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Peek Inside The 'Little Black Books' Of Some Famous American Artists

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Peek Inside The 'Little Black Books' Of Some Famous American Artists

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Peek Inside The 'Little Black Books' Of Some Famous American Artists

Peek Inside The 'Little Black Books' Of Some Famous American Artists

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/435003085/435416101" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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  • Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's address book, circa 1950-1956
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    Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's address book, circa 1950-1956
    Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Kathleen Blackshear's address book, 1947-1957
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    Kathleen Blackshear's address book, 1947-1957
    Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Bernarda Bryson Shahn's address book, 1972-2002
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    Bernarda Bryson Shahn's address book, 1972-2002
    Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Ad Reinhardt's address book, circa 1950-1965
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    Ad Reinhardt's address book, circa 1950-1965
    Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Dorothy Liebes' address book, ca. 1950-1972
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    Dorothy Liebes' address book, ca. 1950-1972
    Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Palmer Hayden's address book, circa 1927-1932
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    Palmer Hayden's address book, circa 1927-1932
    Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

1 of 6

View slideshow i

Joseph Cornell's address book, ca. 1950-1970, is full of avant-garde artists throughout the U.S. and Europe. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution hide caption

toggle caption Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Joseph Cornell's address book, ca. 1950-1970, is full of avant-garde artists throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

In the 1980s-1990s, New York art dealer Holly Solomon kept a Rolodex filled with some 2,000 contacts. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution hide caption

toggle caption Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

In the 1980s-1990s, New York art dealer Holly Solomon kept a Rolodex filled with some 2,000 contacts.

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Dorothy Liebes' address book, ca. 1950-1972, was organized like the Yellow Pages. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution hide caption

toggle caption Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Dorothy Liebes' address book, ca. 1950-1972, was organized like the Yellow Pages.

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Susan Stamberg's own little red book is filled with addresses, phone numbers, her son's shoe size, her license plate number, the name of a favorite lipstick ... and other priceless information. Beth Novey/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Beth Novey/NPR

Susan Stamberg's own little red book is filled with addresses, phone numbers, her son's shoe size, her license plate number, the name of a favorite lipstick ... and other priceless information.

Beth Novey/NPR

It might be considered nosey to thumb through someone else's little black address book, but that doesn't bother Mary Savig, curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. "It is very nosey and that's why I really enjoy doing it," she says.

The "Little Black Books" of some major and minor American artists are currently on view in a show at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C.

"We can read correspondence and read diaries, and we can find out so much more about their process as artists, their everyday lives," Savig explains. The books show "the importance of their social networks, and how they would learn from each other and push each other to experiment in new ways."

Address books are relics now, but a young Archives intern named Leah Humenuck says the concept sounds familiar: They're for "artists or famous people having mistresses or something like that," Humenuck says. "Like a way to keep their affairs."

Savig shows a pocket-size book American painter Palmer C. Hayden kept in Paris in the 1930s. "He has French phrases that he jotted down as he went along," Savig says. "... He wrote 'I bet' in one, and even 'I love you.'" (You can see a page from Hayden's address book in the slideshow at the top of the page).

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's list of friends is a Who's Who of the day's top artists: Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, and critic Clement Greenberg. Also, in their address book, Pollock's psychologist and homeopathic doctor. (Savig says she didn't try any of the phone numbers.)

Address books get messier and messier over the years as numbers and addresses change. The little leather-covered books get splotched, frayed and dog-eared. New York art dealer Holly Solomon owned a hulking Rolodex jammed with more than 2,000 cards filled with the names of artists she represented: Laurie Anderson, Nam June Paik, William Wegman.

Mid-century textile designer Dorothy Liebes arranged her contacts like the Yellow Pages: restaurants, airlines, masseuses, boys and a mysterious category called "extra girls" — perhaps for dinner parties?

You can see the show for yourself — and speculate about the jottings of some of America's most famous artists — until Nov. 1.

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