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Nicholson (Grace) Papers and Addenda
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Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Processing Information
  • Arrangement
  • Custodial History
  • General
  • Related Materials
  • Bibliography

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
    Title: Grace Nicholson papers and addenda
    Creator: Nicholson, Grace, -1948
    Identifier/Call Number: mssNicholsog
    Physical Description: 40.88 Linear Feet (30 boxes, 9 oversize folders, 3 volumes, 1 roll)
    Date (inclusive): 1784-1975
    Date (bulk): 1900-1951
    Abstract: This collection contains the papers of Grace Nicholson (1877-1948), a collector and dealer of Native American and Asian arts and crafts in Pasadena, California, with much of the collection relating to her work in the fields of Native American and Asian art.
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for use by qualified researchers and by appointment. Please contact Reader Services at the Huntington Library for more information.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Grace Nicholson papers and addenda, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Thyra H. Maxwell, October 1968. Gift of Raymond P. Clover, December 1975. Gift of Anonymous, November 1998.

    Biographical / Historical

    Grace Nicholson (1877-1948), was a collector and dealer of Native American and Asian arts and crafts. Nicholson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 31, 1877, the daughter of attorney Franklin Nicholson (1851-1891) and Rose Dennington Nicholson (1855-1878). At the age of thirteen, following the death of her parents, Nicholson went to live with paternal grandparents, William Nicholson and Mary Nicholson. After graduating from the Philadelphia Girls' High School in 1896, Nicholson worked as a stenographer and in other jobs in Philadelphia. In 1898, Nicholson met Mr. Carroll S. Hartman (1857-1933); she began working for Hartman in 1900, first as a promoter for "The Battle of Manila" cyclorama, and later in an amusement parlor on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In late 1901, with money from a small inheritance, Nicholson moved to Pasadena, California. In early 1902, she began purchasing Native American baskets and artifacts, opening a store at 41-43 South Raymond Avenue in Pasadena. Within a few years, she moved her combined home, store, and gallery to nearby 46 North Los Robles Avenue. Carroll Hartman had also relocated to Southern California, and Nicholson employed him as a buyer for her store. Nicholson traveled throughout Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington studying and purchasing Native American arts and crafts and establishing relationships with the artists, whom she often interviewed and photographed. Hartman often accompanied her on these expeditions, taking photographs as well. Nicholson kept extensive diaries and notes on her buying trips through Native American territory, especially of the Karok, Klamath, and Pomo Indians. Her subjects included Native American legends, folklore, vocabulary, tribal festivals, basket making, the art trade, and living conditions. Native American artists with whom Nicholson established long-term business and personal connections included Pomo basket weaver Mary Benson (1878-1930) and her husband William Benson (1862-1937), as well as Elizabeth Hickox (1875-1947) of the Karuk tribe. Because of her ethnographic work, the American Anthropological Association elected Nicholson to membership in 1904. She facilitated the purchase of artifacts by museums such as the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, the Field Museum in Chicago, the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center, Los Angeles, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum. In the 1910s, as the market for Native American artifacts declined, Nicholson began expanding her work as an Asian art dealer. In 1912, Nicholson purchased additional land next to her Los Robles Avenue property and, in 1924, hired architects Marston, Van Pelt, and Maybury to renovate the property and construct a Chinese-style palace. Completed in 1929, it became known as the "Grace Nicholson Treasure House of Oriental Art." Following a 1929 trip to China and Japan, Nicholson dealt almost exclusively in Asian arts and craft. In 1943, facing financial difficulties, Nicholson entered into an agreement with the City of Pasadena and the Pasadena Art Institute that transformed her Los Robles building into the Pasadena Art Institute. In 1954, the Institute was renamed the Pasadena Art Museum; it occupied the building until 1970, when it moved to a new Pasadena location and became the Norton Simon Museum. The Pacificulture Foundation founded the Pacific Asia Museum in the "Treasure House" in 1971. Nicholson continued to live at 46 North Los Robles, but she moved her shop to a smaller building at 45 South Euclid Avenue in Pasadena in 1944, and her assistants Thyra H. Maxwell and Estelle Bynum assumed growing responsibilities for it. Nicholson died on August 31, 1948. Following Nicholson's death, her Native American Indian art collection was left to Maxwell and Bynum, the executors of her estate; her 12,000-item Asian art collection was auctioned by the Curtis Gallery in November 1950 and purchased by Los Angeles businessman Edker Pope. In 1968, Maxwell donated Nicholson's papers and photographs to The Huntington Library and sold Nicholson's collection of baskets made by the Bensons, as well as a large collection of correspondence and myths from William Benson, to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, of New York City (now part of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C.).

    Scope and Contents

    This collection consists of two distinct sections: the Grace Nicholson papers (2,926 items) and addenda (1,444 items). The papers consist primarily of correspondence, while the addenda is primarily notes. Both relate to Grace Nicholson and her work in the fields of Native American and Asian art. There are many letters from Native Americans to Nicholson and extensive diaries and notes that Nicholson kept on her buying trips through Native American territory, especially of the Karok, Klamath, and Pomo Indians. Subject matter includes Native American legends, folklore, vocabulary, tribal festivals, basket making, business in art trade, and living conditions. There is also a considerable amount of correspondence from China, Japan, and Korea between Nicholson and her buyers. Among the subjects covered are Chinese art and architecture, Japanese art, Korean art, Javanese textiles, Siamese art, Philippine art, life and social conditions in Asia, and the business of trading Asian art. Being a well-known dealer in Native American and Asian art, Nicholson was in contact with many artists, such as Frederick Arthur Bridgman, W. Herbert Dunton, Sadakichi Hartmann, Elizabeth Conrad Hickox, Louise Merrill Hickox, Grace Carpenter Hudson, George Wharton James, Lilian Miller, Hovsep T. Pushman, Joseph Henry Sharp, and Millard Sheets. Nicholson also purchased materials for institutions such as the Field Museum of Natural History, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art, the Pasadena Art Museum, and the Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.). Her intimate relationships with Native Americans give particular insight into their lives and culture. Thus she was a key source of information about them and historians and academics sought her out, including Alfred Lewis Kroeber, Charles Fletcher Lummis, and Clinton Hart Merriam. Nicholson also received letters from political figures such as Frederick Webb Hodge, Herbert Hoover, Hiram Johnson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Huntington Library Staff, 1970s-1990s. Finding aid was created by Mitch W. K. Toda in 2002; in 2021, Gayle Richardson updated this finding aid.


    The collection is organized in two series: the Grace Nicholson papers and the addenda and arranged in the subseries below:
    • Grace Nicholson papers (1822-1951)
      • 1. Correspondence (Boxes 1-11)
      • 2. Family papers (Box 12)
      • 3. Building and Pasadena Art Institute papers (Box 13)
      • 4. Indian notes (Boxes 14-17)
      • 5. Oriental notes and miscellaneous materials (Box 18)
      • 6. Letterbooks (Box 19)
      • 7. Architectural drawings – 1 roll
      • 8. Oversize folder: Indian Map of California
    • Addenda (1784-1975)
      • 1. Correspondence (Box 1)
      • 2. Chinese art (Box 2)
      • 3. Box 3 (Transferred to Photo Archives, Rare Books Department, Huntington Library, June 1995)
      • 4. Indians of North America (Box 4)
      • 5. Japanese art (Box 5)
      • 6. Tibetan art (Box 6)
      • 7. Family notes and travel materials (Box 7)
      • 8. Grace Nicholson gallery and Chinese garden (Box 8)
      • 9. Manuscript notes, drawings, and printed materials (Box 9)
      • 10. Ephemera and clippings (Box 10)
      • 11. Ephemera and realia (Box 11)
      • 12. Indian scrapbooks – 3 volumes
      • 13. Oversize folders – 8 folders

    Custodial History

    This collection was received by the Huntington Library in October 1968 as a gift from Thyra H. Maxwell, one of Grace Nicholson's assistants and an executor of her estate. Maxwell's donation included manuscripts, photographs, and printed materials related to Grace Nicholson, and, initially, the collection was divided between the Manuscripts Department and Rare Books Department. On July 7, 1973, the non-photographic materials held by the Rare Books Department were transferred to the Manuscripts Department and became the addenda part of this collection. Four pieces were added to the addenda, donated by Raymond P. Clover, December 29, 1975 (acquisition number 262). The items in Addenda Box 11 (except for the medal) were given as an anonymous gift, November 23, 1998 (acquisition number 1923). In June 1995, Box 3 of the Addenda was transferred back to the Rare Books Department and dispersed into the existing Grace Nicholson photograph collection (photCL 56).


    Former call number: mssNicholson papers and addenda.

    Related Materials

    Material cataloged separately in The Huntington Library:
    Grace Nicholson photograph collection, photCL 56.
    Related materials in other repositories:
    Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley:
    Photographic negatives and prints of Calif. Indian baskets and other ethnographic items handled by Grace Nicholson from about 1912-1925 when she was a dealer in Pasadena (Accession 2880).
    Grace Nicholson's ledger of Indian baskets from about 1912-1925 in Pasadena, California (Accession 2881).
    Smithsonian Institution. National Museum of the American Indian Archives American Indian - Heye Foundation Correspondence of Grace Nicholson (NMAI.AC.001) William Benson Letters and Mythology.


    Bernardin, Susan, et. al. Trading Gazes: Euro-American Women Photographers and Native North Americans, 1880-1940. (New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2003).
    Bsumek, Erika Marie. "Exchanging Places: Virtual Tourism, Vicarious Travel, and the Consumption of Southwestern Indian Artifact" in Rothman, Hal. The Culture of Tourism, the Tourism of Culture: Selling the Past to the Present in the American Southwest University of New Mexico Press, 2003), pp. 118-139.
    Gasser, Maria del Carmen, ed. "My Dear Miss Nicholson" : Letters and Myths by William Benson A Pomo Indian. (Carmel, New York: Printed Privately by the editor, 1995).
    Packer, Rhonda. "Grace Nicholson: An Entrepreneur of Culture" in the Southern California Quarterly. Vol. 76, No. 3 (Fall 1994), pp. 309-322.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Architecture, Chinese
    Art -- California -- Pasadena -- Exhibitions
    Art, Asian
    Art, Chinese
    Art, Japanese
    Art, Korean
    Art, Philippine
    Art, Thai
    Art objects -- Collectors and collecting -- California -- History
    Art objects, Asian
    Art objects, Chinese
    Art objects, Japanese
    Art objects, Korean
    Art objects, Thai
    Basket making -- Klamath River Valley (Or. and Calif.) -- History
    Buildings -- California -- Pasadena
    Gardens, Chinese
    Karok baskets -- Collectors and collecting -- California
    Karok Indians -- Social life and customs
    Karok women -- Biography
    Klamath Indians -- Social life and customs
    Indian art -- California
    Indian art -- Northwest, Pacific
    Indian art -- Southwest, New
    Indian basket makers -- California
    Indian basket makers -- Northwest, Pacific
    Indian basket makers -- Southwest, New
    Indian baskets -- California
    Indian baskets -- Northwest, Pacific
    Indian baskets -- Southwest, New
    Indian painting -- California
    Indian painting -- Northwest, Pacific
    Indian painting -- Southwest, New
    Indians of North America -- California -- Antiquities
    Indians of North America -- California -- Economic conditions
    Indians of North America -- California -- Folklore
    Indians of North America -- California -- Languages
    Indians of North America -- California -- Antiquities -- Collectors and collecting
    Indians of North America -- California -- Rites and ceremonies
    Indians of North America -- California -- Social life and customs
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Antiquities
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Antiquities -- Collectors and collecting
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Economic conditions
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Folklore
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Languages
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Folklore
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Rites and ceremonies
    Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Social life and customs
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Antiquities
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Antiquities -- Collectors and collecting
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Economic conditions
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Folklore
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Languages
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Rites and ceremonies
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Social life and customs
    Pomo baskets -- California -- Mendocino County
    Pomo Indians -- Correspondence
    Pomo Indians -- Folklore
    Pomo Indians -- Social life and customs
    Women -- California
    Women art collectors -- California -- Pasadena
    Arizona -- Description and travel
    California -- Description and travel
    China -- Description and travel
    China -- Social life and customs
    Japan -- Description and travel
    Japan -- Social life and customs
    Klamath Indian Reservation (Or.)
    Korea -- Description and travel
    New Mexico -- Description and travel
    Oregon -- Description and travel
    Pasadena (Calif.) -- Description and travel
    Pasadena (Calif.) -- Social life and customs
    Washington (State) -- Description and travel
    Clippings (information artifacts) -- 19th century
    Clippings (information artifacts) -- 20th century
    Ephemera -- 19th century
    Ephemera -- California -- Pasadena -- 20th century
    Letters (correspondence) -- 19th century
    Letters (correspondence) -- 20th century
    Photographs -- 19th century
    Photographs -- 20th century
    Professional papers -- 19th century
    Professional papers -- 20th century
    Bridgman, Frederick Arthur, 1847-1928
    Bynum, Estelle
    Dunton, W. Herbert, 1878-1936
    Hartman, Carroll S., 1857-1933
    Hartmann, Sadakichi, 1867-1944
    Hickox, Elizabeth Conrad, 1872-1947
    Hickox, Louise Merrill, 1896-1962
    Hodge, Frederick Webb, 1864-1956
    Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964
    Hudson, Grace Carpenter, 1865-1937
    James, George Wharton, 1858-1923
    Johnson, Hiram, 1866-1945
    Kroeber, A. L. (Alfred Louis), 1876-1960
    Maxwell, Thyra H.
    Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942
    Miller, Lilian
    Pushman, Hovsep T., 1877-1966
    Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
    Sharp, Joseph Henry, 1859-1953
    Sheets, Millard, 1907-1989
    Field Museum of Natural History
    Honolulu Academy of Arts
    Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art
    Pacific Asia Museum
    Pasadena Art Museum
    Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.)