May 14, 2020

New York Public Library Acquires Archive of Dancer and Choreographer Martha Graham

Martha Graham in Hérodiade, circa 1944. Photo: Cris Alexander.

NEW YORK—The New York Public Library of the Performing Arts has acquired the archive of influential dance artist Martha Graham (1894–1991). During her long and illustrious career, Graham created 181 choreographic works, founded the longest-running dance company in the United States, and became a pioneer of twentieth-century dance. Spanning forty linear feet and featuring over four-hundred audio and moving image items, the multimedia collection comprises films, photographs, choreography notes, correspondence, and other historical materials, pertaining to her childhood, her legendary career, and her creative legacy.

“Martha Graham is a giant in the American cultural landscape,” said Linda Murray, curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the Library for the Performing Arts. “Her codification of the philosophical ideals of modern dance created a new mode of expression that still underpins the training of dancers across the globe today. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division houses the collections of Graham’s teachers, peers and acolytes so we are incredibly excited to add the archive of the Graham Company to our holdings.”

Highlights of the collection include the film of iconic works including Appalachian Spring, Frontier, Letter to the World and American Document; tintype family photographs from Graham’s childhood; an extensive photograph collection of Graham’s canon by photographers Barbara Morgan and Soichi Sunami, among others; and sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s set drawings for Seraphic Dialogue, including handwritten notes by the artist. The company also recently remastered historic films and digitized its extensive collection of images and documents as part of a three-year project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Janet Eilber, artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, which was established in 1926, said, “We see this new home for our archives with the Jerome Robbins Collection as the ideal partner in our ongoing efforts to connect with new and varied audiences. The library offers public access and expert curation that not only secures and celebrates the unmatched influence of Martha’s revolution in dance, but extends it into the future so that it can be explored, embraced and taken as inspiration for things that have not yet been imagined.”

The Jerome Robbins Dance Division, the world’s largest dance archive, houses materials from Graham’s mentors and teachers Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, contemporaries Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, dancers in her company including Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Jean Erdman, and countless others who sought her out as a collaborator including Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev. The library will process and catalog the Martha Graham archive over the next two years. It will then be available to users in the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center.

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