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Rebecca Salsbury James papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 16

Scope and Contents

The Rebecca Salsbury James Papers consist of correspondence, subject files, and oversize scrapbooks documenting aspects of the career and friendships of Rebecca Salsbury James. The papers span the dates 1924-1967, but the bulk of the material dates from the 1930s.

Series I, Correspondence , which has been alphabetically arranged, consists almost entirely of letters from friends, many connected with Stieglitz or with the Taos artists colony. There is no family correspondence, although letters by Mrs. Jesse Akeley and Frank Butler do mention James's father, Nathan Salsbury.

The most important correspondents associated with the Stieglitz circle are Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Isabel Lachaise. Hartley's letters fill folders 4-19 and are mostly devoted to personal news. Topics include his impressions of Paris, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia, his financial worries, and his artistic ambitions. A June 1929 letter encourages James in her attempts to paint on glass and recounts Hartley's own experiments with the technique. Many letters contain his often unfavorable opinions of other artists, including Klee, Kandinsky, and Picasso. There are frequent discussions of more personal subjects, including what Hartley called his "New England psychology." A letter written shortly after Hartley's return to the United States in 1930 mentions his love for a woman in Europe and offers support to James in her marital difficulties. Other topics include news of friends, his dislike of his W.P.A. work, and his admiration for Charlie Chaplin.

Further biographical information about Marsden Hartley can be found in the correspondence of Elizabeth McCausland, a niece of Hartley's who planned to write a biography of him. Her letters discuss her interpretation of Hartley's character and her negotiations with his literary executor. Several of the letters include questionnaires about Hartley which were answered by James.

The letters of Georgia O'Keeffe begin in the fall of 1926 and continue until 1967. She seldom dated her letters, but James has supplied dates in many cases. The early correspondence contains much information on the daily lives and activities of Stieglitz, O'Keeffe, and James. Letters written from Lake George, where she and Stieglitz summered, provide news of mutual friends, descriptions of the demanding social routine Stieglitz enjoyed, and complaints of her inability to work amid "the strain of family life." O'Keeffe's growing desire to live and paint in solitude is a major theme of the correspondence. Shortly after her first visit to Taos in 1929, O'Keeffe described for James "the feeling of completeness that I have about Taos." The letters also detail her slow recovery from her 1933 breakdown and the beginnings of her plans to live in New Mexico. A letter written in 1934 notes, "I begin to think of New Mexico with a vague kind of interest. And I also think I want to keep house. . . .I must live somewhere where the people do not run me crazy." (Box 1, folder 30) The correspondence became less frequent after O'Keeffe moved to New Mexico, and the later letters contain arrangements for visits, thanks for presents, and brief comments on her daily activities and her enjoyment of her life in the desert.

Isabel Lachaise's letters are almost entirely devoted to personal news, including the illness of Edward Lachaise and the difficulties she experienced in adjusting to life without Gaston Lachaise. The correspondence also contains information on mutual friends, especially Marsden Hartley and Carrie Stettheimer. Frieda Lawrence's letters are equally personal; topics include James's embroideries and news of Mabel Dodge Luhan. A letter written in 1954 discusses Lawrence's commissioning of a painting by James for the D.H. Lawrence chapel.

The other correspondence consists of single letters from various friends, including Dorothy Brett, Arthur Dove, Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Kreymborg, Gaston Lachaise, John Marin, and Mabel Dodge Luhan. These are usually brief notes on a variety of subjects. For example, Dorothy Brett's letter comments on her painting, her health, and the unpopularity of Indian rights leader John Collier in Taos.

Folders 38-56 house Series II, Subject Files , which contain newspaper clippings, photographs, and other miscellaneous material. The file on Rebecca Salsbury James includes exhibition catalogues, photographs of her and of Georgia O'Keeffe at Taos, an album of portrait studies done by Stieglitz in the 1920s, and a copy of "The Colcha Stitch." The file on Marsden Hartley includes a typescript of his poem "Dusty Residues." Box 2, folder 55 contains a portrait of Paul Strand which was taken during the 1920s by Stieglitz.

Boxes 3 and 4 hold Series III, Scrapbooks , containing greeting cards received by Rebecca Salsbury James and William H. James between 1939 and 1954. Christmas cards predominate, but there are some Valentine and birthday cards as well. Many of these cards are from other members of the Taos artists colony.


  • 1924 - 1967
  • Majority of material found within 1930 - 1939


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 5: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Rebecca Salisbury James Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Rebecca Salisbury James Papers were a gift of Rebecca Salsbury James, 1964-1967.


2.8 Linear Feet (7 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence and family papers documenting aspects of the career and friendships of Rebecca Salsbury James, especially her involvement with the Stieglitz circle. Correspondents include Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Isabel Lachaise, and Frieda Lawrence.


Rebecca Salsbury Strand James was born in London in 1891, the daughter of Nathan Salsbury, manager of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. She was raised in New Jersey and was working as a medical secretary in New York when she met the photographer Paul Strand, a member of the Photo-Secession circle. They were married early in 1922. She modeled frequently for her husband and for Alfred Stieglitz, typed submissions to MSS and articles for Marsden Hartley, and became a close friend of Georgia O'Keeffe, whom she was said to resemble in looks and personality. The Strands first visited Taos in 1926 as the guests of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Rebecca Strand returned there for three months in 1929 with Georgia O'Keeffe, and the Strands spent the following three summers in Taos, while Paul Strand worked on a series of Southwestern photographs.

Encouraged to paint by her husband, Rebecca Strand developed a technique of painting on glass, perhaps suggested by the earlier experiments of Marsden Hartley. Her work included portraits of Indians and a series of large-scale flower compositions. In February 1932, the Strands held a joint exhibition of their New Mexican work at An American Place. One reviewer commented that Rebecca's paintings were "freshly felt and painted with a refreshing naivete and precision." Rebecca and Paul Strand were divorced the following year, and Rebecca moved to Taos permanently.

In 1949 she married William H. James, a local businessman and founder of the New Mexico Angus-Aberdeen Cattlemen's Association. He had one adopted daughter, Vera James, who died in an automobile accident in 1949. Throughout the 1930s, James continued to paint, exhibiting her work at An American Place and other galleries and holding several one-woman shows, mostly in the West. In the late 1940s she became interested in the recently revived technique of colcha embroidery and produced many of these decorative hangings, often on Southwestern themes. Some of her embroideries were displayed at the Museum of International Folk Art in 1963. She also published a small collection of biographical sketches of Taos natives, Allow Me to Present 18 Ladies and Gentlemen and Taos, N. M. 1885-1939.

James spent the last few years of her life in semi-retirement due to her poor health, although she contributed comments to the exhibition catalogue of the William and Rebecca James Collection and, in 1966, wrote an introduction to Dorothy Benrimo's Camposantos. Rebecca Salsbury James died in Taos in July 1968.

Guide to the Rebecca Salsbury James Papers
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
February 1987
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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