[1928–1987, Woodstock, New York and WPA Artist James B. Turnbull Archive of Retained Outgoing Letters, written by Him and His Wife, Peter Keep Turnbull].
A St. Louis-native, director of the WPA Art Project for Missouri, and a World War II combat artist
Extensive archive of narrative letters and papers of American social realist painter, WPA muralist, and sculptor, James Baare Turnbull (1909–1976) and his wife, artist Peter Keep Turnbull.
A native of St. Louis, James B. Turnbull, “Jim,” was the director of the WPA Art Project for Missouri and a World War II combat artist/correspondent for the Army, Life magazine, and lastly for Abbott Laboratories. Jim painted two WPA post office murals in Missouri, one in Fredericktown and the other in Jackson and a mural in Purcell, Oklahoma. Along with artists Thomas Benton and Reginald Marsh, Jim (now finished with his work for the army) was sent by Abbott to the Philippines to document the war there. It appears that Jim had also been accredited to the Navy and had designed a poster for the 6th War Loan. By the mid-to-late 1940s, Jim and his wife “Pete” had settled in the artists’ colony at Woodstock, New York. In the 1950s, he became a sculptor of stabiles and mobiles, having previously worked in lithography, watercolor, and oils. Pete was an artist herself, a sculptor, though the letters here show her more in the role of a supporter of her husband’s career and the arts. For example, Pete served on a Missouri selection committee for sculpture to be exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
According to a five-page handwritten autobiographical letter by Jim, “[he] studied in Missouri University, Washington University, St. Louis School of Fine Arts under Wuerple Goetch, Carpenter, Conway and Ludwig, [and] Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under Breckenridge, Speight, Garber, Carter, and others.” (May 8, 1944) Letters here show that, in the 1940s, Jim exhibited at the Whitney Museum, was a photographer for Life magazine, and had his drawings solicited for the National Academy of Art. The letters also show that from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s Jim’s work was shown at Herman Baron’s ACA Galleries (American Contemporary Art Galleries) in New York City.
Artists mentioned in the letters include futurist Joseph Stella; photographer W. Eugene Smith; sculptor Carl Mose; photographer Paul Strand; Cuban-American painter Carlos F. Lopez; sculptor Franz Sandow; Alfred Rogoway; painter and printmaker Harry Sternberg; and painter and printmaker Minna Citron.
During an extended visit to the artists’ colony at St. Miguel Allende in Mexico, Jim and Pete encountered other artists and traveled to Mexico City to see murals painted by Diego Rivera. There they met muralist and modernist Barbara Stevenson a.k.a. Judith Deim (who studied with Jim at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts); Diego Rivera’s muralist colleague, David A. Siqueiros (also associated with St. Miguel Allende); Rivera’s companion, photographer Nacho Lopez; and Siqueiros’ assistant Phil Stein. The Turnbulls’ discuss their encounter with Siqueiros in Mexico City and Siqueiros’ murals, then in progress, in some detail.
Woodstock artists mentioned or corresponded with include Arthur Zaidenberg (also at St. Miguel Allende), Ethel Megafan, her sister, Jenne Megafan and Jenne’s husband Edward Chavez, Fletcher Martin, modernist painter Arnold Blanch, and Phoebe Towbin.
Additional creative types the Turnbulls correspond with and/or encounter include ethnomusicologist Sam Eskin; modernist composer Henry Cowell and Cowell’s wife, ethnomusicologist Sidney Robertson Cowell; actor Sam Jaffe; art curator Meyric Rogers, and former war correspondent Walter Francis White, then Executive Secretary of the N.A.A.C.P. who shared a tent with Jim Turnbull as fellow war correspondents in the Philippines.
Additional manuscript material seen here includes a 1939 typed article by Jim written for the St. Louis Branch of the American Artists Congress, “The City Art Museum” (23pp); a similar 10-page article for the same organization entitled “Art and Labor” by Peter Keep; an 8-page narrative, possibly by Pete, on a 1928 trip to Nassau in the Bahamas entitled “Voyage of the S.S. Bahamian”; a one-act play by Jim and Pete, “She Stuffs to Conquer”; a risqué playlet “Kink Arthur and His Rounds of the Night Table” starring “LaPete Turnbullchitti (44-22-44) and Don Juan Pocotito (22-44-22)” in the roles of Tommy and Arthur, likely a wink to their friend and Woodstock/San Miguel de Allende artist friend Arthur Zaidenberg and his wife Tommy Beere; another “Zaidenberg” playlet, “Fifty Cheers for Arthur Zaidenberg”; and two original music compositions by Henry Cowell: “Birthday Piece” (“For Jim to hear; for Pete to play”) (1958) and “The Triumph of the Turnbulls!” (1955). Also seen is a typed copy of an essay, possibly kept by Jim as a student, entitled “For the Love of Art” by Paul Burlin, an important abstract expressionist who had been one of the youngest artists to exhibit at the fabled 1913 Armory Show in New York.
The archive consists primarily of outgoing correspondence by the Turnbulls, often jointly signed; much of the correspondence in the 1950s–1980s (the bulk of the archive) is written by Pete. Jim was ailing during this era, to varying degrees, though he was still working and exhibiting. Almost all the letters are carbon copies with recipients named, though not with their addresses. The letters are densely typed, mostly single space, and are often multiple pages. Their tone is natural, sometimes formal, but always full of family news, travel reports, and art doings. Pete herself may have arranged the archive into files, mostly by year; this arrangement has been maintained.
A few pieces of ephemera, exhibition literature, and photographs accompany the manuscripts and letters.
James Baare Turnbull’s exhibition history also includes the Walker Gallery in New York City, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the 1937 Corcoran Biennial and the 1938 Carnegie International, the St. Louis Museum of Art, the 1939 American Artists Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the Woodstock Artists Association, the Springfield Museum in Massachusetts, the Peabody Art Gallery, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Description: [1928–1987, Woodstock, New York and WPA Artist James B. Turnbull Archive of Retained Outgoing Letters, written by Him and His Wife, Peter Keep Turnbull].
[St. Louis, Missouri; New York and Woodstock, New York; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and various other places]. 1928–1939; 1943–1945; 1951–1987 (i.e. 1951–1972; 1975–1980; 1982–1987)]. Approx. 2300pp. Letters are mostly retained carbon-copy Typed Letters with some Autograph Letters Signed. Letters mostly kept in approx. sequence in folders by year. Very Good.
Falk III, pp3349–3350.