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Harrison (Helen and Newton) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Scope and Contents
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Arrangement
  • Processing Information

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: Helen and Newton Harrison papers
    Creator: Harrison, Newton, 1932-
    Source: Harrison, Helen Mayer, 1927-
    Source: Harrison, Newton, 1932-
    Creator: Harrison, Helen Mayer, 1927-
    Creator: Harrison Studio and Associates
    Identifier/Call Number: M1797
    Physical Description: 257.85 Linear Feet 547 containers (273 manuscript boxes, 3 half boxes, 2 cartons, 37 flat boxes, 9 card boxes, 7 audio cassette boxes, 184 map folders; 32 map tubes)
    Date (inclusive): 1947-2016
    Language of Material: Material in the collection is mainly in English and German, but there are significant portions in the following languages: Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, Danish, Serbian, Croatian, Serbo-Croatian, and Czech.
    Abstract: The papers document the life and work of married couple Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, leading pioneers of the eco-art movement, whose collaborative career began in the late sixties. Throughout their career, the Harrisons worked with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists, creating works that support biodiversity and community development. The collection contains personal papers; project files pertaining to art projects; correspondence; performance, exhibition, and presentation material; business records; research; interview transcripts; writings; material pertaining to the Harrisons’ time at both the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Santa Cruz; photographic material; public relations material; audiovisual material; and computer media relating to the Harrisons’ professional career.
    Physical Location: Special Collections and University Archives materials are stored offsite and must be paged 36-48 hours in advance. For more information on paging collections, see the department's website: http://library.stanford.edu/spc.

    Biographical / Historical

    Helen Mayer Harrison, born in 1927 in New York City, New York, graduated from Queens College in Flushing, New York, in 1948 with a BA in English. Prior to attending Queens College, Helen matriculated at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and majored in Psychology (1943-1945). In 1948, she enrolled as a Doctoral Candidate at New York University but later withdrew from the PhD program. Helen received an MA in the Philosophy of Education from NYU in 1952. Helen was enrolled in the Human Behavior PhD program at United States International University (1968-1970) in San Diego, California, but withdrew from the program before the completion of her PhD. Helen studied art and painting in the late 1950s while living in Florence, Italy, with Newton Harrison, as well as additional graduate studies in anthropology, sociology, and social psychology at the New School for Social Research and the University of Pennsylvania and English literature at Brooklyn College.
    Prior to becoming a full time artist and professor in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego, in the early 1970s, Helen held various positions in the field of education. While living in New York state, she worked as a permanent substitute teacher in New York City (1948-1949), a sixth grade English and Social Studies teacher at Mineola Public Schools (1949-1950) a high school English and Social Studies teacher at Newton High School in New York City (1950-1952), and an English teacher at Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park (1952-1953). While living in Florence, Helen was the Director of the International Nursery School (1959-1960). After moving to New Mexico, she worked as an English instructor at the University of New Mexico (1965-1967). Finally, before becoming a full time artist, Helen worked at the University of California, San Diego Extension from 1969 to 1972 as the Program Coordinator and Director of Education Programs. In addition to Helen’s career in education, she was the first New York Coordinator for the Women’s Strike for Peace in 1962. Helen also took time off to raise her four children spending 1953 to 1958 and 1960 to 1965 as a stay at home mother.
    Newton Harrison, born in 1932 in Brooklyn, New York, graduated from the Yale University School of Art and Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1964 with a BFA and from Yale University Graduate School of Fine Arts in 1965 with an MFA. Newton also attended Antioch College (1950-1952) in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia (1952-1953, 1955-1957), where he received a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and won their traveling fellowship. Newton was drafted into the Korean War and served in the Army (1953-1955).
    Newton knew he wanted to be an artist from a young age and immersed himself in art. At 14, he was a sculptor’s apprentice, working after school and during summer breaks. After the Army, Newton completed his studies in Pennsylvania and moved to Florence, Italy, with Helen and their two young children from 1957 to 1960 to study art. After living abroad, the Harrisons returned to the United States and lived in New York City’s lower east side. Newton conducted experimental workshops in painting for children at the University Settlement House, Sloane Neighborhood Center, and St. Augustine’s Chapel (1961-1962). He also taught art to at-risk youth at the Henry Street Settlement House (1962). While in graduate school at Yale University, Newton worked as a Teaching Assistant for an experimental workshop in environmental art and a color workshop (1964-1965). Afterwards, the Harrisons moved to Albuquerque, where Newton worked as an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico from 1965 to 1967. Newton and his family left New Mexico when he cofounded the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego in 1967.
    Prior to Newton and Helen’s collaboration, Newton exhibited in a variety of genres, media, and materials typical of many artists in the fifties and sixties. Newton began getting commissions and exhibiting in the mid-1950s. During this period, he made large scale figurative sculptures, cast in plaster, plastic, and bronze. Newton’s “Love Groups” are an example of this type of work. In the late 1950s, Newton moved away from sculpture and began creating field and figure-field relationships paintings. The late 1960s saw Newton working with sculpture again along with various technologically based works. An example of this type of work is the “Artificial Aurora Borealis,” a work comprised of five chambers that emit light. The work was commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum for the Art and Technology Program and executed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California. This work was a turning point in Newton’s art, as it introduced Newton to physics. The study of physics led him to research biological phenomena, which exposed Newton to ecological concerns. Thereafter, Newton decided to make these issues central to all future work.
    At the same time Newton shifted his focus to ecological matters, Helen, a trained social scientist, discovered her lifelong interest in language, narration, storytelling, and the oral tradition aligned with her interest in art. Concepts in the areas of education, philosophy, social sciences, literature, and art coalesced, suggesting to her that the world was in the midst of an ongoing, worsening, but only partly visible social crisis. With this in mind, Helen quit her job at the University of California, San Diego Extension to become a full time artist and professor with her husband at the University of California, San Diego. They are both now retired from University California, San Diego and are currently research professors at University of California, Santa Cruz.
    While Helen and Newton arrived at their conclusions through separate study, it was out of the idea of biological crisis that the Harrisons’ first theme was born: survival. Their first collaborative piece, a map charting extinct and endangered species, was part of the Furs and Feathers exhibition at the Crafts Museum in New York City, New York (1971). Afterwards, they decided to take all the resources available to them to make art about survival. Out of this grew the Harrisons’ "Survival Pieces," a multipart work began in 1971 with a focus on farming. For these early works, Newton was in charge of the installation, Helen worked on the performances, and both researched. Over time, the Harrisons’ work mode clarified and both assumed all roles of creating.
    The Harrisons’ work explores the relationship between words and images through the use of maps, drawings, paintings, photomurals, and collages with a storytelling/performance component. Ecological concerns, survival, watershed restoration, urban renewal, agriculture, forestry, and other environmental issues remained the focal point of their work over the decades. Their visionary projects have led to governmental policy changes, as well as creating and expanding dialogue around previously unexplored issues, leading to practical implementations throughout the United States and Europe.
    The Harrisons have used Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York City for their gallery representation since 1974.
    Helen and Newton married in 1953 and had four children: Steven, Joshua, Gabriel, and Joy.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    This collection was purchased by Stanford University, Special Collections in 2010 and accessioned in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

    Conditions Governing Access

    The collection is open for research except restricted material which are closed until the date noted at folder lever. The majority of audiovisual material in the collection has been digitally reformatted and is available to view in the Special Collections Reading Room; audiovisual materials not already reformatted are not available in original format, and must be reformatted to a digital use copy. Born-digital materials are available to view in the Special Collections Reading Room. Note that material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use.

    Scope and Contents

    The papers document the life and work of the married, collaborative team of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, leading pioneers in the eco-art movement. The collection contains a small amount of biographical material and personal correspondence. The bulk of the material documents the Harrisons’ many projects and includes correspondence, designs, financial records, sketches, planning, blueprints, notes, contracts and agreements, schedules, and photographic material. The collection also contains a significant amount of material pertaining to the Harrisons’ performances, exhibitions, and presentations. Also included are business records; Newton’s early work; research; individual files (files kept on colleagues, students, and friends); records documenting the Harrisons’ time at University of California, San Diego and University of California, Santa Cruz; writings; interviews and profiles; and publicity such as posters and fliers announcing conferences, exhibitions, lectures, performances, and workshops. Other formats present in the collection include audiovisual (Series 17) and born-digital material (Series 18), including email. There is also a small amount of Fluxus artwork.

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [identification of item], Harrison papers (M1797). Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    The collection has been arranged into 19 series: Series 1. Personal/Biographical Series, 2. Project Files, Series 3. Project Binders, Series 4. Correspondence, Series 5. Performances and Exhibitions, Series 6. Presentations and Speeches, Series 7. Early Work by Newton Harrison, Series 8. Research, Series 9. Business Records, Series 10. University of California, San Diego, Series 11. University of California, Santa Cruz, Series 12. Writings, Series 13. Individuals, Series 14. Public Relations Material, Series 15. Printed Material, Series 16. Photographic Material, Series 17. Audiovisual Material, Series 18. Computer Media/Born-digital, Series 19. Art and Artifacts

    Processing Information

    The collection was processed by Lucy Waldrop; with Freya Channing and Griselda Mercado.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Art, American -- California.
    Conceptual art -- United States
    Ecology in art
    Performance art -- United States.
    Pollution in art
    Harrison, Newton, 1932-
    Harrison, Helen Mayer, 1927-
    Harrison Studio and Associates