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James Lee Byars - Dorothy C. Miller Correspondence

in The Museum Of Modern Art Archives

The Museum of Modern Art
Museum Archives
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019-5497

© 2006 The Museum of Modern Art. All rights reserved.
The Museum of Modern Art, Publisher
Finding aid prepared by Eve Lambert, 2004.
Machine-readable finding aid derived from various sources, 2006. Machine-readable finding aid created by Jonathan Lill. Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: The Museum of Modern Art Archives
Title: James Lee Byars - Dorothy C. Miller Correspondence in The Museum of Modern Art Archives
Dates: 1961-1987
Quantity: Four 5" document boxes, 2 Paige boxes and 1 Over-sized box.


The Papers are arranged in one series, which is comprised solely of correspondence material; much of the correspondence in the collection has been written on art objects or art objects have been maintained in their original packaging. The Papers were received in one 5" document box that contained the bulk of Byars' correspondence and two 10" x 12" x 15" boxes and one Paige box. The first 5" document box was originally filed in a rudimentary chronology, and these items were processed in their original order. The remaining boxes consisted of correspondence and art objects organized in no discernible order. These items have been placed into acid-free folders and assigned numbers. Correspondence was removed from the first 10" x 12" x 15" box and placed in acid-free folders which were then housed in 5" document boxes. The remaining objects were individually surveyed and appropriate conservation measures were made. Each item in the collection has been unwrapped, transcribed (as necessary), and assessed for long-term preservation.
Processed 2004, by Eve Lambert, Deadalus Fellow, under the direction of Michelle Elligott, Museum Archivist.

Biographical Note

James Lee Byars: Byars was born in Detroit in 1932. He studied art, psychology, and philosophy at Wayne State University and the Merrill Palmer School of Psychology, graduating in 1955. A 1957 meeting with artist Morris Graves led Byars to move to Japan, where he lived until 1963, studying Buddhist philosophy and Noh theater in Kyoto. Byars met Dorothy Miller in 1958, when she arranged for his New York debut by exhibiting Byars' folded paper pieces for a few hours in an empty stairwell at The Museum of Modern Art. His practice of one-sided correspondence allowed him to explore an imaginative manipulation of paper. In addition to Dorothy Miller, Byars also engaged Joseph Beuys and Parisian art dealer Christiane Germain in one-sided correspondence.

Dorothy Miller: Dorothy Canning Miller was born in Hopedale, Massachusetts in 1904, and grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. She graduated from Smith College in 1925 and was hired by the Newark Museum in 1926 after enrolling in their apprentice program. It was there that she began working with modern American art, catching the attention of The Museum of Modern Art Director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who hired her as his assistant in 1934. The first exhibition for which she was responsible was New Horizons in American Art [MoMA Exh. #52, September 14-October 12, 1936]. As one of the first curators at The Museum of Modern Art, Miller became a pioneer of modern American art, organizing a series of "Americans" exhibitions that helped to establish the careers of such artists as Pollock, Rothko, Stella, and Byars. After only a year at MoMA, Miller became Assistant Curator in Painting and Sculpture, and in 1942 was made Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture. From 1943 she was Curator of Painting and Sculpture, until 1947, when she was made the Curator of Museum Collections, a position she held until 1967. From 1968 - 69, Miller was the Senior Curator in Museum Collections, until her retirement in 1969. Miller passed away in 2003 at the age of 99.


Location and Access

The records are open for research and contain no restricted materials.

Holdings of the MoMA Archives are available for consultation in the Archives Reading Room in the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building of The Museum of Modern Art

The James Lee Byars - Dorothy C. Miller Correspondence is stored at MoMAQNS, and is made available by appointment at the Cullman Center or at the QNS location. Please contact the Archives for further details.

Ownership and Literary Rights

The James Lee Byars - Dorothy C. Miller Correspondence is the physical property of The Museum of Modern Art. Literary rights, including copyright belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Rights to work produced during the normal course of Museum business resides with The Museum of Modern Art. For further information, and to obtain permission to publish or reproduce, contact the Museum Archivist.

Related Collections at MoMA and Elsewhere

The Dorothy C. Miller Papers are maintained by The Museum of Modern Art Archives and contain information on Miller's exhibitions and activities during her time at the Museum.

The Public Information Records include extensive clippings regarding nearly every Museum exhibition, personality, and event.

For complementary exhibition-related materials, please consult the Registrar Exhibition Files.

The Department of Circulating Exhibitions Records (CE) include information regarding MoMA exhibitions that toured domestically.

The Records of the International Program (ICE) include documentation regarding exhibitions that circulated internationally.

Administrative Information


The documents were initially collected by Dorothy Miller, Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture, and were given by Miller to the Museum Library in 1986. The collection was accessioned to the Museum Archives via internal transfer in 1998.

Preferred Citation

The James Lee Byars - Dorothy C. Miller Correspondence, [series.folder]. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York.

For subsequent citations the abbreviated version may be used: Byars - Miller Correspondence, [series.folder]. MoMA Archives, NY.


Many of the letters from Byars have been written on or consist of paper, cloth, or plastic that had been folded, rolled, or crumpled. The correspondence contains a great deal of organic matter such as leaves, flowers, seeds, or stones.

There have been several measures taken to preserve the material. Extensive preservation was necessary to ensure the stability of the material and the integrity of its content. All correspondence has been removed from any envelope or enclosure, which was then placed behind the document. Whenever possible, material has been unfolded and flattened. Fragile material has been enclosed in Mylar sleeves and backed with acid-free paper. Where there is the presence of small or delicate material, the Mylar has been completely sealed to prevent loss or damage. Some items have also been mounted on acid-free paper with archival-grade double-sided tape to enable researchers to easily view the material without damaging the items. When necessary, the archivist has transcribed the contents of the letter onto acid-free paper and enclosed the transcription and original letter in the same Mylar sleeve or within the acid-free folder to minimize wear on the material while enabling researchers to read the contents of the letter. This is noted in the finding aid. In some cases, Byars' letters were transcribed by Dorothy Miller's assistants and this is noted in the finding aid as "Original transcript included." There are instances where one large envelope contains several smaller identical envelopes and contents. In this case, everything has been enclosed in one Mylar sleeve into which a sheet of acid-free paper was inserted, creating a front and back. On the front of this Mylar sleeve an example of the smaller envelope and its contents has been mounted with archival-grade double-sided tape. The remaining examples, enclosed within the larger envelope, have been placed on the other side of the acid-free paper within the Mylar sleeve.

Additional Descriptive Data

Explanation of Abbreviations

AL is an Autographed Letter not signed.
ALS is an Autographed Letter Signed.
TLS is a Typed Letter Signed.
TL stands for Typed Letter.
MoMA is The Museum of Modern Art.
n.d. stands for no date.

MoMA Exh. #, or just Exh. #, followed by a date, refers to the number assigned to the exhibition and the date it was shown at The Museum of Modern Art.

Container List


Folder Description

Folder Title Date
I.1 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Correspondence

TL DCM-Recommendation for JLB (2/14/1961)
Application materials for grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation.
Correspondence concerning the transportation and storage of work JLB submitted to grant committee consideration.

5/8/1961 - 11/2/1963
I.2 Diagrams of work by JLB; Correspondence

ALS JLB - DCM (10/12/1959)
Application materials for grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation.
Correspondence concerning the transportation and storage of work Byars submitted to grant committee consideration. Letters from DCM urging JLB not to move to New York because of the prohibitive cost.
Leaves and three apple seeds enclosed in Mylar by Archivist.

4/26/1961 - 1/4/1960
I.3 Exhibition Invitations; Thank You Letters

25 ACS JLB - DCM (10/23/1965)
Invitations to JLB exhibitions. Letters of thanks to DCM.

12/1964 - 6/7/1966
I.4 Correspondence: Museum gift

TLS DCM - AHB (10/27/1964), discussing JLB's anonymous gift to the Museum collection.
ALS JLB - DCM (3/9/1965), asking to use MoMA fire escape as storage space for works of art.

10/27/1964 - 3/15/1965
I.5 Galerie Michael Werner Correspondence;
Photographs of JLB Performances: Carnegie Gallery, Green Gallery, Castelli Gallery

Photographs of performances at Carnegie Gallery, Green Gallery, and Castelli Gallery.
Correspondence between DCM and Michael Werner regarding JLB exhibition at the Galerie Michael Werner. DCM's PASITMoMA entry drafts for JLB. Many typed transcriptions of scrolls.

4/26/1966 - 12/20/73
I.6 Transcripts of letters JLB - DCM;
JLB Retrospective;
Photographs of JLB performances

TL Alicia Legg - DCM (8/4/1967), describing meeting with JLB and his proposed projects.
Photocopied TLS Linley Hubbell - DCM (10/16/41), describing a performance piece by JLB.
Photocopied JLB mention in Publisher's Weekly, n.d.

1/1/1966 - 4/18/1977

Described performance written in single words on individual index cards.


Invitation to exhibition, written in red pen on crumpled clear plastic. Original transcript included.


Invitation to exhibition, written in red pen on crumpled clear plastic. No transcript included, but reads the same as I.2.


Crumpled white tissue-paper scroll. Archival transcription enclosed.

I.11 Memos to DCM re: JLB 10/2/1964

Text written on velum sheet inside envelope. Text reads: "the exact length wall street gold parade."

I.13 TL


White scroll, original transcript included.


Large sheet of orange tissue paper, original transcript included.


Information on measurements of art pieces. Small stone included in letter.


Folded black tissue paper scroll. Archival transcription enclosed.

I.18 Newspaper clipping

Grace Glueck, "A Mile of Red Acetate Parades Here," The New York Times

I.19 Brown paper bag

Red graphics reading "Handle with Care."

I.20 TL JLB - Kynaston McShine

Exhibition invitation.

I.21 ALS JLB - Kynaston McShine

Exhibition invitation with correspondence.

I.22 ALS Clive Phillpot - DCM

Letter thanking DCM for her gift of the JLB material to the Library.

I.23 Memo

Unsigned memo to DCM regarding JLB installation photos.


Crumpled black tissue paper with accompanying letter.

I.25 Red string

Red string with attached note reading "A Band."


Scroll of white paper. Archival transcription enclosed.


Scroll of black tissue paper. Archival transcription enclosed.

I.28 Six blank sheets of heavy white paper

I.29 Exhibition Invitations

Invitations to exhibitions by JLB

I.30 Memo and invitation

Invitation is a large circle of black tissue paper, on which is written in pencil, "Put a minute of attention on this page and send it to the Museum at 1078 Madison." Memo contains original transcription.


Large white tissue paper heart. Original transcript included.


Postcard reading "Fuji's first white present."


Letter written in black pencil on a black tissue paper heart asking DCM for a reference for a position as art lecturer at an experimental university in Japan. Original transcript included.


Letter written on long black folded strip of paper thanking DCM for her support of JLB's artwork. Four copies of original transcription.


Letter written on large sheet of black tissue paper suggesting a variety of changing exhibitions. Original transcript included.


Letter written on large folded scroll of black tissue paper. Transcript included with item.

I.37 Green baseball sent to DCM n.d.
I.38 JLB Hat

Box containing Byars' hat which he smashed and sent to DCM

I.39 Tissue Paper and Tissue Paper Stars

Transcription of stars needed.
Box containing crumpled black tissue paper and orange tissue paper stars

I.40 Yellow silk parachute

Letter written on pink tissue paper shaped like a snake. Transcript included with item.

I.41 Black Circle Project

Five 11 x 14 photographs that feature five individuals under a black silk circle designed by JLB.
Note on envelope describing project to DCM.

I.42 Pink Silk Bloomers

Pink bloomers, which were originally wrapped in purple tissue (enclosed with item).

I.43 "Street Egg" Text

Egg shaped white paper with text written in white pastel. Originally wrapped in red paper (enclosed with item). Transcript included with item.

I.44 "A Band for a Week" Text

"A Band for a Week" painted onto white paper in black paint.

I.45 "A Band for a Week in Summer on the Streets" Text

"A Band for a Week in Summer on the Streets" written on white paper. Originally wrapped in red paper (enclosed with item).

I.46 "Byars hypothetical exhibition" (1964)

Text written onto large envelope with cellophane sleeve inside.

I.47 Two folded sheets of blank tissue paper

I.48 Folded Model of a Man in Paper

Text written on black construction paper adhered together to form the body of a man. Text written on body. Transcript included with item.

I.49 Large envelope addressed to DCM from JLB


I.50 Letter written to DCM from JLB

Letter on hand-made cream colored paper. Letter details Byars' proposed installation inside MoMA. ALS

I.51 Letter written to DCM from JLB. "Rec-d 7/12/66" written on top of transcribed letter.

Letter on brown paper inside large envelope with one piece of white gauze tissue paper inside. Original transcript included.

I.52 Letter written to DCM from JLB. "Rec-d 1/4/67" written on transcribed letter.

Letter on torn piece of paper with image of two hands. Original transcript included.

I.53 Two large white paper circle. "Rec-d 12/5/66" written on circle.

"A White Paper Will blow Through the Streets" printed in black ink on the left-side of the paper circles. Addressed to DCM.
Originally enclosed in red envelope.

I.54 One large white paper circle.

"A White Paper Will blow Through the Streets" printed in black ink on the left-side of the circle. Addressed to Dorothy Dudley.

I.55 One large white paper circle

A White Paper Will blow Through the Streets" printed in black ink on the left-side of the circle. Addressed to "Dorothy Miller for my anonymous patron."

I.56 Letter to DCM from JLB written on black paper heart.

Text written on large paper heart in pencil. Original transcript included.

I.57 Letter to DCM from JLB written on two yellow paper hearts. "Rec-d 11/1/66" written on top of hearts.

Text written in pencil on two separate yellow hearts. Original transcript included.

I.58 "One Page Book on Gertrude Stein." "Dec. 1970" written on envelope.

Two large sheets of paper with 100 small numbered sentences. Two small red envelopes.


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Box and Folder List

Box Folder Range
1 1-5
2 6-14
3 15-27
4 28-36
5 37-39
6 40
7 41-58

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