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Fitz Gibbon (John) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Preferred Citation
  • Scope and Contents
  • Conditions Governing Use

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: John Fitz Gibbon papers
    source: Fitz Gibbon, Jane
    Creator: Fitz Gibbon, John
    Creator: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
    Identifier/Call Number: M2166
    Physical Description: 14.5 Linear Feet (28 boxes)
    Physical Description: 535 megabyte(s) contents of 2 CD-Rs in collection
    Date (inclusive): 1955-2009
    Abstract: Writing, photographs, media, and other material from Northern Californian art critic, collector, and teacher John Fitz Gibbon.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for research. Accessions 2018-004 and 2018-206 are closed until processed. Note that material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use. Audiovisual materials are not available in original format, and must be reformatted to a digital use copy.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Jane Fitz Gibbon; 2016, 2017, 2018. Accessions MSS 2016-222, 2017-110, 2017-129, 2018-004, 2018-206.

    Biographical / Historical

    John Grattan Fitz Gibbon (1934 – 2009) was an art critic, professor of art history, KPFA broadcaster, and collector of postwar Californian art. From the 1960s onward, he was heavily involved in the Northern Californian art scene, where he was friends with and wrote extensively about a number of renowned artists of the period, including Robert Arneson, Elmer Bischoff, Joan Brown, Don Hazlitt, Jim Nutt, Robert Colescott, and Richard Diebenkorn.
    Born in Los Angeles on July 12th, 1934, Fitz Gibbon came of age in Pasadena, Laguna Beach, and Berkeley, enrolling in University of California at Berkeley in 1952 before transferring to Yale the following year. He graduated from that institution with a B.A. in English in 1956 as a Scholar of the First Rank. In 1959, Fitz Gibbon became an English teacher at Berkeley High School, where he remained for a decade while simultaneously working at the Southern Pacific Railroad switchyards in Oakland. During this time he also became immersed in art history, hosting a KPFA radio show themed around art criticism from 1962 – 1969.
    In 1969, he was appointed as a Visiting Associate Professor of Art History at UC Berkeley. Later that same year, he was hired as the Chairman of the Art Department at Sacramento State College, and in 1971 he became the Associate Professor of Art History at the same institution. Fitz Gibbon would go on to teach art history at Sacramento State for the following two decades, recruiting a number of his artist friends to teach in the art department throughout the 1970s and 80s. During this time, Fitz Gibbon wrote dozens of essays, reviews, and exhibition catalogs, eventually winning a National Endowment for the Arts award for art criticism.
    Through the 1970s, John and his wife Jane Fitz Gibbon hosted a series of 'Events': choreographed performances and theatrical celebrations inspired by ancient myths. Held at the Fitz Gibbon's Pilot Hill estate each spring, the Events generally involved 100-200 people and featured copious nudity, dancing, and playful attire. The Pilot Hill Events also hosted well-known artists and art historians from around the country, such as Judy Chicago, Allan Kaprow, Marcia Tucker, and Bruce Nauman.
    Over the course of their lifetimes, John and Jane Fitz Gibbon developed a large private collection of post-1950s Californian art at their Pilot Hill home, consisting of approximately 400 works. Highlights of their collection were shown in the 1990 exhibition California Art, A to Z and Return, an alphabetic representation of Fitz Gibbon's favorite California artists hosted at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. An accompanying exhibition guide was published the same year. In 2002, highlights of their collection were again shown in The Pilot Hill of Contemporary Art, an exhibition hosted by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. An accompanying exhibition catalog featured a lengthy retrospective written by John Fitz Gibbon on the California art scene of the previous 40 years.
    After suffering from Parkinson's disease for the last two decades of his life, John Fitz Gibbon, Sr., died on October 25th, 2009, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was survived by Jane, their daughter Kate and their son John, Jr., his daughter Sarah Pinkerton Flad and son Tristram Fitz Gibbon. The following month, the city of Sacramento officially recognized Fitz Gibbon's contributions in the fields of art criticism and arts advocacy.

    Preferred Citation

    [identification of item], John Fitz Gibbon papers (M2166). Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California.

    Scope and Contents

    The John and Jane Fitz Gibbon collection spans the 1950s to early 2000s, and features extensive documentation of prominent Northern Californian artists from the 1970s onward. John Fitz Gibbon's papers include notes, annotated manuscript drafts, and extensive correspondence with artists of the day, particularly Joseph Raffael, William Wiley, and Don Hazlitt. His essays, reviews, and catalog guides are largely focused on artists whom he considered personal friends, and subjects include Joseph Raffael, Lance Richbourg, William Morehouse, Roy de Forest, Jack Stuppin, and Frank Owen, among many others.
    Between 1971 and 1981, the Fitz Gibbons staged twelve 'Events' at their Pilot Hill estate outside Placerville, CA. These Events, which were ostensibly outdoor theatrical celebrations inspired by ancient myths, featured hundreds of largely nude attendees performing, dancing, speaking, and playing music. These performances are well-documented in photographs, slides, and prints, as well as reels of 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm film, reel-to-reel tape, and various videocassette formats. There are also numerous reels of unlabeled and unidentified 8mm film and audiotape.
    Other material includes recordings of John Fitz Gibbon's KPFA radio show, exhibition catalogs and publicity from favorite artists, candid snapshots of visitors to the Pilot Hill house, and teaching and lecture notes. Materials relating to Fitz Gibbon's memorial on Dec. 20th, 2009, are included, as well.

    Conditions Governing Use

    While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Art, American -- California.
    Art criticism
    Fitz Gibbon, Jane