Archives of American Art

A Finding Aid to the Frank Stella Papers, 1941-1993, bulk 1978-1989, in the Archives of American Art

Collection ID:
Stella, Frank
bulk 1978-1989
Physical Description:
12.4 Linear feet
The Frank Stella papers measure 12.4 linear feet and date from 1941 to 1993, with the bulk of the records spanning the period 1978 to 1989. The collection documents the professional and personal life of abstract artist, Frank Stella. Among the papers are correspondence, a small cache of records from his years as an undergraduate at Princeton University, writings by and about Stella, interview transcripts, sketchbooks, registers and inventories, financial records, printed matter, and photographs.

Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The Frank Stella papers, 12.4 linear feet, document the artist's professional and personal life. Papers date from 1941-1993, with the bulk spanning the period 1978-1989. Among the papers are correspondence, a small cache of records from his years as an undergraduate at Princeton University, writings by and about Stella, interview transcripts, sketchbooks, registers and inventories, financial records, printed matter, and photographs.
Correspondence, 1966-1989 and undated (Series 1), consists mainly of incoming letters, many annotated with brief notes indicating Stella's reply, and carbon copies of a small number of replies. Correspondence is with individuals, dealers, institutions and organizations and concerns professionals and personal business matters including awards and prizes, exhibitions, art loans and sales, fan mail; requests for autographs, interviews, studio tours, donations, jury service, exhibitions, critiques, information, lectures, and for Stella's participation in programs or events; legal matters, and political fund raising activities.
Princeton University records, 1954-1958 (Series 2), contain course materials, papers examinations, notes, and Stella's thesis, "Art in Wester Christendom." Correspondence regards university and personal business, including Stella's Selective Service student deferment. Also included are letters from Stella's parents and friends, pencil drawings and sketches, photographs of student work by Stella, and printed matter.
Writings, 1968-1993 and undated (Series 3), consist of articles, talks and lectures by Stella, his Norton Lectures delivered at Harvard published as Working Space, and miscellaneous notes. Writings about Stella are drafts of exhibition catalogs and manuscripts of articles. Interview Transcripts, 1964-1993 and undated (Series 4), include 13 published and unpublished interviews with Frank Stella conducted for publication as magazine articles or as research for exhibition catalogs, and a transcript of an interview with Philip Leider.
Sketchbooks, 1956-1968 and undated (Series 5), 10 volumes, contain sketches in pencil, ink, and colored markers. One includes notes on new paintings, color, and shape; another contains a list of artists and notes on abstract composition. Registers and Inventories, 1959-1983 and undated (Series 6), were compiled for various purposes and record paintings, works in mixed media, drawings, series, inventories prepared by dealers, and miscellaneous notes and lists compiled or collected by Stella.
Financial Records, 1972-1986 (Series 7), document both personal and professional expenses. They consist of banking records, paid bills, payroll, petty cash slips and receipts, and records of race horse expenses.
Printed Matter, 1957-1993 and undated (Series 8), includes articles by Stella and his book Working Space. Articles about Stella include feature stories and interviews, exhibition reviews, reviews of his book, and other articles that mention him briefly and/or include a reproduction of his work. Also included are catalogs, invitations and announcements for solo and group shows, and exhibitions juried by Stella. Other printed matter consists of announcements of limited edition prints, printed matter from events in which Stella participated, and miscellaneous items.
Photographs, 1941-1989 and undated (Series 9), are of people, exhibitions, works of art, places, and miscellaneous subjects. Photographs of Stella include an image of him as a young child, Stella with his wife Dr. Harriet McGurk, with his infant son, and with others. Exhibition photographs are of the opening of "Frank Stella: Neue Werke" at Galerie W├╝rthle, 1984, and installation views of his 1989 show at Knoedler & Co., "Frank Stella: New Work." Photographs of works of art include prints, 35 mm color slides, and color transparencies of works by Stella. Places pictured are views of the Gemini G.E.L. studio, and miscellaneous subjects are horses and a banner at the Metropolitan Museum of art mimicking a black painting (not created or authorized by Stella).

The collection is organized into nine series:
    Missing Title
  • Series 1: Correspondence, 1966-1989, undated (Boxes 1-4; 3.25 linear feet)
  • Series 2: Princeton University, 1954-1958, undated (Box 4; 0.25 linear feet)
  • Series 3: Writings, 1968-1993, undated (Boxes 4-7; 2.3 linear feet)
  • Series 4: Interview Transcripts, 1964-1993, undated (Box 7; 0.25 linear feet)
  • Series 5: Sketchbooks, 1956-1968, undated (Box 8; 0.25 linear feet)
  • Series 6: Registers and Inventories, 1959-1983, undated (Box 8; 0.25 linear feet)
  • Series 7: Financial Records, 1972-1986 (Boxes 8-11; 4.0 linear feet)
  • Series 8: Printed Matter, 1957-1993, undated (Boxes 12-13 and ov fldr 14; 1.5 linear feet)
  • Series 9: Photographs, 1941-1989, undated (Box 13; 0.25 linear feet)

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
Frank Stella (b. 1936) achieved professional recognition at a young age and soon became internationally prominent and influential. Known for his amazing productivity and energy, for more than forty years this abstract artist has made paintings, prints, and sculpture in a variety of styles that have been described as ranging from minimalist to "maximalist."
While a student at Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., Stella enrolled in an art appreciation course with a studio component held at the school's Addison Gallery of American Art. He then immersed himself in a studio program and became friendly with the instructor, abstract painter Patrick Morgan. Frank Stella, Carl Andre, and other students were often invited to Morgan's home where he and his wife Maude, also an artist, showed their collection of contemporary American art and discussed art seen at New York galleries. At Princeton University Stella decided to major in history, and continued to paint on his own. Studio art courses were not yet a part of the curriculum, but he soon learned that art history instructor and abstract painter William Seitz had started a not-for-credit painting studio that met at night in one of the architectural drawing studios. In this informal group Stella met Darby Bannard, a serious painter who was to become a close friend; he also developed a friendship with fellow student Michael Fried during their years at Princeton. Following Seitz's recommendation, Stella began visiting New York galleries. With the 1956 appointment of Stephen Greene as its first artist-in-residence, Princeton began offering studio courses which Stella took full advantage of. His work was influenced by what he had seen at the galleries on his many trips to New York - de Kooning and Frankenthaler, and later Rothko and Gottlieb - and his junior year essay about Hiberno-Saxon illuminated manuscripts, "Art in Western Christendom," made reference to Jackson Pollock.
Stella headed for New York City after his 1958 graduation from Princeton, where his family expect he would study law at Columbia or New York University. Instead, he rented a storefront studio on the Lower East Side and began his "transitional" paintings, earning a living by painting houses a few days a week. Before long he moved to a loft, and by winter had begun the Black series. Once settled in New York, Stella was introduced to critic Clement Greenberg and began meeting artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. He first exhibited professionally at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in the spring of 1959 when one of his Black paintings, Club Onyx, was included in a group show. By the end of that summer the artist was represented by the Leo Castelli Gallery which soon sold a Black painting, Clinton Plaza, the first to be acquired by someone outside his immediate circle of friends. Stella's former teacher, William Seitz, recommended that Stella be included in an exhibition of emerging talent at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College; he also urged Museum of Modern Art curator Dorothy Miller to look at Stella's painting at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, which resulted in an invitation participate in her exhibition, Sixteen Americans. The Museum of Modern Art purchased The Marriage of Reason and Squalor from the exhibition. Opportunities to show in group and solo exhibitions continued at a steady pace, and in1961 Stella had his first one-man show in Europe. He is one of the very few artists honored by The Museum of Modern Art with two retrospective exhibitions (1970 and 1987).
Frank Stella's work is characterized by changing styles. Abstract expressionist paintings of his student days gave way to minimalist work that soon incorporated shaped canvases and eventually stressed color and curved motifs. By the 1980s his minimalist aesthetic had been replaced by dynamic mixed media pieces. Shaped paintings developed into wall constructions with large, projecting, multiple components and lively brush stroke patterns. By the 1990s, much of Stella's work was fully three-dimensional.
The University of California at Irvine invited Stella to be its artist in residence in 1967; Barbara Rose (Stella's wife from 1961-1969), who was in the process of writing American Art Since 1960, was asked to lecture on contemporary art. With their young daughter and infant son, they moved to California. Upon arrival they were asked to sign a loyalty oath required of all state employees; Barbara signed, but Frank refused. While she lectured and wrote, he played lots of tennis. Soon master printer Ken Tyler persuaded Stella, who had never seriously pursued printmaking, to work with lithography. His first prints were Star of Persia I and Star of Persia II (designs from the Notched V series of 1964-65 not previously executed) and the entire edition sold by the end of the year. He has continued making prints, working in series as he does with his paintings; many of his print series are based on painting series of the same name. Stella's prints often rival paintings in their scale and bold color. Since 1967 Stella has produced prints with Ken Tyler, first in Los Angeles at Gemini G.E.L., and later in Bedford, N.Y. where Tyler Graphics Ltd. was established in 1974. Their close working relationship has resulted a large number of remarkable prints employing practically every graphic technique - sometimes in startling combinations - using a wide range of materials, and prompting innovative solutions to technical challenges. By 1972, Stella was also producing prints with Petersburg Press, Ltd. of London and New York; three years later, Petersburg installed a commercial lithography press on the first floor of Stella's home in New York City.
Throughout his career, Frank Stella has been sought after as a speaker, teacher, visiting critic, and artist in residence. Most noteworthy among these activities was his appointment as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard for the academic year 1983-84. Stella, Accompanied by his wife Harriet and their two small boys, Stella spent much of the preceding year at the American Academy in Rome looking at Italian art, particularly Caravaggio, planning and researching the lectures he would deliver at Harvard. His six Norton Lectures, which presented a nontraditional evaluation the work of Caravaggio, Rubens, Carracci, Picasso, Pollock, and others, related abstract painting of the twentieth century to the art of the past. These well-received lectures were published in 1986 as book titled Working Space.
In recent years Stella was commissioned to produce several large works for public spaces including several outdoor sculptures, a large decorative relief frieze and the interior dome of the Princess of Wales Theater in Toronto, and his first completed architectural project, a bandshell for the City of Miami.
Missing Title
Born May 12, Malden, Mass.
Student at Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.; studies painting with Patrick Morgan; meets Carl Andre and Hollis Frampton, fellow students.
Student at Princeton University; paints in William Seitz's non-credit open studio; Darby Bannard is a fellow student; begins visiting New York galleries to see contemporary art studies with Stephen Greene, 1956, artist-in-residence; meets Michael Fried, also a Princeton undergraduate; writes thesis on Hiberno-Saxon illuminated manuscripts.
Moves to New York City, rents a storefront on the Lower East Side to use as a studio during the summer and works part-time as a house painter; in the fall moves to a loft on West Broadway; Darby Bannard introduces him to critic Clement Greenberg.
Black series painting included in a group show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Stella's first professional exhibition included in "Sixteen Americans" exhibition, Museum of Modern Art; joins Castelli Gallery; The Marriage of Reason and Squalor purchased by Museum of Modern Art; Carl Andre introduces him to Barbara Rose, a Columbia University graduate student in art history; resumes friendships with Carl Andre and Hollis Frampton.
Paints first shaped canvases; first solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery.
Applies for Fulbright Grant to study in Japan; first trip to Europe; first solo exhibition at Galerie Lawrence, Paris; marriage to Barbara Rose.
Birth of daughter Rachel.
Artist in Residence, Dartmouth College; travels in Iran.
Included in U.S. section, XXXII Venice Biennale.
Travels to Brazil.
Performs in "Open Score," a game of tennis with racquets that transmitted sound and light composed by Robert Rauschenberg; birth of son Michael.
Appointment as Artist in Residence, University of California, Irvine but refuses to sign the required loyalty oath and does not teach; makes first prints at Gemini G.E.L.; teaches advanced summer workshop, University of Saskatchewan; designs sets and costumes for "Scramble," Merce Cunningham's performance at Connecticut College Dance Festival.
Divorce from Barbara Rose; teaches beginning painting to undergraduates at Brandeis University, spring semester.
Retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
Travels to Brazil, Paris, London.
Honorary degree, Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Birth of daughter Laura to Shirley De Lemos Wyse.
Car painted with design Stella created for BMW races at Le Mans.
Travels to India, London, and Germany; meets race drivers Ronnie Peterson and Peter Gregg.
Marries Dr. Harriet McGurk
Receives Claude Moore Fuss Award for "distinguished contribution to public service," Phillips Academy; creates design for Peter Gregg's race car.
Survives auto crash with Peter Gregg en route to Le Mans.
Awarded Honorary Fellowship, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem; travels in Egypt and Venice; awarded Medal for Painting, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture; birth of son Peter; Residency in Painting, American Academy in Rome (Nov.-Dec. and Spring 1983), where he begins researching and writing the lectures he will present at Harvard during the coming academic year.
Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, Harvard University; delivers a series of six lectures titled "Working Space" (Oct.-April)
Honorary degree, Princeton University; birth of son Patrick.
Honorary degree, Dartmouth College; Award of American Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Honorary degree, Brandeis University; travels to England; publication of Working Space.
Second retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
First architectural project, a proposal for a footbridge over the Seine River, in collaboration with engineer Peter Rice.
The Symphony commissioned by Art In Embassies Program, U. S. State Department.
The Leaves, a work created in collaboration with Peter Rice, Alexander, Cott, Earl Childress, and Bob Kahn for the New Groninger Museum, The Netherlands.
Designs decorative relief frieze and interior dome, commissioned by David Mirvish, for the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto.

Catherine S. Gaines
The collection was a gift of Frank and Harriet Stella in 1993.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Catherine S. Gaines in 2001-2002.

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Preferred Citation
Frank Stella papers, 1941-1993, bulk 1978-1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords table of terms and types.
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Leider, Philip, 1929- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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