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MoMA

EDWARD STEICHEN ARCHIVE: DELPHINIUMS BLUE (AND WHITE AND PINK, TOO)

Edward Steichen Archive: Delphiniums Blue (and White and Pink, Too)
Edward Steichen with delphiniums (c. 1938), Umpawaug House (Redding, Connecticut). Photo by Dana Steichen. Gelatin silver print. Edward Steichen Archive, VII. The Museum of Modern Art Archives

Edward Steichen with delphiniums (c. 1938), Umpawaug House (Redding, Connecticut). Photo by Dana Steichen. Gelatin silver print. Edward Steichen Archive, VII. The Museum of Modern Art Archives

Edward Steichen: painter, photographer, modern art promoter, museum curator, exhibition creator—and delphinium breeder.

Yes, in addition to his groundbreaking career as a visual artist and museum professional, Steichen was also a renowned horticulturist. While he lived in France, the French Horticultural Society awarded him its gold medal in 1913, and he served as president of the American Delphinium Society from 1935 to 1939. In the early 1930s, after leaving his position as chief of photography for the Condé Nast publications—including Vogue and Vanity Fair—and more than 10 years before beginning his career as Director of the Department of Photography at MoMA, he retired to his Connecticut farm to raise flowers.

Among the delphinium breeds Steichen hybridized there were “Carl Sandburg,” named for his brother-in-law and close friend (and Nobel Prize–winning poet and author), and, in the 1960s, “Connecticut Yankees”…

Carl Sandburg with the "Carl Sandburg" delphinium (c. 1938), Umpawaug House (Redding, Connecticut). Photo by Edward Steichen. Gelatin silver print. Seed packet of "Delphinium Connecticut Yankees," bred by Edward Steichen (c. 1973)

From left: Carl Sandburg with the "Carl Sandburg" delphinium (c. 1938), Umpawaug House (Redding, Connecticut). Photo by Edward Steichen. Gelatin silver print. Seed packet of "Delphinium Connecticut Yankees," bred by Edward Steichen (c. 1973). Offset, printed in color. Both images Edward Steichen Archive, VII. The Museum of Modern Art Archives

In June 1936, MoMA presented its first and only dedicated flower show, Edward Steichen’s Delphiniums, which exhibited—for one week only—plants Steichen had raised and then trucked to the Museum’s galleries himself. (Read the original press release for the exhibition in MoMA’s online press archives.)

Installation view of the exhibition Edward Steichen's Delphiniums. The Museum of Modern Art, June 24, 1936–July 1, 1936. The Museum of Modern Art Archives

Installation view of the exhibition, Edward Steichen's Delphiniums. June 24, 1936 through July 1, 1936. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photograph by Edward Steichen

MoMA has shown other living plants since then. Paula Hayes’s Nocturne of the Limax maximus, which includes “organically shaped vessels made from blown glass, silicone, or acrylic and filled with a rich variety of plant life,” can be seen in the MoMA lobby through April 18, 2011. Perhaps you will have a chance to see it in person; you can read about it, and hear artist Paula Hayes talk about her work, in her series of posts on Inside/Out.

I have found the items concerning Steichen, and a wealth of information about their creator, in the Edward Steichen Archive. Assembled in the Museum’s Department of Photography from 1968 to 1980 as a study resource on Steichen’s life and creative output, the archive includes original correspondence, photographs and sketches, still and moving images, tearsheets, and much more material still to be documented. In September 2010, I began a one-year project of rehousing and fully describing the archive under the auspices of MoMA’s Museum Archives. When the project is completed later this year, the collection will be fully accessible to researchers and scholars. Look for additional blog entries over the course of this year, as I discover more in the Edward Steichen Archive.

Comments

Thank you for sharing a fascinating story from your archive. I am sure there are more treasures such as this waiting to be discovered.

Thank you for this post, great photos and research. Steichen bought the property in 1928…built the house in 1940. I suggest this 1938 photo was most likely taken close to the barn, across the street, where many of the gardens were. My only interest is that I bought the barn in the mid 80s and restored it into my home. Indeed, a lovely place and beautiful grounds.

BEAUTIFUL!!!

What wonderful things are in that archive. So many thanks for the up-date.

Your update provides detail about Steichen that certainly helps remind us how a diversity of interest often nourishes creativity. Thanks.

I happened to live close to Edward Steichen’s home in Umpawaug, about 3 miles away in Branchville, CT.
On one occasion with my 8mm Movie Camera I took many pictures of Edward Steichen among his delphiniums and with his too Very Large Dogs.

I can furnish the clip, or do a screen capture of any of the scenes showing photographs of Steichen not seen by any body else.

Contact me if interested in seeing this valuable art not shown on any of his Bios.

Lou Shornick Age 93

Mr. Shornik:

How fascinating that you were neighbors, and that you made the connection here on Inside/Out with Steichen at home. The Edward Steichen Archive also contains some wonderful photos of those enormous dogs!

We are not acquiring additional material for the Archive, but thank you for your interest in the Museum Archives and the Edward Steichen Archive.

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