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SC 26

Wilmarth, Christopher, 1943-1987. Papers of Christopher Wilmarth, 1943-2011: 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 26
Repository: Harvard Art Museum Archives, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University
Title: Papers of Christopher Wilmarth, 1943-2011: A Guide
Date(s): 1943-2011
Quantity: 23.1 linear feet (27 file boxes, 4 half file boxes, 8 record cartons, oversize materials)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Collection documenting the personal and professional life of artist Christopher Wilmarth. The collection contains correspondence with art dealers, clients, colleagues, and museums; exhibition catalogues; personal writings such as song lyrics and essays; estate records; and photographs, slides, and transparencies of Wilmarth's art.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

The collection was donated to the Harvard Art Museums by Susan Wilmarth in 2001; addenda was donated by Phyllis Rabineau in 2012 and 2015.

Processing Information:

The collection was catalogued by Harvard Art Museums staff in 2007, and processed by Annette Diola with assistance from Megan Schwenke and Michelle Interrante in 2016. The finding aid was created by Annette Diola in December 2016 and revised and encoded by Megan Schwenke and Michelle Interrante in May 2017.

Conditions on Access:

Access: Access to most of the Christopher Wilmarth Papers is unrestricted. Access to sensitive or financial materials may be closed to research as noted in the finding aid.

Conditions on Use:

Copyright: Copyright in materials by Christopher Wilmarth is held by his estate. Copyright in other papers may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Christopher Wilmarth Estate and the Harvard Art Museums Archives before publishing from any material in the collection.
Copying: Papers may be copied in accordance with the Harvard Art Museums Archives' usual procedures.

Related Material

This material complements the accessioned works of art by Christopher Wilmarth in the Harvard Art Museums collection. The Harvard Art Museums Archives hold related materials including specifications for the installation of Wilmarth's sculptures, compiled via a Special Collections website. Additional papers related to Christopher Wilmarth are held by The Archives of American Art.


Christopher Mallery Wilmarth was born in Sonoma, California on June 11, 1943. His parents, William Mallery James and Stephanie Stefanssen, divorced when Wilmarth was very young, and his mother remarried Charles M. Wilmarth. The family moved to Palo Alto, then San Francisco, where they eventually settled. As a teenager, Wilmarth attended the Wilmerding School of Industrial Arts, whose curriculum placed emphasis on technical and fine arts courses. He assisted sculptor Tony Smith until 1960 when, at the age of seventeen, Wilmarth moved to New York to attend Cooper Union. In 1964, Wilmarth married fellow Cooper Union classmate Susan Rabineau in Valhalla, New York. He graduated from Cooper Union with a BFA in 1965.
Wilmarth's work quickly garnered recognition in New York galleries and museums. In 1966, he participated in his first group exhibition, Annual 1966: Contemporary Sculptures and Prints, at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He exhibited Wet, a painted wooden sculpture. In the same year, he got a commission to create a glass and wood cabinet. This commission was the first time he worked with glass, and work with this medium would inform many of his later works. In 1968, Wilmarth had his first solo art exhibition at the Graham Gallery in New York and, inspired by Hank Williams, he also began writing music and lyrics under the name "Chris James." A year later, he completed his first art series made completely of glass, including the works Gye's Arcade and Go.
While exhibiting and working on his own pieces, Wilmarth taught classes in sculpture. He returned to Cooper Union in 1969 and over the next eleven years, he and his students conducted art exhibitions and projects throughout the city. Two notable projects they carried out were "Pier Project" and "Reo," which used the vaults under the Brooklyn Bridge and empty lots and piers near Fulton Street Fish Market to display student work. In 1970, Wilmarth received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. He later went on to teach at Columbia University.
Although he continued to show his work in exhibitions in the early to mid-1970s, Wilmarth grew dissatisfied with the art market. In 1978, he established the Studio for the First Amendment whose slogan was "Support your local independent artist." The studio's first exhibition was called Christopher Wilmarth: Recent Sculpture, held in conjunction with another exhibition called Christopher Wilmarth: Sculptures and Drawings at the Grey Art Gallery and Study Center at New York University. On September 23, 1978, Wilmarth picketed the André Emmerich Gallery, which he claimed raised the price of his artwork but did not make it clear to patrons that they did not represent him.
During the same year, poet Frederick Morgan asked Wilmarth to make illustrations for his translations of 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé's work. This project would turn into another one of Wilmarth's most well-known art series, Breath. In 1982, Wilmarth finally exhibited Breath for the first time at the Studio for the First Amendment in a show called Christopher Wilmarth: Breath. Notably, Wilmarth joined the gallery Hirschl & Adler Modern. In 1983, he closed the Studio for the First Amendment, but was able to exhibit his works Layers (1984) and Delancey Backs (1986) at Hirschl & Adler. Delancey Backs was accompanied by a series of interviews authored by Wilmarth under the pseudonym Celadón.
Wilmarth committed suicide on November 19, 1987. His last completed sculpture was called Self-Portrait with Sliding Lights. Susan Wilmarth, an artist as well, continued to advocate for his work on his behalf until her death in 2011. In 2003, an exhibition titled Christopher Wilmarth: Drawing into Sculpture took place at the Fogg Museum in Cambridge and was accompanied by an archival collection gift from the Christopher Wilmarth Estate to the Harvard Art Museums.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

Scope and Content

The Christopher Wilmarth Papers span the artist's personal life and career until his death in 1987. The collection also holds materials documenting his posthumous career collected by his estate via his widow, Susan Wilmarth, from 1987 until her death in 2011.
Materials in the collection have been rehoused into acid-free folders and boxes. Curatorial staff catalogued the initial accession in 2007, and assigned each folder an object number beginning with "CW2001" in the order in which the materials were received. Original folder titles were only sporadically carried forward. Addenda materials have not been assigned object numbers and original folder titles have been retained when present. The processing archivist arranged the materials from both accessions into series to reflect the full content of the collection and for ease of research. Additional arrangement by the processing archivist into chronological or alphabetical order within series is noted accordingly. Object numbers assigned to folders in 2007 were retained in this guide and are noted in brackets: researchers should include these numbers in folder requests.
Reference is made to the Archives of American Art in some series; in 1989, Susan Wilmarth donated a selection of Christopher Wilmarth's papers and other materials to that repository. The collection was microfilmed, and a set of photocopies of the material was maintained by Susan Wilmarth in her studio. These photocopies are found throughout this collection.






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