National Museum of the American Indian

Lawrence 'Larry' James Beck Papers, 1938-1994


Collection ID:
Beck, Larry, 1938-1994
Physical Description:
3.9 Linear feet
1,405 Photographic prints
3873 Slides (photographs)
2617 Negatives (photographic)
314 Transparencies
35 Contact prints
The Lawrence 'Larry' James Beck papers, located in the Cultural Resource Center of the National Museum of the American Indian, contain biographical materials, sculpture portfolios, art shows, notes, sketches and drawings, publications, correspondence and visual material including photos, slides and negatives of Larry's art.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The Larry Beck papers contains materials that span his career as an artist. The bulk of the material in this collection dates from the late 1960's until his death in 1994 and includes, but is not limited to, biographical materials, sculpture portfolios, correspondence relating to his artwork and his family, sketches and drawings as well as visual materials of Beck's artwork which including prints, slides and negatives. Additionally, publications regarding subjects that interested Beck are also included in this collection.


The Lawrence 'Larry' James Beck Papers are arranged into seven series:
Series 1: Biographical and Personal, (undated, 1938-1994)
Series 2: Correspondence, (undated, 1966-1994)
Series 3: Sculptures and Shows, (undated, 1966-1994)
Series 4: Sketches, Drawings, Notes and Ideas, (undated)
Series 5: Publications and Graphic Materials (undated, 1966-1995)
Series 6: Miscellaneous Material, (undated)
Series 7: Visual Material, contains photographs, negatives and slides

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Lawrence 'Larry' James Beck was born in Seattle, Washington on May 20, 1938. Beck's father was American and his mother was Norwegian and Yup'ik from Alaska. Larry was raised in Seattle and in 1956 graduated from Ballard High School. He then attended college at the University of Washington from1957 to 1959, where he first studied engineering. However, he decided that art was more in his future so between 1960-1961 he attended the Burnley School of Professional Art in Seattle, now known as The Art Institute of Seattle. In 1962 Larry was given the opportunity to attend the University of Arizona's Guadalajara Summer School and study art abroad. Upon his return in 1962, he resumed his studies at The University of Washington and in 1964 he earned a B.A. in painting and a M.F.A. in 1965. While at UW, Larry was taught by George Tsutakawa and Everett Du Pen and visiting New York artist Gabriel Kohn. His art reflects the influences of sculptor David Smith, Mark di Suvero and Inuit artist Gariel Kohn.
During the 1966-1967 academic year, Larry was a visiting instructor of sculpture at the University of Oregon, in Eugene. During this time Larry participated in an exhibit called the Great Northwest Sausage Company Art show. This show included artists such as Morris Yarowsky, Dan Solomon, Gertrude (Trudie) Pacific-Beck, David Cotter, John Haugse and Marcella Rawlinson. The years between 1967-1968 were spent at the University of Southampton, England as a Fine Arts Fellow. His wife at the time, Trudie also accompanied him and also studied art while in England. When Larry and Trudie returned to the States, they settled in Skagit Valley Washington.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, Larry focused on his large scale, abstract sculptures and established his reputation as a sculpture. Larry's early works were comprised of found metals and objects assembled in a lyrical but humorous manner. Larry also was apart of the Shazam Society with Tom Robbins among others, which produced performances and happenings. During 1975-1980, he installed projects for Golden Gardens Park in Seattle, Highline Community College and Boeing (King County Airport). He also worked on a piece for the Occidental Park site in Seattle, but due to circumstances of the city it was never installed.
Although Larry was not raised around his ancestral homelands, like his Mother, in the mid 1970s Larry visited the Alaskan coast. It was then that he realized he understood the Yup'ik culture. In 1973 Larry started to produce a new series of pieces called "Inukshuk", which is Inuit for sculpture presence. This term was also used for three major commissions that later followed. Larry continued to use Inuit terminology in his work. This was the first sign that Larry started to embrace his multicultural heritage in his artwork. Larry experimented with making bronze and aluminum small castings of traditional Inuit masks, but he felt uneasy that these masks represented a complete contradiction to his western art training.
After the 1980 install of the Boeing sculpture, Beck experienced what he would call his sculpture career crisis. He became disappointed with public art. This is when Larry received his calling to start working on his abstract Inuit Inua (spirit) masks. Larry embraced the idea of using the ancestral ways of his Mother's people of finding natural objects and turning them into masks or art pieces. Larry utilized this method and found contemporary objects within junkyards and hardware stores to create his contemporary Inua masks. From this time on, Larry focused the remaining years of his life working on Inua masks. He participated in shows at art galleries and loaned artwork out for traveling exhibits that where exhibited from the United Nations in Switzerland to all over the United States, including his ancestral homelands of Alaska. Also from the mid 1980s till the end of his life in 1994, he spent more time with his children.
On March 27th 1994, Larry died of a heart attack in his home in Washington. His artwork still lives on today in many museums and private collections. He turned Native American Art into something that kept historical cultural ties while also embracing a contemporary look.


Stephanie Wood and Mattie Lewis
Processing Information
Processed by Stephanie Wood, spring intern, in May 2009. Series 5.2 and series 7 revised in 2024 by Mattie Lewis, contract archivist.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
These research materials were donated to NMAI in March 2009 by Nikolai Beck and Alex Beck.

Using the Collection

Preferred Citation
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Lawrence 'Larry' James Beck Papers, Box and Folder Number; National Museum of the American Indian Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Conditions Governing Access
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email:
Conditions Governing Use
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Copyright is vested with Nikolai Beck and Alex Beck and will not transfer to the National Museum of the American Indian until 2018. Researchers seeking publication use, must obtain permission directly from the donors by contacting NMAI Archives (


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Photographs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketches Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Notes Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Portfolios (groups of works) Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sculptors -- Washington (State) Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Newsletters Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Public sculpture, American Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Negatives Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Inuit masks Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pamphlets Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Yupik Eskimos Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drawings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Indian art -- North America Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Slides (photographs) Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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Business Number: Phone: 301.238.1400
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