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Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987 (bulk 1952-1986)

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Wagstaff (Samuel) Papers

Scope and Content of Collection

The Samuel Wagstaff papers document his activities as curator and collector, with a focus on his collections and collecting processes. The papers are rich in correspondence and include letters from artists, photographers and staff from cultural institutions. Also included are original photographs, both contemporary and historic, as well as non-photographic original artworks. Among other materials are slides, negatives, postcards, film reels, prints and drawings.

Series I is a collection of snapshots by Wagstaff, including color photographs (sometimes housed in albums), color negatives, color slides, black-and-white contact prints and black-and-white negatives. The collection highlights cultural institutions, landmarks, urban and industrial landscapes, various exteriors and city inhabitants. New York City is featured heavily. London, Paris, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Detroit are also documented. This series is also rich in portraiture, including nudes, self-portraits, portraits of Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith and others.

Series II traces the development of Wagstaff's various collections through correspondence, receipts and other documentation, and also includes original works of art by Dan Basen, Robert Morris and Gordon Newton. The focus of the series is Wagstaff's collections of photography, silver, postcards, and contemporary art, but items from his less-known collections of prints, flowers, currency and postage are also included. Correspondents represented in this series include artists Agnes Martin, Michael Heizer, Alan Saret, Tony Smith and H.C. Westermann. Letters received, receipts and papers in this series often provide substantial provenance information related to items in Wagstaff's collections. The papers include information on photographs and other materials now owned by the Getty Museum.

Series III contains family photographs, including pictures of Wagstaff at various ages, and members of his immediate and extended family. The series also contains assorted financial and personal documents, such as estate papers, tax records, property ownership documents, medical records, astrological papers and identification.

Series IV contains the letters that were not filed by Wagstaff in another series. The bulk of the correspondence in this series is from the 1970s and 1980s, after Wagstaff had stopped working as a professional curator and moved back to New York to focus on collecting.

Series V contains photographs and documents regarding exhibitions, publications and artist research by Wagstaff. This series includes documents regarding the founding of Wagstaff's publishing company, Gray Press, and its only publication, A Book of Photographs from the Collection of Sam Wagstaff. Also in this series is a collection of cat photographs assembled by Wagstaff in relation to an article he wrote for Artforum (1986).

The ephemera in Series VI consists of posters and exhibition announcements. Clippings include articles profiling Wagstaff and his collections.

Series VII contains a film reel labeled, "Potatoes on a Studio Floor," as well as seven unidentified film reels and four undeveloped reels. Films are unavailable until reformatting is complete.


Arranged in seven series:
Series I. Snapshots, 1969-1983, undated;
Series II. Collections, 1819-1987;
Series III. Personal papers, 1796-1986;
Series IV. Correspondence, 1909-1986;
Series V. Projects, 1914-1986;
Series VI. Ephemera and assorted papers, 1941-1986;
Series VII. Film reels, undated.

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