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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 2658

Nell Blaine papers


Diaries, correspondence, and professional papers of the American artist, Nell Blaine.


  • Creation: 1922-2002

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


11 linear feet (22 boxes)

The diaries series includes blank notebooks and appointment books that served as diaries, scrapbooks, datebooks, and sketchbooks. Content includes notes on her health; books she read, sometimes with detailed reactions; addresses; appointments; lists of Christmas cards sent; accounting; notes on wildlife and weather; and in detail, lists of her paintings and drawings--oils and watercolors, with note of the date and place created, size and sometimes marked favorites and items sold or exhibited. Many volumes contain pasted-in material, including clippings, leaves, pictures, stickers, ticket stubs, etc. Some volumes are titled, and some have tabs to mark named sections; these are noted where present.

The correspondence series is primarily letters to Blaine from friends, much of it dating from 1959 when she was stricken with polio in Greece. Some printed material is included as well as a few letters between others.

Also includes material from Blaine's work in graphic and commercial design and as a painter, biographical scrapbooks, sketchbooks, material related to Howard Griffin, travel scrapbooks, and coursework.

Biographical / Historical

Nell Blaine was born in Richmond (Va.) July 10, 1922. She attended the Richmond School of Art; studied with the artist Hans Hofmann in New York (N.Y.) from 1942-1944; studied etching and engraving at Atelier 17 with Stanley William Hayter in 1945; and attended the New School for Social Research from 1952-1953. She maintained a studio in Gloucester (Mass.) but also traveled and painted extensively in Austria, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, St. Lucia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and West Indies.

Blaine married Robert Bass, a musician, in 1943; they divorced in 1949. She contracted polio on Mykonos Island (Greece) in the fall of 1959, spending months in a hospital in New York and in an iron lung, but proving the medical opinion wrong that she would not paint again, laboriously retraining her hands. She used a wheelchair the rest of her life and suffered from post-polio syndrome from which she ultimately died November 14, 1996. She was survived by her companion of 30 years, Carolyn Harris, also a painter.

Blaine's painting began in realism, but at age 21 she was the youngest member of the group American Abstract Artists. She was a founding member of the Jane Street Gallery, an early artists' cooperative, and had her first solo show there in 1945. During a trip to Paris with Larry Rivers in 1950, she immersed herself in 19th-century European painting and from that point developed a vivid and colorful representational style for which she is best known. Her New York circle of artist and writer friends in the 1950's included John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, Leland Bell, Robert De Niro Sr. and Rudy Burckhardt. She exhibited solo at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1953 and was represented by the Poindexter Gallery and the Fischbach Gallery.

Howard Griffin was a poet and art critic and published notably on W. H. Auden and Frank O'Hara in literary journals and magazines. Griffin and Blaine were close friends, and Blaine served as executrix of Griffin's estate.


Arranged in series by the dealers and archivists involved in processing.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2002M-3. Purchased from John LeBow; received: 2002 August 5.

2020M-46. Gift of the Geoffrey Bayliss Trust, 2019.

2023M-85. Purchased from Sanctuary Books LLC with the Amy Lowell Trust, 2023 February 14.

Separated Materials

Printed books belonging to Nell Blaine were separated out for individual cataloging.

Processing Information

Processed by: Melanie Wisner

Blaine, Nell, 1922-1996. Nell Blaine papers, circa 1922-2002 (MS Am 2658): Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
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Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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