Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Gordon Wagner papers, 1935-1985
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (137.74 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Provenance/Source of Acquisition
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Processing Note
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Related Oral History

  • Title: Gordon Wagner papers
    Collection number: 1594
    Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 11.0 linear ft. (23 boxes and 10 oversize boxes)
    Date: 1935-1985
    Abstract: Gordon Wagner was born on April 13, 1915 in Redondo Beach, California, and died in Long Beach, California, on December 4, 1987. From a young age Wagner was interested in mechanical designs as well as expressing his artistic vision through painting, poetry, and assemblage creations. The collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, ephemera, realia, and photographs related to the creation and exhibition of Wagner's work.
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    Creator: Wagner, Gordon, 1915-

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to UCLA Library Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Virginia C. Wagner, 1990-1993.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Gordon Wagner papers (Collection 1594). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.


    Gordon Parsons Wagner was born on April 13, 1915 in Redondo Beach, California; attended UCLA (1935, 1939, 1941); and Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, 1937-41; taught painting, drawing, and sculpture at Barnsdall Art Center (1960-67), Pitzer College (1970-71), and other institutions; became a sculptor and painter, winning 75 awards; his work is represented in some 500 collections and museums, including the Denver Art Museum, Sodertelje Art Museum (Sweden), and the Ahmanson Collection, Los Angeles; he died on December 4, 1987 in Los Angeles.

    Expanded Biographical Narrative

    Gordon Wagner was born in 1915 in Redondo Beach, a popular Southern California seaport and tourist destination. Wagner spent the early days of his youth exploring and working at the piers and amusement zones of the local beach cities, gleaning experiences which would later manifest in his paintings, poetry, and assemblage art. As a young man Wagner was influenced by his mentor and fellow painter, Norman S. Chamberlain, with whom he traveled to France and met renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso and Maurice de Vlaminck. Afterwards, Wagner began exploring the work of surrealists such as Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp, preferring their sense of mysticism and fantasy over the cubist styles of Picasso and Vlaminck. Wagner studied engineering at UCLA and Berkeley, later attending the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. Starting in 1934 Wagner worked as a tool and design engineer for various engineering firms such as EMSCO Derrick Equipment Company, where his father had been a sales manager, Hughes Aircraft Company and Rocketdyne before he began his career as a full-time artist and art instructor in 1958.
    Wagner's early art of the 1920s and 1930s, comprised primarily of landscapes and marine paintings, evolved into more three-dimensional work during the late 1940s, demonstrating the influence of his engineering background in his creation of mobiles and assemblage pieces. Along with Wagner's sketch notebooks, the collection contains many blueprints and layout drawings for his box assemblage pieces and other works, offering revealing glimpses of Wagner's merging roles as artist and engineer.
    Wagner's work was inspired by a wide range of influences, including Catholicism, mysticism, Native American spirituality, dream interpretation, and psychedelic culture, providing a broad array of symbolic imagery. His travels to Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico in the late sixties and early seventies helped to inform his understanding of cultural legends, rituals, and Indian myths, and coincided with his exhibitions and journeys to England, France, Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands. Wagner's observations and descriptions of his stays in Europe are documented in several notebook diaries, punctuated with drawings and found paper objects pasted in among the text.
    Wagner's most well-known work is his assemblages, the earliest of which were whimsical, mystical compositions created with found objects he discovered while beach combing. His later pieces executed in the late 1960s, following his increased popularity and exposure to European influences, were more narrative in nature, comprised of fabricated objects and backgrounds. In addition to his work in the visual arts, Wagner produced several volumes of poetry and staged performance pieces, all of which embraced Wagner's interests in dream imagery and the illusionary world of amusement parks and mystic cultural influences. In 1967 Wagner married his second wife, Virginia Copeland, whose interests in Tai Chi, meditation and forms of dance were occasionally combined with Wagner's teachings and performance works. Wagner's work was exhibited primarily in California, Arizona, and New Mexico from the 1950s until his death in 1987, with several exhibitions held in Europe during the 1970s. His prolific career influenced the developing community of assemblage artists such as Betye Saar, Bruce Houston, George Herms, and Michael McMillen.
    In addition to creating art, Wagner regularly taught classes in painting, mixed media, sculpture, and assemblage art at the Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, Everywoman's Village in Van Nuys, the University of Southern California's Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, the Junior Arts Center at Barnsdall Park, the Laguna Beach School of Art and Design, Los Angeles Harbor College, and the Palos Verdes Community Arts Association.

    Scope and Content

    Collection consists of the personal papers of artist and engineer Gordon Wagner, including correspondence, scrapbooks, daybooks, sketchbooks, journals, posters, photographs, design drawings, ephemera, and publicity material and records of exhibits of his artwork. Includes Oregon open gallery performance piece.

    Expanded Scope and Content Note

    The collection consists of materials related to Wagner's career as an artist and instructor, as well as his interests in mysticism, dream imagery, and psychedelic culture. Included is correspondence regarding his exhibitions, performances, and publications, assorted clippings, exhibition announcements and scrapbooks pertaining to Wagner's work, and class schedules related to Wagner's teaching engagements. Also present are blueprints, notes and sketchbooks detailing his various projects, as well as found objects and ephemera presumably collected by Wagner for use in or inspiration for his assemblage creations. Other materials include family photographs and historical documents, as well as Wagner's collection of postcards, representing his travels and interest in historic imagery, and greeting cards-both commercial and hand-made-from his friends and family members.

    Organization and Arrangement

    The collection is arranged in six series, five of which have been further arranged in subseries. Correspondence, clippings, exhibition materials and postcards are arranged chronologically. The series and subseries arrangement is as follows:
    1. Art Materials
      • Assemblage materials
      • Ephemera/Realia
      • Wagner Drawings
    2. Biographical and Personal Material
      1. Clippings
      2. Exhibition Materials
      3. Notebooks/Sketchbooks
      4. Scrapbooks
      5. Wagner Family Materials
      6. Wagner's Projects
      7. Wagner's Writings
    3. Correspondence
      1. Business Correspondence
      2. Greeting Cards
      3. Mail Art
      4. Personal/Family Correspondence
    4. Engineering Materials
      1. Blueprints and Drawings
      2. Pamphlets
    5. Photographs
    6. Publications
      • Books
      • Magazines
      • Wagner's Writings

    Processing Note

    Processing of the Gordon Wagner papers was funded by a grant from the Getty Research Institute.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 4233943 

    Related Oral History

    The following oral history is available through the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research:

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Wagner, Gordon, 1915- --Archives.
    Artists--California--Los Angeles--Archives.
    Engineers--California--Los Angeles--Archives.