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Faber Birren papers

Call Number: ART 13

Scope and Contents

The Faber Birren Papers document the endowment and development of the Birren Collection at Yale University. Additionally, there is documentation on the research projects in which Birren engaged during the last twenty years of his life. There is little written documentation on his career as an industrial color expert.

The Faber Birren Papers are one of several resources to be found at Yale University on Faber Birren. Researchers should also consult the Arts Library Special Collections. A significant portion of the Birren Collection is available on microform, which can be purchased through Primary Source Media, Hamden, Connecticut, via URL:


  • 1942-1998
  • Majority of material found within 1968 - 1989


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Box 12 is closed until January 1, 2018, unless curatorial permission is granted.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has not been transferred to Yale University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift to the Art and Architecture Library from Faber Birren and family, 1971-1998; transferred from the Art and Architecture Library to Manuscripts and Archives, 1998 and 2004; transferred from Manuscripts and Archives to the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, 2011.


Organized into four series and two additions: I. Personal, 1956-1992. II. Correspondence, 1963-1998. III. Writings, 1946-1988. IV. Visual Materials, 1942-1997.


11.75 Linear Feet (14 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers document Faber Birren's career as an authority on color, particularly during the years 1968-1989. They focus on his scholarship and his endowment of the Birren Collection.

Biographical / Historical

Faber Birren (September 21, 1900 - December 30, 1988), noted authority on color, was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Joseph P. Birren, was a successful landscape painter, and his mother, Crescentia (Lang) Birren, a skilled pianist. He attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago while still in high school, and completed two years (1919-1921) at the University of Chicago studying color theory. Birren published his first articles on color in 1924, and his first book on color four years later. By the end of his life, he had authored a total of 254 articles and forty books on the subject of color. Over a period of fifty-four years, Faber Birren was retained as a color consultant by companies such as Dupont, Walt Disney and General Electric, as well as by the United States Army, Coast Guard and Navy. In 1971, he established a depository and an endowment at Yale University for books on color. The Faber Birren Collection) has grown from his initial donation of 266 books into the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world, and numbers over 2000 items. Birren was married for fifty-four years to Wanda (Martin) Birren. They had two daughters, Zoe and Fay, and four grandchildren.

Biographical / Historical

Faber Birren, noted authority on color, was born September 21, 1900, in Chicago, Illinois. The son of successful landscape painter, Joseph P. Birren, and skilled pianist, Crescentia (Lang) Birren, Faber was the youngest of three children (Jeanette Birren Quinn (b. 1894) and William B. Birren (b. 1898). After attending Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Elementary School, Birren studied art and ceramics at Nichols Senn High School. During his last two years there, Faber also attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. After high school, he entered the University of Chicago (1919). It was then that he began his study of color theory under Walter Sargent and others. Birren left the University of Chicago after only two years, and in 1921, he began working for a local bookseller and publisher, Charles T. Powner. It was in this first job that Birren began to collect books on color and to write on the subject.

In 1924, Birren published his first articles (3) on color; the same year, his earliest attempt at a book on color was unsuccessfully submitted for publication. It was not until 1928 that Color in Vision was published. For the next several years and through the Great Depression, Birren published scores of articles and stories on the functional use of color, especially its use in hospitals and schools. Meanwhile, he continued to submit manuscripts on color and novels to publishers. Birren later explained that the meager pay for a published article coupled with the economic state of the country in 1933, "led to the endeavor to become a free-lance professional color authority." Birren reoriented his focus from writing to consulting.

Until late in life, Faber Birren was retained as a color consultant by companies such as Dupont, Walt Disney, General Electric, Westvaco Corp., and Sears & Roebuck, as well as by the United States Navy, Coast Guard and Army. During World War II, he specialized in the functional applications of color, focusing on its use in factories and war industries. He also developed color safety standards which were internationally adopted.

After the war, Birren continued his color consulting, and began lecturing at museums, universities and other institutions. He was a prolific author. By the end of his life, Birren had authored and published 254 articles and forty books on color; he had also published three novels under the pseudonyms Gregor and Martin Lang.

In 1971, Birren offered part of his personal collection of books on color to Yale University. Along with his donation to the university of over two hundred rare books, he also established an endowment and a research and publication fund for the development of a collection of books on color. The Birren Collection is the most comprehensive collection of books on color in the world.

In the same spirit of patronage, Birren endowed the Faber Birren Color Award Show in 1981, through the Stamford Connecticut Art Association. Birren created this competition in the hope of sparking interest in the field of color. The annual award is given for "distinguished and creative expression with color... in any medium."

In 1934, Birren married Wanda Martin (May 10, 1908 - Dec. 31, 1997), who was supportive of her husband's endeavors. They had two daughters, Zoe (b. Sept. 22, 1935) and Fay (b. May 1, 1939), and four grandchildren. Faber Birren died at age eighty-eight on December 30, 1988, after suffering a stroke.

Guide to the Faber Birren Papers
compiled by Sarah Tunney
September 1998
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library Special Collections Repository

Arts Library Special Collections
180 York Street
New Haven CT 06511

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