This collection consists of 277 reel-to-reel tapes of interviews conducted by Karl Eugene Fortess (1907-1993). The subjects of these interviews represent modern artists of the post World War II era. Interviews were conducted over the course of four decades between the 1950s to the 1980s.
17.4 linear feet and 277 reel-to-reel tapes
Karl E. Fortess Collection; Oral History Interviews with Artists. Bard Archives and Special Collections at Stevenson Library, Bard College.
Scope and Content:
This collection contains 277 reel-to-reel tapes of interviews conducted by Karl Fortess with modern artists from varying disciplines and backgrounds including painters, sculptors, printmakers, lithographers, and photographers. The purpose of these interviews, according to Fortess himself, was to gather information related to each artists’ professional and personal relationships that would be relevant to the personal and professional needs of an art student, who would greatly benefit from learning about current artists’ work and ideas. Some of the topics covered include: artist background, education, work patterns, teaching experience, early experiences and influences, and thoughts or ideas about contemporary trends gaining traction in the modern art world. These interviews were conducted in the northeastern United States, with most artist participants working in Woodstock, New York City, or Boston. Artists’ birthplaces reflect a rich diversity of cultural influences: Russia, Spain, Uraguay, Sweden Japan, Ukraine, Italy, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and France are all represented. Some of the artists featured within this collection include Herbert Aach, Antonio Frasconi, Dong Kingman, Edward Laning, Romare Bearden, Lily Harmon, Dorothy Varian, and hundreds of others. Interviews range in length, averaging about forty minutes each.
Biographical / Historical:
Karl Fortess (1907-1993) was a Belgian-born painter, print maker, and art educator in the Northeastern United States, specifically in Boston, MA and Woodstock, NY. Born October 13, 1907 in Antwerp, he became an American citizen in 1923. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York, and the Woodstock School of Painting with fellow artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi. His academic career expanded throughout the United States, which included the Art Students League, Brooklyn Museum Art School, Louisiana State University, Fort Wright College, and Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts, where he headed the School of Visual Arts printmaking department from 1956 to 1973. Other achievements include his memberships with the Artists Equity Association, Society of American Graphic Artists, American Association of University Professors, and the British Film Institute as well as being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946. He was named an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1960 and elected to full Academician in 1971. It was during his time at Boston University that the bulk of these interviews were conducted, being part of a larger project devised by Fortess in preparation for a federal grant proposal to the Office of Education, U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare, to conduct a study on the benefits to faculty and students in higher education of recorded interviews with artists as a resource. It was this undertaking that reflected Fortess’ personal belief that in order to succeed as a visual artist, students could benefit as much from learning other artists’ personal reflections, inspirations and influences as they would from learning to hone his or her own craft.
Facilitated by Professor Tom Wolf, the master reels were gifted from the estate of Karl Fortess to the Bard Archive and Special Collections at the Stevenson Library at Bard College in 1995.
Duplicate recordings of the 79 interviews conducted under the federal grant are also found at Boston University Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, and copies of all interviews are also located at Boston University School of Visual Arts Resource Library. Approximately 50 interviews with artists associated with Woodstock are located at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum, Woodstock, N.Y.
205 cassettes containing 268 interviews, are available for access at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art at both the Washington D.C. and New York Research Centers. 28 duplicate cassettes containing 26 of the 282 interviews are also available at Bard Archive and Special Collections Department at the Stevenson Library at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.