(Above) Gladys Nilsson to Mimi Gross and Red Grooms [postmarked 25 April 1969].

Letter; handwritten, ill.; 27 x 19 cm Mimi Gross papers, 1960 - 1981.

Painter Gladys Nilsson used United Airlines stationary to send a thank you note from the “friendly skies” to fellow artists Mimi Gross and Red Grooms. Nilsson connected her collage of smiling faces with a message cloud, expressing her thanks.

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(Above) William Cushing Loring to his parents, 14 July 1901.

Letter; handwriten, ill.; 21 x 14 cm
William Cushing Loring papers, 1899 - 1961.

In this letter to his parents, painter William Cushing Loring describes his neighborhood in Paris and the 72-hour Bastille Day celebration that was taking place there in July 1901.

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(Above) Allen Tupper True to Jane True [1927].

Letter; handwritten, ill.; 21.6 x 14 cm Allen Tupper True and True family papers, 1841 - 1987.

In a letter to his daughter, painter and illustrator Allen Tupper True embellished his hotel stationery to express his awe of New York city’s skyscrapers. He included himself as a speck on the street.

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(Above) Moses Soyer to David Soyer [1940].

Letter; handwritten, ill.; 29.7 x 21.5 cm Moses Soyer papers, 1920 - 1974 and undated.

Moses Soyer sent what he called a “puzzle picture” to his son, who was away at summer camp. In a watercolor vignette, he pictures the family dog and cat and baseball great Dizzy Dean. The baseball glove was shown flying from his home in New York to his son’s bunk at Camp Quannacut.


(Above) Eero Saarinen to Aline Bernstein [1953].

Letter; handwritten, ill.; 27.9 x 21.4 cm Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857 - 1972.

Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen often illustrated letters to his second wife, an art editor and later critic at “The New York Times,” the Michigan Music School, sketched here in plan and elevation, was finished in 1964.

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(Above) Paul Manship to Leon Kroll, ca. 1935.

Letter; handwritten, ill.; 27.8 x 21.5 cm Leon Kroll papers, 1916 - 1976.

In this note from sculptor Paul Manship to painter Leon Kroll, the sculptor recommends a model, Miss Miriam McCreedy, and sketches her voluptuous figure.

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(Above) Frida Kahlo to Emmy Lou Packard, 24 Oct. 1940.

Letter; handwritten, ill.; 19.7 x 14.5 cm Emmy Lou Packard papers, ca. 1900 - 1990.

Frida Kahlo, writing from New York, thanked her friend for taking care of Kahlo’s former husband, Diego Rivera. Kahlo signed her letter with red lipstick kisses - one for Emmy Lou, one for Diego, and one for Emmy Lou’s son, Donald. Kahlo and Rivera later remarried.

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(Above) Howard Finster to Barbara Shissler, 1981.

Letter; handwritten, ill.; 25.4 x 20.2 cm Howard Finster papers, 1932 - 1987.

Visionary artist and Baptist preacher Reverend Howard Finster wrote to curator Barbara Shissler about a trip to Washington, D.C., for the opening of an exhibition Shissler had organized at what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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(Above) Paul Bransom to Grace Bond, ca. 1905.

Letter; handwritten, ill.; 28 x 21.5 cm Paul Bransom Papers, 1862 - 1983.

Paul Bransom portrayed himself fixated on a photograph of his sweetheart. A year later, Bransom married Grace and sold five covers to “The Saturday Evening Post,” launching his career as a freelance illustrator.

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WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU ACTUALLY WROTE AN OLD-FASHIONED LETTER? If you are young (under 30) it is quite possible that you have never written a letter, save a “thank you” note or postcard. In fact, I dare say that handwriting skills are worse today than ever before. College students rarely have to hand write much of anything anymore. It’s all texted and twittered, emailed and skyped.

How did this happen? The popularization and dissemination of email technology in the late 1980s was the final nail in the coffin of this art form. Sure, letters are still written, but it is quickly vanishing.
These letters, from popular artists/architects and illustrators (above), reside in The Smithsonian Institution.

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