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Finding aid for the Lester Bridaham photographs and papers relating to gargoyles, 1895-1987
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Lester Bridaham photographs and papers relating to gargoyles
    Date (inclusive): 1895-1987
    Number: 87.P.4
    Creator/Collector: Bridaham, Lester Burbank
    Physical Description: 21.2 linear feet (37 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The Lester Bridaham photographs and papers relating to gargoyles document the scholar's ongoing fascination with this distinctive form of architectural decoration. Collected over the course of six decades, Bridaham's extensive compilation of photographs and research materials forms a comprehensive overview of the gargoyle and other related grotesques used as ornament in medieval architecture throughout western Europe.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Lester Burbank Bridaham (1899-1992) was a museum administrator, educator, artist, collector, art historian, and author. Bridaham's initial academic training was in the sciences. He received a B.S. from Cornell University in chemistry and, in 1923, a M.S. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yet, during his time at Cornell, Bridaham developed a deep interest in art, which he credited to his fascination with the gargoyles decorating his fraternity house. After only a brief period working in the steel business, Bridaham devoted the rest of his life to pursuing this interest in art.
    In 1928, Bridaham began taking classes at the Art Students League in New York, where he studied under Kimon Nicolaides and Kenneth Hayes Miller. Awarded an American Field Service Fellowship for the 1931/1932 academic year, Bridaham spent the year painting in Morocco and Normandy. After his return to the United States, Bridaham continued his artistic pursuits, moving to Massachusetts and supervising artists working under the aegis of the Federal Art Project. In 1936, Bridaham enrolled in the year-long museum studies course taught by Paul Sachs at the the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University.
    The Fogg training ushered Bridaham into a long career as an arts administrator and educator. From 1938 to 1954, Bridaham was a staff member at the Art Institute of Chicago, where among his many roles he founded the public relations department and served as secretary to the board of trustees. After leaving Chicago, he served in administrative roles at a number of other cultural institutions: director of museum operations of the Louisiana State Museums in New Orleans (1954-1956), director of the Chicago Historical Society (1956-1958) and director of the Strathmont Museum in Elmira, New York (1958-1959). In 1959, Bridaham moved back to Denver, Colorado, where he had been born and raised. In Denver, Bridaham initially focused on art education. He taught drawing and painting in the Denver and Jefferson County public school systems, and wrote children's art books suitable for classroom use. Then, in 1974, Bridaham used his knowledge of art and the art world to start his own art appraisal business.
    Bridaham also remained a practicing artist throughout his life, from the earliest exhibition of his paintings in 1928 until shortly before his death. His final work My Secrets of the Grand Canyon, a series of fifty watercolors, was completed when Bridaham was eighty-nine years old. Several museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of the City of New York, hold his paintings and prints in their collections. In addition to creating art, Bridaham began collecting in the 1920s. Over the years, he and his wife Dorothy developed an enormous collection, often acquiring the work of emerging local artists, such as the self-taught painter Martin Saldaña, from whom Bridaham got over 200 works. This collection would serve as the basis for a gallery Bridaham opened with his daughter in Bozeman, Montana in the last years of his life.
    Bridaham's roles as an educator and art historian, and his fascination with the visual, came together in his publications. These range from his children's art books to journal articles on technical aspects of the use of slides in art education to a book on the late nineteenth/early twentieth century photographer, George François Mugnier. Among Bridaham's catholic interests, however, one stands out, the topic that first led him to art in his student days at Cornell: gargoyles. In 1928, the year he began studio art studies at the Art Students League, Bridaham also began conducting extensive research on gargoyles, culminating in his 1930 book, Gargoyles, Chimères, and the Grotesque in French Gothic Sculpture. Bridaham returned to the topic later in life, spending almost twenty years from the late 1960s to the late 1980s bringing out a new edition of the 1930 publication and working on three further gargoyle book projects.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of the photographic negatives, which require further processing.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Lester Bridaham photographs and papers relating to gargoyles, 1895-1987, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 87.P.4.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1987.

    Processing History

    The collection was rehoused in archival folders upon receipt in 1987. Bridaham's folder titles were transferred to the new folders, and any of the old folders bearing notes were retained. In 2014, Ani Mnatsakanyan, working under the supervision of Ann Harrison, conducted research on the collection and created the inventory.

    Related Archival Materials

    Further archival material held by the Getty Research Institute relating to Lester Burbank Bridaham includes the Paul Sachs course notes, 890069, a bound copy of the handouts and materials for the 1936/1937 museum studies course Bridaham attended at the Fogg Art Museum, and the Lester B. Bridaham photographs of Mexico, 87.P.6. Further archival material relating to Bridaham is held by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution and the Denver Public Library.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Lester Bridaham photographs and papers relating to gargoyles document the scholar's ongoing fascination with this distinctive form of architectural decoration. Collected over the course of six decades, Bridaham's extensive compilation of photographs and research materials forms a comprehensive overview of the gargoyle and other related grotesques used as ornament in medieval architecture throughout western Europe.
    The bulk of the collection is visual. Bridaham compiled thousands of original photographs of artworks. He acquired them from institutional sources and commercial vendors, such as Alinari, photographed some works himself and commissioned photography at other sites. These original photographs are supplemented by further images on postcards and from various print media. Bridaham believed that the relatively early date of many of the photographs gave his collection a special importance, because they were taken before air pollution began seriously damaging the sculptures. These images are also accompanied by a substantial amount of textual research material, specifically correspondence, clippings and articles, notes, and drafts of text for his books. In addition to his main focus on the the grotesque in Medieval Europe, Bridaham collected images and research on peripheral topics ranging from the physiognomy of Joseph Merrick to gargoyles used in New York architecture in the nineteenth century to fantasy creatures in Asian art.
    The archive also provides insight into Bridaham's intellectual process. Bridaham created a large pool of images and research materials, and over decades, he mined and repurposed this body of data for the two editions of his book and three further unpublished book projects on the topic of gargoyles. The archive retains Bridaham's folder composition and titling, and often his original folders. Bridaham took extensive notes while conducting his research and often wrote notes on his file folders. Many folders also indicate the dates on which Bridaham consulted them as he continually referenced notes and images from his previous projects.
    Materials relating to Bridaham's book, Gargoyles, Chimères, and the Grotesque in French Gothic Sculpture, published in 1930 and then reprinted in an enlarged edition in 1969, form Series I. Included here are photographs, publishing layouts and proofs, research materials, and correspondence regarding the publication of the book.
    Series II, the bulk of the archive, documents Bridaham's multiple attempts to publish further material on the topic of gargoyles. Materials relating to three unrealized publications with the proposed titles of "Gargoyles, Chimères, and the Grotesque of the Middle Ages in England, Germany, Italy, and Spain," "Meet My Fabulous Grotesque Friends," and "The Bridaham Collection of Photographs of Gargoyles and Grotesque-Style Sculptures of the Middle Ages in All Countries" are found here. Each of these book projects includes images organized by the proposed chapter heading or by the sculpture's location, as well as correspondence, research, notes, and drafts of text relevant to the project.
    Series III includes images and materials that relate to Bridaham's entire span of research on gargoyles and the grotesque rather than being attributable to a specific project. Although Bridaham's date notations allow most of his files to be assigned to a project, or at least the project on which he used it last, the materials in this series remain general or are clearly used throughout his work.


    The collection is arranged in three series: Series I. Materials relating to Gargoyles, Chimères and the Grotesque in French Gothic Architecture, 1929-1970; Series II. Unpublished projects, 1917-1987; Series III. General research materials, 1895-1981.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Bridaham, Lester Burbank -- Photograph collections

    Subjects - Topics

    Decoration and ornament, Architectural--Europe
    Grotesque in architecture

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Black-and-white photographs
    Gelatin silver prints
    Negatives (photographic)--20th century


    Oliver, John