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Ben Cunningham Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Cunningham, Ben, 1904-1975
Title: Ben Cunningham Papers
Dates: 1904-1969
Quantity: 2.25 linear ft.
Abstract: Spanning 1904 to 1969, the Ben Cunningham Papers comprises biographical material, correspondence, artwork, writings, and memorabilia of the American painter and art educator (1904-1975). The collection, which is heavily annotated by Cunningham, illuminates a professional career which encompassed WPA Federal Art Project mural work as well as the op art movement of the mid to late 1960s. Some of the items in the collection have been restricted to prevent their further deterioration. Photocopies of these embrittled items have been made available for researcher use.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

American painter, muralist.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

Arranged alphabetically, the Correspondence-Subject Files (Boxes 1-2) contains incoming letters and outgoing carbon copies of Cunningham's replies, together with a variety of other related documents. The correspondence, predominantly from the 1960s, is generally of a professional nature, and includes that with artists (Abe Ajay, Will Barnet, Hannes Beckmann, Lawrence Campbell, David Diao, Peggy Dixon, Florence Fanshel, Robert Gwathmey, Hein Heckroth, Carl Holty, Avery Johnson, Sandy Lerner, Raeford Liles, Herman Maril, Roy Slade, Jeffrey Steele, Jean Varda); authors (Faber Birren, Warren Bower, Dorothy Caffrey, Donald G. Carraher, Susan Fanshel, Nathan Israeli, Mary McChesney, Sterling McIlhany, Aldo Pellegrini, William N. Robson); and clients (Goran Bauer, David Bermant, Cadence Records, Mark Johnson, John and Kate Prutting, Springbok Editions). Organizational correspondence focuses upon Cunningham's work in connection with art galleries and museums (Larry Aldrich Museum Foundation, Castellane Gallery, East Hampton Gallery, Georgia Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Hecksher Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Riverside Museum, Triangle Gallery, Tweed Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art); educational institutions (Art Students League of New York, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Morgan State College, Pratt Institute, University of Minnesota); and professional organizations (Artists for CORE, Artists for SEDF, Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, Society of Industrial Artists and Designers). An exchange (1965-1967) with the New York State Attorney General documents Cunningham's interest in legislation regarding the artist/dealer relationship.

Artwork (Box 2) includes photographs of Cunningham's work, a jigsaw puzzle, record album art, and miscellaneous reproductions used for advertising as well as book and periodical illustrations and cover designs. Arranged by the title of work supplied by Cunningham, the Photographs of paintings bear further annotations providing the year of the piece's production and the name of its purchaser. Photographs also document exhibitions at San Francisco's Raymond & Raymond Gallery and at the Riverside Museum in New York.

Autobiographical material, the transcript of an interview for the Archives of American Art on Cunningham's WPA experience, a lecture before the Art Students League, lists of paintings, a memorandum relating to the faculty at the Cooper Union, and an assortment of statements, some dictated, about his work constitute Writings (Box 2).

Memorabilia (Boxes 2-3) consists of photographs and printed material. Among the photographs are portraits (1904-1967) and images of Cunningham in his studio and lecturing before a Cooper Union design class. Printed material comprises articles and reviews (1965-1969), clippings (1941-1969), exhibition catalogs and invitations (1960-1969), and teaching-related items, including course catalogs and An Aspect of Illusion, a Cooper Union student publication which explores the technical features of op art as it relates to human perception.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Some of the items in the collection have been restricted to prevent their further deterioration. Photocopies of these embrittled items have been made available for researcher use.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Ajay, Abe.
Barnet, Will, 1911-2012.
Bauer, Göran, 1923-
Bermant, David.
Birren, Faber, 1900-1988.
Bower, Warren.
Caffrey, Dorothy Cruickshank.
Campbell, Lawrence, 1914-1998.
Coates, Robert M. (Robert Myron), 1897-1973.
Crump, Iris M.
Cunningham, Ben, 1904-1975.
Diao, David, 1943-
Dixon, Peggy.
Fanshel, Susan.
Gwathmey, Robert, 1903-1988.
Heckroth, Hein.
Holty, Carl, 1900-1973.
Hughes-Stanton, Corin.
Israeli, Nathan, 1906-
Johnson, Avery, 1965-
Lewis, Elizabeth Matthew.
Liles, Raeford.
Maril, Herman.
McChesney, Mary.
McIlhany, Sterling.
Mourlot, Fernand.
Neiniger, Urban.
Pellegrini, Aldo.
Riska, Ken F.
Robson, William N.
Rockefeller, Nelson A. (Nelson Aldrich), 1908-1979.
Slade, Roy.
Tallroth, Tore.
Varda, Jean.
Wechter, Vivienne Thaul.

Corporate Bodies

Federal Art Project.
United States -- Work Projects Administration.
United States -- Works Progress Administration.


Art, American -- 20th century.
Artists as teachers -- United States.
Color in art.
Federal aid to the arts -- United States.
Mural painting and decoration -- United States -- 20th century.
Optical art.
Painters -- United States.
Painting, American -- 20th century.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Exhibition catalogs.
Jigsaw puzzles.
Notes (documents)



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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Ben Cunningham Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Ben Cunningham.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: LK/KM
Date: Dec 1993
Revision history: 7 Jun 2005 - EAD file created (MRR)

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Biographical Material
Box 1 Biographical Material
Correspondence-Subject Files
Box 1 Ajay, Abe 1965-1969
Box 1 [Larry] Aldrich Museum Foundation, Inc. (Ridgefield, Conn.) 1966
Box 1 Archives of American Art 1964-1965
Box 1 Art Students League of New York 1966-1967
Box 1 Artforum (San Francisco, Calif.) 1963
Box 1 Artists for CORE 1965-1966
Box 1 Artists for SEDF 1967
Box 1 Barnet, Will 1966, 1967
Box 1 Bauer, Goran C. H. and Catharina 1968-1969
Box 1 Beckmann, Hannes and Elsa 1966
Box 1 Bermant, David 1966
Box 1 Birren, Faber 1965, 1967
Box 1 Bower, Warren 1966
Box 1 Brookhaven National Laboratory 1966
Box 1 Cadence Records (New York, N.Y.) 1960
Box 1 Caffrey, Dorothy 1967
Box 1 Campbell, Lawrence 1967-1969, undated
Box 1 Carnegie Institute 1967
Box 1 Carraher, Donald G. 1965-1967
Box 1 Castellane Gallery (Provincetown, Mass.) 1962-1963
Box 1 Coates, Robert M. 1966
Box 1 Community Press (Culpeper, Va.) 1966
Box 1 Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art 1960-1968, undated
Box 1 Crump, Iris 1966-1967, undated
Box 1 Diao, David 1966
Box 1 Dixon, Peggy 1968-1969
Box 1 East Hampton Gallery (New York, N.Y.) 1964-1967
Box 1 Encampment for Citizenship (New York, N.Y.) 1966
Box 1 Fanshel, Florence 1960, 1967
Box 1 Fanshel, Susan 1967
Box 1 Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, Inc. 1967
Box 1 [Carl] Fischer Inc. 1966
Box 1 Georgia Museum of Art 1967
Box 1 [Solomon R.] Guggenheim Museum (New York, N.Y.) 1965-1967, undated
Box 1 Gwathmey, Robert 1968
Box 1 Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1965-1966
Box 1 Heckroth, Hein 1964
Box 1 Hecksher Museum (Huntington, New York) 1966
Box 1 Holty, Carl 1966
Hughes-Stanton, Corin
See Society of Industrial Artists and Designers (London)
Hyatt, Gordon
See WCBS-TV (New York, N.Y.)
Box 1 Israeli, Nathan 1965
Box 1 Johnson, Avery 1968
Box 1 Johnson, Mark 1967
Box 1 Kobrick, Florence
See Encampment for Citizenship (New York, N.Y.)
Box 1 Lerner, Sandy 1968
Box 1 Lewis, Elizabeth Matthew 1969
Box 1 Liles, Raeford 1966-1967
McChesney, Mary
See Artforum (San Francisco, Calif.)
Box 1 McFarland, Jacqueline 1966-1969
Box 1 McIlhany, Sterling 1967
Box 1 Macky, Spencer 1952
Box 1 Maril, Herman 1967, 1969
Box 1 Morgan State College (Baltimore, Md.) 1960, 1964
Box 1 Mourlot, Fernand 1967
Box 1 Mueller, Cal and Prissy 1969
Box 1 Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) 1964-1967
Box 1 Neininger, Urban and Jean Purcell 1967
Box 1 New York (State). Attorney General 1965-1967
New York (State). Department of Law
See New York (State). Attorney General
New York Art Scene '67
See Encampment for Citizenship (New York, N.Y.)
Box 1 New York Guild of Handweavers 1967
Box 1 New York Public Library 1966
Box 1 Pellegrini, Aldo 1967
Box 1 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 1967
Box 1 Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, N.Y.) 1965
Box 1 Prutting, John and Kate 1967-1968
Box 1 Riska, Ken 1967
Box 1 Riverside Museum (New York, N.Y.) 1966-1967
Box 1 Robson, William N. 1965
Rockefeller, Nelson
See New York (State). Attorney General
Box 1 Silvermine Publishers 1966
Box 1 Slade, Roy 1967, undated
Box 1 Society of Industrial Artists and Designers (London) 1965-1966
Box 1 Springbok Editions Inc. 1965-1968
Box 1 Steele, Jeffrey 1966, undated
Box 2 Tallroth, Tore and Marthe 1969
Box 2 Triangle Gallery (San Francisco, Calif.) 1966-1967
Tweed Gallery (Duluth, Minn.)
See University of Minnesota
Box 2 University of Minnesota 1967-1969, undated
Box 2 University of Texas 1965
Box 2 Varda, Jean 1952-1969, undated
Box 2 WCBS-TV (New York, N.Y.) 1965, 1969
Box 2 WNYC-TV 1967
Box 2 Wechter, Vivienne Thaul 1963
Box 2 Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, N.Y.) 1960
Box 2 YM-YWHA of Essex County 1967
Box 2 A-Z, unidentified (4 folders)
Artwork (Reproductions)
Box 2 By title (A-Z), untitled (3 folders)
Box 2 Raymond & Raymond Gallery (San Francisco, Calif.)
Box 2 Riverside Museum (New York, N.Y.)
Oversize 1 Jigsaw puzzle, "Equivocation II" 1965
Springbok Editions
Oversize 1 Record album art for cover, sleeve 1963, undated
Box 2 Miscellaneous 1933-1969
Box 2 Autobiographical statements
Box 2 "Comments on WPA experience" undated
Box 2 Interview 1964
Transcript of Harlan Phillips' interview of Ben Cunningham for the Archives of American Art New Deal and the Arts project
Box 2 Lecture - Art Students League 1968
Box 2 Lists of paintings
Box 2 Memorandum - Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture 1967
Box 2 Poem - untitled undated
Box 2 Statements on art - 1966-1969, undated
Box 2 Portraits 1945-1967
Box 2 Studio, with artwork 1941-1965
Box 2 Teaching 1965
Box 2 Youth 1904-1926; with wife - ca. 1950 (2 items)
Printed material
Box 3 Articles, reviews 1965-1969
Box 3 Clippings 1941-1969
Box 3 Exhibition catalogs, invitations 1960-1969 (4 folders)
Box 3 An Aspect of Illusion (CUAS 9) - Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture 1963
Box 3 Miscellaneous 1967-1968
Box 3 Miscellany 1965 - "Comments on Ben Cunningham and his work"

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