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Copley (William and Noma) foundation and collection records
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Material
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William and Noma Copley foundation and collection records
    Date (inclusive): 1954-1980
    Number: 880403
    Creator/Collector: William and Noma Copley Foundation
    Physical Description: 4.5 Linear Feet (10 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: Records document the William and Noma Copley Foundation's grant program for composers and artists, 1954-1966. Richard Hamilton's correspondence, 1960-1966, largely concerns the Foundation's monograph series, which he edited. Other papers, including correspondence with artists, files regarding exhibitions and insurance, and photographs, document the Copleys' personal art collection, known for its large number of Surrealist works. Files dated after 1966 primarily contain Noma Copley's correspondence with artists.
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    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    William Nelson Copley (1919-1996) was a Surrealist painter, art collector, and philanthropist. He was born in New York and attended Yale University before being drafted into the army and serving in Europe during World War II. After the war, Copley began painting and partnered with John Ployardt, his brother-in-law from his first marriage with Doris Wead, to run the short-lived Copley Galleries in Beverly Hills, California, specializing in Surrealist art. When the business failed, Copley was obligated to buy most of the art, which formed the basis of his private collection. He then moved to Paris around 1949, where he met his second wife, Noma (born Norma) Ratner.
    Noma Ratner Copley (1916-2006) was a fine art jewelry designer and art collector. She was born in Minnesota and worked as a translator with the United States Office of War Information during World War II. Afterwards, she worked in the film industry in Los Angeles before moving to Paris. She was introduced to William Copley by their mutual friend Man Ray in 1951. They married in 1953 and resided in France until 1962, when they moved to New York.
    In 1954, they began the William and Noma Copley Foundation (renamed the Cassandra Foundation in 1966), which was incorporated in Chicago as a nonprofit organization. Its mission was to aid and encourage emerging artists in the fields of painting, sculpture and music composition. Grants were awarded by a board of directors based on nominations made by advisers, including Jean Arp, Alfred Barr, Jr., Matta Echaurren, Max Ernst, Julien Levy, William Lieberman, Man Ray, Roland Penrose and Sir Herbert Read. The officers and directors were William Copley, Noma Copley, Marcel Duchamp, Barnet Hodes, Eleanor Hodes and Darius Milhaud. Music and art award responsibilities were divided between husband and wife. Noma Copley was chiefly responsible for music grants and collaborated with Milhaud, while William Copley generally made the final decisions on the visual art grants.
    The Foundation also published a series of monographs from 1960 to 1966 to highlight their grantees. The British Pop artist Richard Hamilton was chosen as editor, not only for his well-known talents in layout and design, but also for the respect given him by the international art community as one of Duchamp's protégés. A total of 10 monographs were published on Hans Bellmer, Richard Lindner, Bernard Pfriem, René Magritte, Thomas Albert Sills, Eduardo Paolozzi, James Metcalf, Serge Charchoune, Jacques Hérold and Dieter Roth. In addition to their philanthropy, the Copleys assembled an important private collection of Surrealist art, including works by Hans Bellmer, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, René Magritte and Man Ray. The collection included Magritte's La trahison des images (Ceci n'est pas une pipe) and Chambre d'Ecoute , Ernst's Le Surréalisme et la Peinture, Man Ray's A l'Heure de l'Observatoire: les Amoureux and Richard Hamilton's $he. From 1964 to 1966, Marcia Tucker worked as collection curator, overseeing exhibition loans and the care and maintenance of the collection.
    After William Copley decided to distance himself from philanthropy and focus his activities back on his own art, Barnet Hodes assumed his responsibilities at the Foundation in 1966. William and Noma Copley divorced in 1967, and William Copley continued his career as a Surrealist artist. He sold much of the art collection at auctions in 1979 and 1993 and died in Florida in 1996. Noma Copley pursued a career in goldsmithing and fine art jewelry after their divorce. She died in New York in 2006.
    Sources consulted:
    "Biography." William N. Copley. William N. Copley Estate. Accessed 6 April 2020. http://williamncopley.com/about/biography-page/.
    "Foundation." William N. Copley. William N. Copley Estate. Accessed 6 April 2020. http://williamncopley.com/programs/william-and-noma-copley-foundation/.
    "Noma Copley." Wikipedia. Accessed 6 April 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noma_Copley#cite_ref-18.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    William and Norma Copley foundation and collection records, 1954-1980, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Accession no. 880403

    Acquisition Information

    The Research Library acquired the bulk of the archive in 1988. Additional material was acquired in 1995, 1996, and 1998.

    Processing History

    Monika Wiessmeyer unpacked the archive in 1988. Lynda Bunting processed and cataloged the collection June-July, 1995. The Richard Hamilton correspondence (former accn. no. 920052) was moved to the William and Noma Copley Foundation and Collection Records at this time. Bunting revised the finding aid in August 1997 to add a Hans Bellmer document (960054) and in January 1998, to add ca. 40 letters and postcards from other two separate acquisitions (960074, 980002). The biographical note was updated in 2020 by Rachel Poutasse.

    Separated Material

    Vivaldi, Cesare. Pietro Cascella. Milan: Edizioni del milione, ca. 1962.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The William and Noma Copley Foundation and Collection Records document the couple's philanthropic and collecting activities, which along with their personal relationships with Surrealist artists would profoundly affect the exhibition and evaluation of the Surrealist movement in the United States. The archive dates from 1954-1980, the bulk dating from 1954-1966, when the Copleys directed the Foundation. Correspondence after 1966 is primarily from Noma Copley's personal files.
    The collection contains correspondence with the Foundation's advisors, and with composers and artists who were awarded grants, in effect demonstrating the Foundation's award process. Letters also were exchanged with artist friends about personal matters and the Copley art collection. Additionally, there is personal and business correspondence with Richard Hamilton from the time when he was editor of the Copley Foundation's monograph series. One series contains personal correspondence, with many drawings and handmade cards, collected by Noma Copley. There is much material, including correspondence and photographs of art works, relating specifically to the Copley collection, covering topics such as exhibition loans, appraisals, conservation of the collection, financial and insurance documents.

    Arrangement note

    The archive is arranged in 5 series: Series I. Foundation documents, 1954-1967; Series II. Richard Hamilton correspondence, 1960-1966; Series III. Personal correspondence, 1957-1980; Series IV: Collection documents, 1954-1967; Series V. Collection photographs, n.d..

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Charchoune, Serge, 1888-1975
    Copley, William Nelson, 1919-1996
    Copley, Noma
    Ernst, Max, 1891-1976
    Hérold, Jacques, 1910-1987
    Hamilton, Richard, 1922-2011
    Roth, Dieter, 1930-1998
    Tanguy, Yves, 1900-1955
    Man Ray, 1890-1976
    Tanning, Dorothea, 1910-2012
    Bellmer, Hans, 1902-1975
    Baj, Enrico, 1924-2003
    Arp, Jean, 1887-1966

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    William and Noma Copley Foundation

    Subjects - Topics

    Publishers and publishing
    Art -- Collectors and collecting
    Art, Modern -- 20th century
    Art -- Scholarships, fellowships, etc.
    Art -- Private collections

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Photographic prints
    Photographs, Original
    New Year cards
    Christmas cards
    Drawings (visual works)


    Chryssa, 1933-2013
    De Maria, Walter, 1935-2013
    Delvaux, Paul
    Glanville-Hicks, Peggy
    Flavin, Dan, 1933-1996
    Kelkel, Manfred
    Jones, Charles, 1910-1997
    Mason, Raymond, 1922-2010
    Lam, Wifredo
    Baj, Enrico, 1924-2003
    Matta, 1912-2002
    Bellmer, Hans, 1902-1975
    Metcalf, James, 1925-
    Milhaud, Darius, 1892-1974
    Arp, Jean, 1887-1966
    Petlin, Irving, 1934-2018
    Pfriem, Bernard
    Sage, Kay
    Tajiri, Shinkichi, 1923-2009
    Tanning, Dorothea, 1910-2012
    Turner, Charles, 1921-2003
    Hamilton, Richard, 1922-2011
    Waldberg, Patrick
    Hérold, Jacques, 1910-1987
    Westermann, H. C. (Horace Clifford), 1922-1981
    Copley, Noma
    William and Noma Copley Foundation
    Copley, William Nelson, 1919-1996
    Celmins, Vija, 1938-
    Cage, John
    Man Ray, 1890-1976