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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 783

Papers of Cornelia Chapin, 1822-1959


Artwork, diaries, clippings, photographs, family correspondence, etc., of sculptor Cornelia Van Auken Chapin.


  • Creation: 1822-1959

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Cornelia Chapin is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


1.25 linear feet ((3 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio+ folder, 9 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folders, 2 folio+ photograph folders, 23 lantern slides)

The papers of Cornelia Chapin include artwork, photographs, and diaries of sculptor Cornelia Chapin, as well as family correspondence and newspaper clippings.

Schuyler Chapin, Cornelia Chapin's nephew, gave these papers to the Schlesinger Library in 1982. At that time, he also donated material belonging to Eleanor Cotton Burden and Lillian Cotton Impey, his maternal aunts. Though also artists, these women have no direct connection to Cornelia Chapin; therefore, when the Chapin collection was processed in 2014, Cotton family material was separated and now forms MC 790, Lillian Cotton Papers.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1904-1959 (#1.1-3.4, FD.1, F+D.1), includes Cornelia Chapin's diaries, sketches, clippings, notes, correspondence, and other assorted papers. This series contains several of Chapin's diaries documenting her travels in Europe, as well as early sketchbooks and engravings. Also included are clippings regarding Chapin's work, her many exhibitions and awards, and public lectures she gave on the art of sculpture. Additionally, clippings regarding Chapin's friend, fellow sculptor and roommate Marion Sanford, are included. This series is arranged alphabetically, and chronologically thereunder.

Series II, CHAPIN AND ANDREWS FAMILY, 1822-1959 (#3.5-3.18), includes correspondence, clippings, diary pages, bills, and other assorted papers. This series contains papers from Chapin's godmother Charlotte Osgood (Van der Veer) Mason's family (the Van der Veers), as well as correspondence of Chapin's grandmother Catherine Andrews, her mother Cornelia Garrison Chapin, and her father Lindley Hoffman Chapin. Also included are clippings regarding Chapin's sister Katherine Biddle, a poet, and her brother in-law Francis Biddle, the 58th attorney General of the United States. Of note is correspondence and biographical material related to the memorial for Chapin's grandfather, Judge George Andrews, who presided in trials of former slave traders. This series is arranged by family member and chronologically thereunder.

Series III, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1895-1947, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.13), includes photographs, cabinet cards, postcards, and lantern slides. This series contains professional portraits of Chapin as a child and a young woman, photographs of Chapin at work with her mentor Mateo Hernandez, and photographs of Chapin's sculptures. Also included are portraits of Chapin's grandmother Catherine Andrews, as well as various unidentified portraits. This series is arranged roughly chronologically.


Cornelia Van Auken Chapin was born in 1893 at Waterford, near New London, Connecticut. She was the youngest child of Lindley Hoffman Chapin and Cornelia Garrison Van Auken Chapin, and part of a prominent family. Cornelia Chapin was a descendant of Judge George Andrews, who presided in the trials of former slave traders, and Cornelius Garrison, a wealthy merchant involved with the building of railroads. Cornelia Garrison Van Auken Chapin and her mother, Catherine Andrews, were very active in the New York City social scene in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Chapin's sister was poet Katherine Biddle, and her brother in-law Francis Biddle was a former United States Attorney General.

Chapin spent her childhood in New York City where she attended private schools, and also traveled extensively in Europe, often keeping diaries and notes about her travels. Her interests included book collecting, dramatics, and aeronautics; she became one of the first women to receive a pilot's license. Though she had previously dabbled in pencil sketches and watercolors, in the early 1920's, Cornelia Chapin decided that sculpture was her main interest, and she studied with Gail Sherman Corbett. In 1930 she began to exhibit her work, and in 1934 she studied in Paris as the only pupil of Mateo Hernandez. From Hernandez Chapin learned the art of direct carving, and from that time on, all of her exhibited works were carved directly from life in stone and wood, without making preliminary models or sketches.

Cornelia Chapin is noted for her stone models of birds and animals, although in later years she added human figures to her repertoire. She quickly gained wide renown and exhibited in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, DC, New Jersey, Maine, and Paris; lectured informally at museums and schools on "Carving Direct From Life, Some Tales and Tools"; and was accepted as a member of the National Academy of Design in 1945. Chapin was also active in numerous artistic organizations, maintaining memberships in the National Sculpture Society, the "Philadelphia Ten" (a group of female artists who exhibited work in Philadelphia), and Artists for Victory, Inc. She was as well the only foreign and only woman sculptor elected to the Societaire Salon d'Automne, Paris (in 1936). Chapin won numerous awards and prizes for her sculptures during the 1930's and 1940's.

After returning to the United States in 1939, Chapin worked in a New York City studio which had formerly belonged to sculptor Gutzon Borglum, sharing the space with friend and fellow sculptor Marion Sanford. In their later years, Chapin and Sanford lived and worked together in Lakeville, Connecticut, where Chapin remained until her death in 1972.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1904-1959 (#1.1-3.4, FD.1, F+D.1)
  2. Series II. Chapin and Andrews family, 1822-1959 (#3.5-3.18)
  3. Series III. Photographs, 1825-1945 (#PD.1-PD.13)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 82-M19

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library in February 1982 by Schuyler Chapin, Cornelia Chapin's nephew.

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: March 1982

By: Gene Thompson

Processed: March 2014

By: Leah Edelman, with assistance of Emily Underwood.

Chapin, Cornelia, 1893-1972. Papers of Cornelia Chapin, 1822-1959: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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