Archives of American Art

A Finding Aid to the Charles Green Shaw Papers, 1686, 1833-1979, bulk 1909-1974, in the Archives of American Art

Collection ID:
Shaw, Charles Green, 1892-1974
bulk 1909-1974
Physical Description:
45.7 Linear feet
The collection measures 45.7 linear feet and and documents the life of American abstract artist, writer, poet, and illustrator Charles Green Shaw. The papers date from 1833-1979 with the bulk of the material spanning 1909-1974 and a single item of ephemera dating from 1686. Records include biographical information and correspondence with family, colleagues and several artists and writers. The papers also contain writings and extensive diaries, sketchbooks and scrapbooks spanning Shaw's entire career, scattered financial records and other printed material.

Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The collection measures 45.7 linear feet and and documents the life of American abstract artist, writer, poet, and illustrator Charles Green Shaw. The papers date from 1833-1979 with the bulk of the material spanning 1909-1974 and a single item of ephemera dating from 1686. Shaw's personal life and career are well documented through biographical information, correspondence, writings, extensive diaries and sketchbooks, scattered financial records, scrapbooks and other printed materials.
Series 1: Biographical Information includes a number of family documents. Shaw's correspondence in Series 2 consists mainly of incoming letters from friends and a small amount of correspondence from notable individuals including Adele Astair, Clarence and Ruby Darrow, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John D. Graham, Anita and John Loos, H. L. Mencken, Robert C. Osborn, Cole Porter, Carl Van Vechten and Walter Winchell. The series also includes some nineteenth century family correspondence.
Among Shaw's writings in Series 3 are 145 diaries containing daily one-page entries that outline his daily schedule. In addition, there are drafts and final manuscripts of fiction, non-fiction, plays, and poems, as well as quizzes devised for his newspaper column, and short writings for magazines. Notes include travel observations, notes on restaurants and nightclubs, notes for fiction, quotations, and lists of his collections. Writings by other authors on a variety of topics include children's books illustrated by Shaw, a review of Shaw's poetry, and an article about Shaw as a modern painter.
Artwork by Shaw in Series 4 includes collages, drawings, and paintings. Of particular interest are 340 sketchbooks containing sketches and finished drawings in pencil and ink, watercolor and gouache paintings, pastels and collages. Among the artwork by other artists is a charcoal portrait, probably of Shaw, by Betty George.
Series 5: Financial Records, consists mainly of banking records, tax returns, and royalty statements. Also included is information about art sales and payment for writings; receipts are for art related expenses and document purchases for Shaw's collection of tobacco figures.
Series 6: Scrapbooks (37 volumes) documents Shaw's entire career. Five volumes concern his art and exhibitions, 9 volumes preserve his published writings, 20 volumes contain published poems, and an additional 5 volumes are devoted to miscellaneous subjects.
Additional printed matter in Series 7: Printed Material, consists of items by Shaw, by other authors, and miscellaneous material. Items by Shaw includes articles, books by and/or illustrated by Shaw, plays, and poems. Printed material by other authors includes pieces about or mentioning Shaw, books, exhibition catalogs and related records, and periodicals. Among the miscellaneous printed material are auction and book catalogs, clippings, and ephemera. Also included are a wide assortment of menus, along with theatrical memorabilia, travel brochures and printed souvenirs collected by Shaw.
Series 8: Miscellaneous Records, consists of a variety of artifacts including the Century Association Art Committee Medal awarded Shaw, a letter opener carved with his monogram, and printing plates for color reproductions of a painting by Shaw and of prints in his collection. Other miscellaneous records are two sound recordings, a tape recording of Shaw reading his poetry, and an unidentified phonograph album.
Series 9: Photographs includes photos of artwork, people, places and miscellaneous subjects. Artwork depicted here is mainly by Shaw, but there are also photographs of work by other artists, and of items in Shaw's collections of tinsel prints and tobacco figures, as well as views of various exhibition installations.

The collection is arranged as 9 series:
    Missing Title
  • Series 1: Biographical Information, 1874-1970 (Boxes 1, 46, OV 50; 0.2 linear ft.)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, 1833-1973 (Boxes 1-3; 2.5 linear ft.)
  • Series 3: Writings, 1910-1971 (Boxes 3-20, 46; 17.5 linear ft.)
  • Series 4: Artwork, 1929-1974 (Boxes 21-30, 47-49, OV50; 10.15 linear ft.)
  • Series 5: Financial Records, 1933-1971 (Boxes 30-31; 0.65 linear ft.)
  • Series 6: Scrapbooks, 1922-1970 (Boxes 31-34, 46; 3.2 linear ft.)
  • Series 7: Printed Material, 1686-1979 (Boxes 34-41, 46; 7.6 linear ft.)
  • Series 8: Miscellaneous Records, circa 1890s-circa 1970s (Boxes 42, 51-52; 0.35 linear ft.)
  • Series 9: Photographs, 1885-circa 1970 (Boxes 42-46, OV 50; 3.45 linear ft.)

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
A significant figure in American abstract art, Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974) enjoyed a varied career as a writer, illustrator, poet, modernist painter, and collector. Born to a wealthy family and orphaned at a young age, Charles and his twin brother were raised by their uncle, Frank D. Shaw. At age nine, he was already an avid painter and had illustrated his first book, The Costumes of Nations.
After Shaw's 1914 graduation from Yale, he attended the Columbia University School of Architecture. In the years before World War I he worked briefly in the real estate business, but was primarily occupied as a member of café society. During the war he was a pilot stationed in England with the American Expeditionary Force's aero squadron.
As a young man, Shaw decided to become a writer and devoted his time and attention to this endeavor for a decade. In the 1920s, Shaw spent extended periods living and writing in London and Paris, and contributed many pieces to publications such as The New Yorker, Smart Set, Vanity Fair and Town & Country. Two of Shaw's novels, Heart In a Hurricane (1927) and The Low Down (1928), were published during this period. His play What Next! was produced in New York in 1928, but its run was brief. Later, he published New York --Oddly Enough (1938), and wrote and illustrated children's books including The Giant of Central Park (1940) and It Looked Like Spilt Milk (1947), in addition to illustrating several more books by other children's authors.
A highly accomplished poet partial to haiku and cinquain, Shaw published three volumes of poetry: Image of Life (1962), Into the Light (1959), and Time Has No Edge (1966). More than 1500 of his poems appeared in numerous American and European poetry magazines. He received the Michael Strange Poetry Award in 1954, and was a member of the Poetry Society (London), American Poets Fellowship Society, and North American Poets.
Shaw studied at the Art Students League in 1926 under Thomas Hart Benton and as a private pupil of George Luks. He became aware of abstract art and its various movements while traveling in Europe in the 1920s. When he began painting seriously in the early 1930s, Shaw drew from what he had seen and learned of modernism in Paris to develop his own style that incorporated American themes and technology. His earliest modern work was in the cubist vein. He constructed Arp-influenced wooden reliefs and the plastic polygon series (1933-1939) that foreshadowed shaped paintings developed by the next generation. Shaw's paintings progressed to hard edged abstractions and a return to figurative work in the 1940s was followed by abstract expressionism. Shaw had few connections with other New York artists, although he was well acquainted with A. E. Gallatin and George L. K. Morris and was a member of American Abstract Artists from its inception.
His first solo exhibition was at Valentine Gallery in 1934; in the following year he had a one man show at Gallatin's Museum of Living Art. Shaw was among the artists included in Gallatin's 1936 show, "Five Contemporary American Conceretionists," originating at the Rienhardt Gallery and then traveling to Galérie Pierre in Paris, and Mayer Gallery in London. He exhibited widely and was represented by Passedoit Gallery and Bertha Schaefer Gallery. Shaw's work can be found in major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of art, Guggenheim Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, and San Francisco Museum.
Around 1945, Shaw began creating approximately 600 montages that included collage and incorporated early prints, dice, antique playing cards, pipes, and fabrics arranged in shadow boxes. Though many of the montages decorated his apartment, they were never exhibited publicly during his lifetime.
Shaw was an avid collector. Among his collections were antique playing cards; figures, folk art, and implements relating to tobacco; tinsel prints, particularly of theatrical figures; prints and paper ephemera relating to the London theater; horse brasses; and antique police truncheons. In addition, Shaw was an authority on Lewis Carroll about whom he wrote a number of articles.
Charles Green Shaw died in New York City in 1974.

Catherine S. Gaines
Charles Green Shaw bequeathed his scrapbooks to the Archives of American Art in 1974. The remaining papers were a gift of his estate in 1975.
Alternative Forms Available
A portion of the collection is available on 35 mm microfilm reel 75 at the Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the material described in the container inventory does not reflect the arrangement of the collection on microfilm.
Processing Information
Several items in the collection were microfilmed at some point after receipt on microfilm reel 75. The collection was processed by Catherine S. Gaines in August 2005.

Using the Collection
Restrictions on Access
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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
Charles Green Shaw papers, 1686, 1833-1979, bulk 1909-1974. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords table of terms and types.
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Sound recordings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art, Abstract -- New York (State) -- New York Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Works of art Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
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Authors -- New York (State) -- New York Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painting, Modern -- 20th century -- New York (State) -- New York Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
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Painters -- New York (State) -- New York Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Economic aspects Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
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