These papers document the life and work of Warren M. Robbins, covering a wide swath of his life, from his early career in the Foreign Service to his work in cross cultural communications and African art. A prolific writer, Robbins correspondence with such people as Maya Angelou, Ernie Barnes, Saul Bellow, Eliot Elisofon, Otto Fried, Buckminster Fuller, Francoise Gilot, Chaim Gross, S. I. Hayakawa, Harry Holtzman, Frances Humphrey Howard, Herbert H. Humphrey, Ben Shahn, and Margaret Mead document the close relationships he had with a wide range of people as well as reveal his personality and character.
The papers also include Robbins subject files and reveal his interests in African art, Piet Mondrian, and semantics among other things. Also included are records related to the creation and administration of the Museum of African Art, the work it took to get it included as part of the Smithsonian, its transfer, and the difficulties and conflicts Robbins experienced as a result. The records provide extensive coverage of the work involved in keeping the MAA a vibrant center of education, as well as documents the acquisition of collection material and the production of exhibitions.
The papers also contain materials related to publications, including Robbins' African Art in American Collections, both the 1966 and 1989 editions. Also included are materials related to his writings, lectures, and introductions of which he was known for. Of interest are the materials prepared by Roulhac Toledano in preparation for an unpublished work: Before and After the Smithsonian, The Legacy of Warren Robbins, Founder, National Museum of African Art: A Biography of Letters and Essays.
Other highlights include audio recordings from the dedication of the Museum of African Art on September 21, 1966, as well as recordings of lectures and interviews; records regarding the return of the Afo-A-Kom to the Kom people of Cameroon; records related to the acquisition of the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives; transcripts of oral history interviews; and the numerous awards and honors received by Robbins including the Joseph Henry Medal.
Materials include correspondence, memoranda, invitations, publications, articles, reports, images, sound recordings, transcripts, awards, clippings, newsletters, brochures, scrapbooks, pamphlets, mailings, maps, and floor plans. Some materials are in German and French.