Archives of American Art

A Finding Aid to the Gary Erbe papers, circa 1968-2006, in the Archives of American Art


Collection ID:
Erbe, Gary T., 1944-
circa 1968-2006
Physical Description:
3.8 Linear feet
The Gary Erbe papers measure 3.8 linear feet and date from circa 1968-2006. They illustrate his career through biographical material, correspondence, exhibition files, and printed and photographic material.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The Gary Erbe papers measure 3.8 linear feet and date from circa 1968-2006. Biographical material contains several awards and certificates as well as one videotape titled Brand New Day which originally aired on WPIX on July 29, 1983. Correspondence is with galleries, art museums, business associates, and friends.
Exhibition files contains materials relating to various exhibitions Erbe participated in at galleries including the Pastel Society of America, the Ettinger Gallery, the Philbrook Museum of Art, the Butler Institute of American Art, Allied Artists of America, the exhibition The Best of American Realism, and the Meridian True Colors (2001) exhibition. Materials regarding the Butler Institute of American Art include one videotape titled At the Butler recorded on May 25, 1985. Also included are files pertaining to several one-man exhibitions at the ACA Gallery, Alexander Gallery, Boca Raton, Florida Museum of Art, the Canton Art Institute, the James A. Michener Art Museum, Montclair Art Museum, the National Arts Club, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Jersey State Museum, the Sordoni Gallery- Wilkes College, the Woodmere Art Museum, a twenty-five year retrospective, and two exhibitions curated by Erbe, The Salgamundi Club: An American Institution (1998) and Gabriela Dellosso: An Artist's Journey (2006).
Printed material includes exhibition announcements and catalogs, newspaper clippings, and various published magazines featuring articles on Erbe and his artwork. Photographic material contains thirty-three photographs and several negatives of Erbe. Also included are photographs of Erbe and his family as well as works of art, exhibition installations, and miscellaneous photographs. Sixty-one slides are included which mainly depict works of art by Erbe.


This collection consists of five series.
  • Series 1: Biographical Materials, circa 1972-2004 (.2 Linear feet: Box 1 and OV 6)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1971-2004 (.6 Linear feet: Box 1)
  • Series 3: Exhibition Files, circa 1975-2006 (1.7 Linear feet: Boxes 1-3)
  • Series 4: Printed Material, circa 1968-2005 (1.2 Linear feet: Boxes 3-5 and OV 7)
  • Series 5: Photographic Material, circa 1972-2002 (.1 Linear feet: Box 5)

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Gary Erbe (1944-) is a painter who works primarily in Union City, New Jersey.
Gary Erbe was born in Union City, New Jersey and is a self-taught artist and oil painter who is best known for his trompe l'oeil style paintings. Erbe's interest in art began when he became fascinated by his school's textbook illustrations. His stepfather was a main supporter of his art, and following his stepfather's death Erbe produced very little art.
When he turned sixteen, Erbe dropped out of high school and moved into an apartment in Weehawken, New Jersey where he met his first wife Edny whom he married in 1963 and with whom he had two children, one of which was contemporary artist Chantell Van Erbé. To support his family he worked as an apprentice at an engraving company and painted in his spare time, teaching himself. Erbe was particularly inspired by William Michael Harnett and John F. Peto who applied a trompe l'oeil approach to their paintings. In 1969, Erbe explored Levitational Realism, a more contemporary method to trompe l'oeil. In 1978 he divorced Edny and moved into his own studio in Union City where he met his second wife, local artist Anna Vedovelli, who he then divorced three years later. By 1996, Erbe married Zeny Santos and they lived in his studio in Union City before moving to Hoboken, New Jersey, and finally to Nutley, New jersey.
Since 1970 Erbe's work has been exhibited extensively in museums such as the Canton Museum of Art, the Brinton Museum, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the Heckscher Museum of Art, the Baum School of Art, and the Reading Public Museum among others. His work is also in the permanent collections of various renowned institutions including The Phillips Collection, The Butler Institute of American Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 2016 the Butler Institute of American Art published the book Footprints: The Art and Life of Gary Erbe.
Erbe is currently living in Nutley, New Jersey where he maintains a studio and continues to paint.


Allessandra Liberati
The processing of this collection received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Gary Erbe papers were donated in 1991, 2002, and 2006 by Gary Erbe.
Processing Information
This collection was processed, and a finding aid prepared, by Allessandra Liberati in 2023.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing 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.
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. Researchers interested in accessing born-digital records or audiovisual recordings in this collection must use access copies. Contact References Services for more information.
Preferred Citation
Gary Erbe papers, circa 1968-2006, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Trompe l'oeil painting Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Video recordings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Self-taught artists Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painters -- New Jersey Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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