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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kids Say the Darndest Things...About Joseph Cornell

In the papers of Joseph Cornell, the artist best known for his assemblage boxes, there are several examples of children coming into contact with him or his work. For example: drawings left by young visitors to one of his exhibits, or letters from children in his neighborhood. But my personal favorite is a group of letters from the students of Ms. Mildred Stone at the Downtown Community School in Manhattan.
Didi Shaw letter to Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell papers, Archives of American Art

In 1971 Ms. Stone took her class to visit an exhibit of Cornell's collages at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The youngsters were so impressed with the exhibit that they felt compelled to write to Mr. Cornell.

In their own words (original spelling and punctuation intact):

"I saw the collages you made. I through they were like a pop-up fairy tale land." --Didi Shaw

"Somehow your art is different from other peoples art. Thats why I like it." --Antony Seebrooks

"The one I liked best was, the one with the picture of a girl in a bandjo. I named it, My Lost Beloved...The picture gave me a feeling of lostness, and love." --Karen Towns
"[Your collages] are very cute and beautiful." --Rita Chow

"I think you are the best artist I have seen in my life." --Niko Papachristou

Underwater Chirsmas [i.e. Christmas] tree,
collage by Didi Shaw
Joseph Cornell papers, Archives of American Art
Later, the kids completed a school assignment in which they created collages of their own inspired by what they had seen at the museum. Their teachers also sent Cornell the results of this project.

Clearly, the intricate and mysterious miniature worlds of Cornell's collages and boxes resonated deeply with children. In recognition of this, he tailored his last two exhibits specifically to a youth audience ("A Joseph Cornell Exhibition for Children" at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture and "Joseph Cornell - Collages and Boxes" at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery).

You can read all the kids' letters and look at their collages in the Archives of American Art's fully digitized Joseph Cornell papers (under subject source files). If Didi, Antony, Karen, Rita or Niko are out there and reading this, I'd love to know - did Joseph Cornell ever come to visit your classroom? Do you remember your trip to the museum? We'd love to hear from you.

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian
Archives of American Art

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