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Mary A. Bell Drawings

 Collection
Call Number: JWJ MSS 153

Scope and Contents

A collection of one hundred drawings by the self-taught African American artist Mary Bell, most featuring glamorously dressed and accessorized women and men engaged in courtship activities, or women centered in domestic or garden settings. Many of the images have religious iconography as well as animals, birds, plants, and children, with houses or other buildings placed distantly in the background. The drawings range in size from 78 x 52 to 51 x 39 cm. and were executed in crayon, colored pencil, and graphite on a lightweight wove tissue or pattern paper. Bell mounted each drawing on a second sheet of lightweight paper that she wrapped around all four edges to create the effect of a frame, then attached small paper tags to the top edges of the frames onto which she inscribed a title, phrase, description, or other caption; some drawings have larger paper tags attached to their versos bearing poems or lengthier inscriptions. Bell signed a few drawings with her initials "M.B." and included Carl Van Vechten's initials ("Mr. C.V.") on a hooked rug in one work titled "Happy thoughts." The drawings are not dated but were made in the years after her retirement and before her hospitalization.

Dates

  • [1936-1939]

Creator

Language of Materials

Captions in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Mary A. Bell Drawings is 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

Gift of Carl Van Vechten.

Arrangement

Arranged by inventory number.

Extent

1 collection (100 drawings : crayon, colored pencil, and graphite on wove tissue paper ; 78 x 52 cm. and smaller)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.bell

Overview

A collection of one hundred drawings by the self-taught African American artist Mary A. Bell, featuring glamorously dressed and accessorized women and men engaged in courtship activities, or women centered in domestic or garden settings. Many of the images have religious iconography as well as animals, birds, plants, and children, with houses or other buildings placed distantly in the background. The drawings range in size from 78 x 52 to 51 x 39 cm. and were executed in crayon, colored pencil, and graphite on a lightweight wove tissue or pattern paper. Bell mounted each drawing on a second sheet of lightweight paper that she wrapped around all four edges to create the effect of a frame, then attached small paper tags to the top edges of the frames onto which she inscribed a title, phrase, description, or other caption; some drawings have larger paper tags attached to their versos with poems or lengthier inscriptions. Bell signed a few drawings with her initials "M.B." and included Carl Van Vechten's initials ("Mr. C.V.") in one work titled "Happy thoughts." The drawings are not dated but were made in the years after her retirement and before her hospitalization.

Mary A. Bell (1873-1941)

Mary A. Bell was born in Washington, DC, on July 2, 1873, the daughter of James F. Bell and Susanna County. A self-taught artist, she worked as a domestic servant for Edward and Adele Dutaud Pierce of Boston from 1914 to 1937. Bell's relationship with Isabel Dutaud Lachaise, wife of sculptor Gaston Lachaise, led to her drawings being seen by the New York writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten and others in his circle; Van Vechten became a major collector of her work. In 1940 Bell entered the Boston State Hospital, a public mental institution, where she died on September 20, 1941.

Biographical sketch taken from African American National Biography, s.v. "Bell, Mary A."

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.
Title
Guide to the Mary A. Bell Drawings
Author
by Beinecke Staff
Date
2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

Contact:
P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977

Location

121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.