Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding aid for the Ian Hamilton Finlay papers, 1948-1992
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (127.87 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Ian Hamilton Finlay papers
    Date (inclusive): 1948-1992
    Number: 890144
    Creator/Collector: Finlay, Ian Hamilton
    Physical Description: 10.0 linear feet
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: This collection details the career and work of Scottish concrete poet/artist, Ian Hamilton Finlay. It includes manuscripts, correspondence, printed materials, garden designs, photographs, project files, clippings, catalogs, and other materials related to his work, his family, colleagues, friends, and the controversies that surrounded him. Materials collected by Simon Cutts, publisher of the Coracle Press.
    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

    Ian Hamilton Finlay is a Scottish artist best known for his concrete poetry, his gardens which incorporate poetry and sculpture, and his penchant for controversy. He was born in 1925 in the Bahamas. His family returned to Scotland when he was a child and he was, briefly, educated there. He left school at 13, and served in the army (RASC) beginning in 1942. After WWII, Finlay began to write short stories and poetry. His first publication was The Sea-Bed and Other Stories (1958); his first book of poems, Dancers Inherit the Party, was published in 1960 (republished by the Fulcrum Press in 1969).
    In 1961 Finlay founded the Wild Hawthorne Press (with Jessie McGuffie). The press published contemporary artists, although it increasingly concentrated on the work of Finlay, in innovative and kinetic forms. In 1962 Finlay started the periodical, Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. Edited by Finlay, the title comprised 25 issues when it ended in 1968.
    It was during the early 1960s that Finlay turned from rhymed poetry to concrete poetry. 1963 marked the publication of his first collection of concrete poems, Rapel, and his first poem/card, Standing Poem I. He participated in the First International Exhibition of Concrete and Kinetic Poetry, held in Cambridge in 1964, and the ICA's exhibit, Between Poetry and Painting, in 1965.
    In 1966 Ian and Sue Finlay settled at Stonypath (in the southern uplands of Scotland) and began building their famous garden. They turned one of the buildings on their ca. 4 acre site into a gallery. This subsequently became the Garden Temple, and the source of Finlay's battles with the Strathclyde Region Council when they refused to give him a rate exemption for a religious building. Finlay's protracted skirmishes with the Scottish Arts Council began in 1978 and became known as the Little Spartan War. (Stonypath was renamed Little Sparta.) This "war" included several "battles" between the SAC and the group of Finlay supporters known as the Saint-Just Vigilantes. These and other battles have been memorialized in Finlay's printed and sculptural works. Finlay was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1985.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Ian Hamilton Finlay papers 1948-1992, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 890144.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1989.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Ian Hamilton Finlay archive provides a record, through letters, manuscripts and printed pieces, of the work of the Scottish concrete poet, garden designer and controversialist.
    The collection primarily contains printed works by Finlay: mail art cards, pamphlets, posters and broadsides, and small books, most printed at his Wild Hawthorn Press, 1958-1989, and correspondence, 1948-1993, with friends, collectors, and fellow artists such as Derek Stanford (1948-1952), Simon Cutts (1968-77), Ronnie Duncan (1978-1986), Graeme Murray (1972-1988), Karl Torok (1972-1977). Manuscripts, maquettes, dummies and models for projects, 1963-1989, with photographs and transparencies of early and abandoned works and works in progress, 1965-1989, document the creation of a range of his projects, mostly printed works. Reviews and press clippings of Finlay's "polemical affairs, wars and battles," along with printed works he created while fighting his battles, illustrate the dispute over the publication by the Fulcrum Press of his "The Dancers Inherit the Party," his dispute with the local authorities over the designation of his "garden temple" as an art gallery, and the controversy accompanying Finlay's commission, subsequently revoked, to design a bicentennial garden at Versailles, 1969-1989. Also included in the archive are catalogues and invitations for exhibitions, contributions by Finlay to magazines, books and exhibition catalogues, and critical writings by others on Finlay.

    Arrangement note

    The papers are organized in 7 series: Series I: Correspondence 1948-1992; Series II: Manuscripts and mock-ups; Series III: Project Files of Art Work and Ensuing Controversies; Series IV: Finlay's Printed Cards; Series V: Photographs, 1967-1989; Series VI: Published Materials: by and about Finlay; Series VII: Oversize printed pieces, by Finlay

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Cutts, Simon, 1944-
    Finlay, Ian Hamilton

    Subjects - Topics

    Concrete poetry, English

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Artists books--Scotland
    Mail art
    Photographic prints


    Cutts, Simon, 1944-
    Duncan, Ronnie
    Gardner, Ian
    Murray, Graeme
    Stanford, Derek
    Torok, Karl