Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art

Edited by Mary Savig. Princeton Architectural, $27.50 (208p) ISBN 978-1-61689-462-7
These original, handwritten letters by 56 renowned American artists from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art are a fresh, fascinating look at the blend of language and art. The collection is edited by Savig (Handmade Holiday Cards by Twentieth-Century Artists), the Archives’ manuscript curator, and organized alphabetically by artist. A short essay by an American art expert accompanies each letter, helping to connect the artists’ visual styles with the appearance of their handwriting. Avant-garde sculptor Alexander Calder’s sweeping script “reflects his personality... responsive, direct, and swelling with energy,” according to Susan Braeuer Dam, director of research at the Calder Foundation. The slanted script of folk artist Grandma Moses ranges from elegant to practical, reflecting a woman juggling her busy life as a farmer and prolific artist, argues Leslie Umberger, a curator of folk art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s bold, black-inked penmanship contains numerous dashes, mimicking his rambling, talkative personality, points out Kristina Wilson, a professor of art history at Clark University. Readers gain a better understanding of the artists through their penmanship: cursive or casual, straight or slanted, wide or crowded, black or colored ink, an emphasis on legibility or structure. This is an unusual, intimate look inside America’s archives as well as a homage to the art of the handwritten word in an age dominated by typeface. Color illus. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/02/2016
Release date: 06/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 208 pages - 978-1-61689-507-5
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