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SC 15

Ossorio, Alfonso, 1916-1990. Papers of Alfonso Ossorio and Edward Dragon Young, 1902-2000: A Guide

Harvard Art Museum Archives, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University
The President and Fellows of Harvard College

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: SC 15
Repository: Harvard Art Museum Archives, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University
Creator: Ossorio, Alfonso, 1916-1990.
Creator: Young, Edward Dragon
Title: Papers of Alfonso Ossorio and Edward Dragon Young, 1902-2000: A Guide
Date(s): 1902-2000
Quantity: 48 linear feet (98 file boxes, 3 card boxes + oversize materials)
Abstract: These materials of abstract expressionist artist Alfonso Ossorio and his partner Ted Dragon contain correspondence with family and friends (including many well-known artists), photographs of Dragon and Ossorio and their circle of friends, as well as their estate in East Hampton, "The Creeks." Also included are Ossorio's materials from his time as a Harvard undergraduate and records detailing Ossorio's work with conifers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

The collection was donated to the Harvard Art Museums Archives in 2008 by the Ossorio Foundation.

Processing Information:

The collection was processed from 2009 to 2011 by Erin Murphy, with assistance from Amanda Ferrara and Brittany Murphy. Updates to the finding aid were made in 2015 by Megan Schwenke.

Conditions on Access:

Access to most of the Ossorio materials is unrestricted. Access to sensitive or financial materials may be closed to research as noted in the finding aid. Ted Dragon's personal papers are closed to research until October 2, 2036.

Conditions on Use:

Copyright: Copyright in materials by Alfonso Ossorio is held by his heirs or assigns. Copyright in materials by Edward Dragon Young is held by his heirs or assigns. Copyright in other papers may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Ossorio Foundation and the Harvard Art Museums Archives before publishing from any material in the collection.
Copying: Papers may be photocopied in accordance with the Harvard Art Museums Archives' procedures.

Biography: Alfonso Ossorio

Alfonso Angel Ossorio Y Yangco was born in 1916 on the Island of Luzon in Manila, Philippines, the fourth of six boys. His mother, Maria Paz Yangco (Pacita), was of Filipino-Spanish-Chinese descent and his father, Miguel José Ossorio, founded a large sugar refinery in the Philippines, Victorias Milling Company, in 1919 that is still in production today.
Ossorio spent much of his childhood in England with his mother and two younger brothers, Frederic (Eric), and Robert (Bobby), attending Catholic preparatory schools. He came to the United States in 1930 to attend the Portsmouth Priory, a Benedictine high school run by monks in Providence, Rhode Island from 1930-1934. Ossorio became an American citizen in 1933, after which, he began his undergraduate training at Harvard (1934-1938). Despite his father's resistance, while at Harvard, Ossorio concentrated in Fine Arts, taking classes taught by Edward Waldo Forbes and Thomas Whittemore, among others. His thesis was titled "Spiritual Influences on the Visual Image of Christ." It was during his college years that he met many mentors and peers who would be influential to him throughout his life including Eric Gill, Philip Hofer, Lincoln Kirstein, and Paul Cadmus. During his summer vacations, he would study with Eric Gill at Gill's workshop, St. Dominic's Guild, in Sussex, England. There he researched medieval art and began creating wood engravings. After his matriculation from Harvard, Ossorio spent a short time studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), learning egg tempura techniques.
In 1940, Ossorio married Bridget Hubrecht. As she was a divorcee, this match was unacceptable to his family, so the two eloped and moved to a cottage on a ranch owned by Frieda Lawrence, the widow of D. H. Lawrence, in Taos, New Mexico. They were married for about two years. During this time he began producing surrealist art, and it was in Taos that he met Betty Parsons, who would give him his first show. After his divorce from Hubrecht, Ossorio enlisted in the army as a medical illustrator. Prior to his service, he was hit by a taxi and fractured his leg, an injury that would plague him for many years. Once stationed at Camp Ellis in Illinois, Ossorio was tasked with drawing surgical procedures, many of which were very graphic and gruesome, the influence of which can be seen in his art. Ossorio was discharged from the army in 1947.
In 1948, Ossorio met Edward Dragon Young, a ballet dancer known as Ted Dragon, who would be Ossorio's partner for over 50 years. In the late 1940's and early 1950's, Ossorio met Jackson Pollock, his wife, Lee Krasner, and Jean and Lili Dubuffet. He and Dragon became incredibly close with both couples, and Ossorio purchased his new home, The Creeks, in East Hampton near the Pollocks. He also traveled to Paris to meet with the Dubuffets, later working to transport and exhibit Dubuffet's L'Art Brut collection at The Creeks.
In 1950, Ossorio traveled, for the first time since his childhood, to Victorias in the Philippines to create a mural for the Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker, titled "The Angry Christ." Ossorio's family built the chapel for the residents of Victorias after World War II, and Ossorio worked with Ade de Bethune on the decoration. In the late 1950's Ossorio founded Signa Gallery in East Hampton with John Little and Elizabeth Parker. Throughout the 1960's, Ossorio continued to exhibit his own work, the Art Brut collection, and other pieces of art he had been collecting. The Creeks was filled with continually rotating pieces of art.
Ossorio worked in many different media during his artistic career. He was best known for his assemblages, which he called "congregations," but he also created wood engravings, sketches, watercolors, and painting. Struggles with religion, science, life and death, and sexuality were common themes, and some of his work could be quite gruesome. Later in life, at The Creeks, Ossorio began creating sculpture and gardens, focused mainly on his strategic planting of conifers. At one point, he maintained one of the most diverse conifer collections in North America. In addition to creating and collecting art, Ossorio was also an important financial supporter of other artists, including Jackson Pollock.
Ossorio died of a ruptured aneurysm on December 5th, 1990, at the age of 74.

Biography: Edward Dragon Young

Edward Dragon Young (Ted Dragon) was born on April 24, 1921 in Northampton, Massachusetts to Raymond Louis Young and Carena Dragon Young. Dragon was interested in the arts from an early age, aspiring at first to become a pianist, but later turning towards ballet. He performed on Broadway as a chorus boy in the 1941 production of Agnes de Mille's "One Touch of Venus" and went on to work with the Paris Ballet and the New York City Ballet. It was de Mille who told him at an audition to drop his last name.
Dragon halted his ballet career once he met Ossorio in 1948. After Ossorio purchased The Creeks in 1952, Dragon took control of decorating and entertaining. He arranged furniture, and planned elaborate dinner parties, paying special attention to the menu and wine.
In the late 1950's Dragon ran afoul of the law when he was arrested for stealing valuable antique furniture from homes in the neighborhood. When asked why he would do such a thing, Dragon remarked, "…sometimes I was appalled at how badly the furniture was being kept." After he stole pieces, he refurbished and restored them to their former glory. A number of people whose furniture he had taken even wrote thank-you notes once their furniture was returned in better condition.
Upon the death of Ossorio, Dragon was willed The Creeks and $100,000. Mr. Dragon sold The Creeks to Ron Perelman in 1993, and moved into a small cottage in East Hampton, attending church regularly and delivering Meals-on-Wheels to those in need. He established the Ossorio Foundation in the mid 1990's to keep the public informed about the life and art of Alfonso Ossorio.
Dragon died at his cottage in East Hampton on October 2, 2011 at the age of 90.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

The collection is arranged into six series: Personal, Work, Correspondence, Financial, The Creeks, and Edward Dragon Young (Ted Dragon). Each series is further divided into subseries. Some papers are arranged in topical subgroupings within their subseries. For example, in the "Biographical" subseries, "Identification and Legal Documents" is one grouping, while "Biographical Articles and Clippings" is another.

Scope and Content:

The papers in this collection document Alfonso Ossorio's life from boyhood to death, and Edward Dragon Young's time as a ballet dancer through his life at The Creeks. The bulk of the material dates from the 1930's-1990. The papers consist of a broad range of material including but not limited to correspondence with dealers, artists, and colleagues; sketchbooks, photographs, blueprints, and financial documents.
All materials in the collection have been rehoused into acid-free folders and boxes. Folders have been arranged by the processing archivist as there was very little original order to the papers upon arrival. Folder titles written by Ossorio or the Ossorio Foundation have been retained, and any information added by the archivist (titles/dates) has been placed in square brackets [ ].
When possible, acidic documents have been isolated from neighboring materials to mitigate damage. Extremely fragile materials have been placed in Mylar sleeves. Oversized items have been separated and housed in appropriately sized containers. The location of these items is marked in the finding aid.

Box and Folder Locations

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