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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 460

Stella Bloch papers

Overview

Typescripts of essays and articles about dance, as well as artwork and sketchbooks by the Polish-born dancer, dance historian and artist Stella Bloch.

Dates

  • 1914-1991

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English and French.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.

Extent

6 linear feet (15 boxes, 4 folders)
The collection consists of selected essays and articles written by Bloch on subjects ranging from Isadora Duncan to philosophy to Eastern (Balinese, Cambodian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Javanese) dance and culture; artwork by Bloch featuring Duncan dancers, dancers and other performers in the Far East, and performers during the Harlem Renaissance; photographs of various subjects, including Balinese, Chinese, Javanese, and Kathakali dancers, the Eastman Theatre in Rochester, New York, chorus girls from the Harlem jazz scene, Nyota Inyoka, Ethel Barrymore, and portraits of Bloch in various costumes and genres, including Duncan, Spanish, Javanese, and flapper poses; and newspaper and magazine reviews featuring Bloch. The bulk of the material covers from the late 1910s through the Harlem Renaissance.

Also includes correspondence to, from, and regarding Bloch from Nyota Inyoka, George Cukor, and R. H. Macy & Co., and others; publicity and programs for Bloch's performances and exhibitions; subject files on people and events of significance to Bloch; and audio recordings of jazz music. There is almost no material on Bloch's family (parents, husbands, children) or early education; the correspondence series covers only the earliest years of Bloch's career.

While the artwork included in this collection contains nudes and portraits, it mainly consists of dancers and performers. Bloch used as her subjects Duncan dancers, Eastern dancers, New York City Ballet dancers, and most notably dancers, singers, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance.

Biographical / Historical

Stella Bloch was born in Poland between 1897 and 1899 to a Polish-born emigrant mother who had been living in New York. Her exact date of birth is unknown. Although born in Poland, due to her mother's distrust of American doctors, Bloch was raised in New York City. Inspired by an Isadora Duncan performance in 1914, Bloch began her earliest training with Duncan's first group of students, the Isadorables. She also became interested in Spanish dance. As an adolescent, Bloch took art classes from the Art Students League of New York. She began drawing and documenting the dance and dancers to which she was exposed.

Before she was twenty-years old, Bloch married Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, curator of Indian and Muhammadan Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The couple toured the Far East, where Bloch studied the dances of Bali, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, and Java. Her time in the East included a year spent in the palace of the Prince of Solo in Java to learn Javanese dance under an Eastern dance master. While abroad, Bloch recorded in her sketchbooks the costumes and dances of the cultures she experienced. Upon her return to Boston and New York, Bloch gave performances of Javanese dance and lectures on life in the Far East. She wrote articles for magazines, and was featured in newspapers and magazines as well. She published a book, Dancing and the Drama East and West (Orientalia, 1922), which contrasted Eastern theater with Western theater. The book also included some of Bloch's sketches from Bali, Cambodia, China, and Java. Bloch opened a studio and taught classes in natural movement as well as Javanese dance. Before 1923 she danced with Ballet Intime, an American company formed and led by Adolph Bolm, Michio Ito, and Roshanara. Bloch and Coomaraswamy divorced in the 1920s.

Bloch became involved in the Broadway circuit and performed in revues. She headlined at the Eastman Theatre in Rochester, New York, and also worked with the Garrick Gaieties at the Guild Theatre in New York City. While working on and off Broadway, Bloch met lyricist Edward Eliscu. The two were married in 1931.

Around this time, Bloch became involved in the Harlem jazz scene. She first spent time at the Cotton Club and Alhambra Theatre. She learned the authentic version of the Charleston from Cotton Club dancer Elida (Edna) Webb, and performed it to rave reviews by audiences and newspaper reporters alike. Bloch ventured into the clubs where white patrons did not go, where the jazz was hot and evolving. She preferred these clubs to white entertainment clubs such as the Cotton Club. Bloch also began sketching the performers at the night clubs. She became the first white woman to chronicle the Harlem Renaissance, and is most known for her artwork documenting this time period of artistic growth. She was respected by her jazz counterparts and formed acquaintances with them. Among the many performers she documented were Josephine Baker, Bessie Smith, Dusty Fletcher, and Thelonius Monk.

Bloch had many exhibitions of her artwork, primarily in New York but also in California, where she and Eliscu lived for a few years. Bloch's work was also exhibited at shows of African-American artists where she was the only white artist accepted to display. The exhibitions, at such galleries as Macy's and the Montross Gallery in New York City, brought recognition to Bloch, not only for her work documenting Harlem, but Duncan, Eastern, and New York City Ballet dancers as well.

Bloch and Eliscu moved to Connecticut in the mid-1960s. They had two children, David and Peter. During the 1960s Bloch wrote a four-act play about Isadora Duncan entitled Sundown. Publication information for Sundown is unknown. Bloch also continued her art exhibitions during this time. Eliscu died in 1998.

Bloch continued to exhibit her artwork into the late stages of her life. She died at the reported age of 101 of pneumonia on January 10, 1999, in the Bethel Health Care Center in Bethel, Connecticut.

Arrangement

Organized into the following series:
  1. I. Manuscripts and typescripts
  2. II. Published works
  3. III. Artwork by Stella Bloch
  4. ___A. Single artwork
  5. ___B. Sketchbooks
  6. IV. Correspondence
  7. V. Photographs
  8. ___A. Photographs
  9. ___B. Photograph albums
  10. VI. Reviews
  11. ___A. Exhibition reviews
  12. ___B. Scrapbooks of reviews
  13. VII. Publicity
  14. VIII. Subject files
  15. IX. Audio recordings

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2003MT-0213. Purchased from the estate of Edward Eliscu,1998; additional material received in 2001 January.

Related Materials

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University has in its collection approximately 650 personal letters from Ananda Coomaraswamy to Stella Bloch.

Processing Information

The collection came to the Harvard Theatre Collection partially arranged, by an unknown person. Some of the artworks arrived in acidic mats. They were removed from the mats to prevent damage to the artwork, but gallery numbers were retained where relevent.

The collection was processed in summer 2000 by Hannah Kosstrin, an intern from Goucher College, under the supervision of Beth Carroll-Horrocks, Technical Services Librarian. Revised Feb. 27, 2004.
Link to catalog
Title
Bloch, Stella. Stella Bloch papers, 1914-1991: Guide.
Author
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
EAD ID
hou01455

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

Contact:
Harvard Yard
Harvard University
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2440