in New York City. Scholar Roberta Tarbell wrote a key essay on Gross for the Jewish Museum exhibition.
In addition to being a professor of sculpture and printmaking at the Educational Alliance Art School and the New School for Social Research, Gross taught at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, the art school of the Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Students League.
Gross had begun collecting African sculpture in the 1930s and was later introduced by art critic Frank Getlein to Warren M. Robbins, who established the Museum of African Art in 1964. Gross gave Robbins several pieces for the museum and connected him with other individuals whose private collections of African art Robbins learned would be key to the success of the museum. A selection from Gross's renowned collection was exhibited at the Worcester Art Museum in The Sculptor's Eye: The African Art Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Chaim Gross in 1976.
The Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation was created in 1974 at 526 LaGuardia Place, the historic Greenwich Village townhouse which Chaim and Renee Gross purchased in 1962 and renovated to include studio and gallery space with living quarters above. Three years after Gross's death in 1991, the Renee and Chaim Gross foundation opened to the public with a memorial exhibition of the sculptor's work. 526 LaGuardia Place continues to house an extensive collection of Gross's artwork, a photographic archive, and Gross's personal art collection. Gross's work is represented in major museums throughout the United States and abroad, with the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden housing the largest collection of his sculpture in a public museum.

Administration
Processing Information
Portions of the collection were loaned for microfilming between 1966 and 1981 and the bulk of the material was subsequently donated. In 1994 the collection acquired to date was processed by Jean Fitzgerald. This portion and all subsequent accessions were merged, fully processed, and described in a finding aid by Stephanie Ashley in 2019.
Separated Materials
The Archives of American Art holds the microfilm (Reels D115a, 924, and 925) of ten record books, 1926-1975, containing rough drawings of artworks, dimensions, titles, dates, materials, production locations, and information regarding owners. The record books were returned to the donor after microfilming and are not described in the collection container inventory.
Existence and Location of Copies
Ten record books, 1926-1975 are available on 35mm microfilm reels D115a, 924, and 925 in Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan. Funding for microfilming was provided by the Henry and Lucy Moses Fund, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, Inc., the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, and the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation.
Author
Stephanie Ashley
Sponsor
The Chaim Gross papers were processed with funding from the Shirley Gorelick Foundation.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Chaim Gross papers were given to the Archives of American Art in a series of accessions by Chaim Gross from 1963-1983. Thirteen postcards were given by Mrs. Irving Marantz in 1975. Mimi Gross donated eight letters and two envelopes in 2005. Additional papers were donated by the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation in 2016 via Susan Fisher, executive Director, and in 2017 by the Foundation via Sasha Davis, Interim Director and Curator of Collections.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Researchers interested in accessing audiovisual recordings in this collection must use access copies. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Conditions Governing Use
One folder of letters, Box 3, Folder 63: permission to reproduce for purposes of publication requires written permission from Mimi Gross.
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
Chaim Gross papers, 1920-2004. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Materials
Additional Chaim Gross papers are held by Syracuse University.
Related Materials
The Archives of American Art also holds an oral history interview of Chaim Gross conducted 1964 September 1 by Dorothy Seckler and an oral history interview of Chaim Gross conducted 1981 May 26-27 by Milton Wolf Brown.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Sculptors -- New York (State) -- New York Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art teachers -- New York (State) -- New York Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jewish artists Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketchbooks Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Video recordings Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Motion pictures (visual works) Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sculpture, Modern -- 20th century Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Soyer, Raphael, 1899-1987 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Robbins, Warren M. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Grooms, Mimi Gross Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Blume, Peter, 1906-1992 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Newman, Arnold, 1918-2006 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
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