MS 91 Carl Van Vechten Memorial Collection of Arts and Letters, 1823-

Photographs, sheet music, playbills, prints, publications, sound recordings, programs, souvenir books, correspondence, drawings, broadsides, articles, ephemera, manuscripts, and journal issues relating to the theater, music, dance, and literature.  Although not limited to materials related to African American artists and their works, the collection includes a large number of materials documenting African American artistic endeavors during the early and mid-twentieth century. The collection was assembled by Bruce Kellner and donated to Ganser Library in honor of Carl Van Vechten. The photographic portion of the collection consists primarily of Carl Van Vechten’s portraits of influential actors, writers, and artists of the New York stage. Amongst the photographic prints are rare portraits of notable African American authors, entertainers, and a few athletes. The collection also includes drawings, prints, and published works illustrated by Miguel Covarrubias. The sheet music series includes music for patriotic songs, ballads, musical selections from popular theater and film productions, and works composed or popularized by well-known artists including Irving Berlin, Stephen C. Foster, Duke Ellington and Bob Russell, and George and Ira Gershwin.  The bulk of this portion of the collection dates from the World War I era through the World War II era.  Amongst the notable items in the collection related to African Americans and their place in American society and culture are correspondence and legal documents dealing with to the purchase of slaves (1823-1828), broadsides depicting African Americans, published works, correspondence and typescripts by Langston Hughes, and issues of periodicals published by members of the African American community.  Sound recordings of jazz performances by such notables as Fats Waller, Ethel Waters, and Bessie Smith are also included in the collection.

Series 1. Carl Van Vechten Collection of African-American Arts and Letters, 1853-2004

Series 2. Carl Van Vechten Photograph Collection, 1932-1964

Series 3. Bruce Kellner Dance & Theatre Collection, 1902-2007

Series 4. Bruce Kellner Sheet Music Collection, 1931-2007

Carl Van Vechten’s photographs may not be reproduced without permission from his estate.  Contact: VanVechtenTrust@gmail.com.

Carl Van Vechten was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1880. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1903. Three years later he moved to New York City and began working for the New York Times, writing articles on the city’s music scene. His experience in the arts led to the publication of several novels between 1922 and 1930. From 1930 to 1932, Van Vechten wrote and published his memoirs. After 1932, Van Vechten expanded his favorite hobby of photography into a career. His connections to New York’s artistic elite led to the photographic portraitures of prominent actors, writers, and others in the theatrical arts. Van Vechten also photographed numerous notable and influential African Americans, particularly those considered part of the Harlem Renaissance. Van Vechten died in 1964.

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