MsC 715


Manuscript Register



Collection Dates: [1939 -- 1960]

1 linear ft.

This document describes a collection of materials held by the
Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1420
Phone: 319-335-5921
Fax: 319-335-5900



Posted to Internet: May 2003
Addenda: May 2003, August, 2003, December, 2003

Carl van Vechten holding a lion cub in Berlin

Carl van Vechten holding a lion cub.
Berlin, 1930.
From a postcard in the collection.


Access and Restrictions: This collection is open for research. Bruce Kellner administers copyright to the photographs.


Photographs: Box 1, Box 2


Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.


Copyright:  Please read The University of Iowa Libraries' statement on "Property Rights, Copyright Law, and Permissions to Use Unpublished Materials"


Use of Collections:  The University of Iowa Libraries supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted by their fragile condition or by contractual agreement with donors, and it may not be possible at all times to provide appropriate machinery for reading, viewing or accessing non-paper-based materials. Please read our Use of Manuscripts Statement.


Biographical Note



Carl Van Vechten was born on June 17, 1880, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At an early age, he developed an interest in music and theatre that he found hard to satisfy in his hometown. He left Iowa in 1899 to attend the University of Chicago. In Chicago he was able to explore art, music, and opera. He became interested in writing and contributed to the University of Chicago Weekly.


After college, Van Vechten's first job was with the Chicago American. In addition to covering a broad range of topics, he was occasionally asked to provide photographs to go along with his copy.


In 1906, when Van Vechten moved to New York City, he was hired as the assistant music critic at the New York Times. His interest in opera prompted him to take a leave of absence from the Times in 1907, to examine this art form in Europe. While in England he married his long-time friend from Cedar Rapids, Ann Snyder. The marriage would end in divorce in 1912.


Van Vechten returned to his job at the New York Times in 1909 and soon became the first American critic of modern dance. At that time, Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, and Loie Fuller were performing in New York.


In 1914, Van Vechten married actress Fania Marinoff. He left his full time newspaper job in the spring, but he continued to write, and published several collections of his essays relating to music, ballet, and cats. Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works, Van Vechten's first novel, was published in 1922.


Van Vechten became very interested in promoting black artists and writers. He was an avid collector of ephemera and books pertaining to black arts and letters, and was a frequent visitor to Harlem. These experiences provided the inspiration for his controversial novel, Nigger Heaven, which was published in 1926. In the future, he would photograph many of the creative people he met in Harlem.


In the early 1930s Miguel Covarrubias introduced Van Vechten to the 35 mm Leica camera. He began photographing his large circle of friends and acquaintances. His earlier career as a writer and his wife's experience as an actress provided him with access to both fledgling artists and established cultural figures of the time. Some of his subjects from this period include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Bessie Smith, and Gertrude Stein.


Van Vechten's portraits are frequently busts or half-length poses in front of bold backdrops. Dancers were usually photographed on stage. Van Vechten did his own darkroom work, but frequently used an assistant to help set up lights for portrait sittings.


During World War II Van Vechten volunteered at the Stage Door Canteen. Top-notch entertainers frequently performed there for servicemen.


Van Vechten's photographs have been widely exhibited and frequently used as illustrations in books and magazines. He felt very strongly that his collections of manuscripts, letters, clippings, programs, and photographs, many pertaining to creative blacks, should be available for scholarly research. With this in mind, he presented various parts of his collections to several university libraries during his lifetime. Van Vechten remained active, writing and photographing up until his death in 1961.


(This biography was copied from the Library of Congress web site on Van Vechten. For the URL, see below.)


Scope and Contents


This collection is comprised mainly of 8 x 10 photographs. There are drafts for one essay on Gertrude Stein. some photocopied correspondence, pamphlet material about Van Vechten and the typescript of a stage adaptation of "The Tattooed Countess."


Related materials


Andrews, Clarence. "Iowa Literary History 1971 -- 1991." Books at Iowa, April 1992.

Carney, Thomas L. and Joyce Crawford. "The Torch Press: A Preliminary History." Books at Iowa, November, 1974.


Kellner, Bruce. "Baby Woojums in Iowa." Books at Iowa, April, 1977.


Kuhl, Nancy. Extravagant Crowd : Carl Van Vechten's Portraits of Women. New Haven, Conn. : Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, 2003. Online exhibit available at


Library of Congress, American Memory Project. Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten.


Sigmund, Jay. Manuscript Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries. Papers of Jay Sigmund: MsC697



Box List


Box 1


Biographical and bibliographic information




"An Evening with George Gershwin." With the Cedar Rapids Symphony conducted by Richard Williams. "An event of Carl Van Vechten -- Cultural Contributions on a Century 1880 --1980." Concert Program


"Gertrude Stein: An Epilogue"

Correspondence, 1939 -- 1960

Typescript, with revisions. Autographed. 1946

First draft

Second draft

Third draft

"Memorial to Miss Gertrude Stein." New York Post, December 9, 1946

Miscellaneous. Contains notes, bookplates, book jackets, programs, postcards and other miscellaneous materials


Index to the photographs



Albee, Edward

d'Alvarez, Marguerite

Anderson, Judith

Barchardy, Dan

Bankhead, Tallulah

Belafonte, Harry

Blixen, Karen (Isak Dinesen)

Boatright, McHenry

Brando, Marlon

Bruskin, Mark

Calder, Alexander

Calder, Alexander (1 smaller photograph)

Carroll, Diahann

Cather, Willa

Channing, Carol

Cooper, Gladys

David, Christopher

Dobbs, Mattiwilda

Dowell, Coleman

Dullea, Keir

Fini, Leonor

Fontanne, Lynn

Ford, Ruth

Garden, Mary

Domingue-Gassieau, Pierre

Gish, Lillian

Graham, Martha and Bertram Ross

Gross, Chiam

Himes, Chester

Holiday, Billie

Jackson, Mahalia

[Jacob, Max?]

Johnson, Philip

Jones, James Earl

Jones, LeRoi

Julian, Doris (5 folders)

Julian, Doris and her son Stephen Van Ophuigsen (6 folders)

Kaye, Nora

Kellner, Bruce

King, Alexander and Margie

Lenya, Lotte

Madden, Donald

Markova, Alicia

Martin, Nan

Mencken, H.L.

Mercer, Mabel

Mancion, Francesco

Moore, Grace

Morgan, Helen

Morse, Robert

Mostel, Zero

Olaf, Pierre

O'Neill, Carlotta

O'Neill, Eugene

Ortega, Domingo

Plummer, Christopher

Price, Leontyne

Quintero, Jose (2 folders)

Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan

Sands, Diana

17 Belley Grande Rue (Post card)

Shankari Musicians

Shirley, George

Short, Bobby

Stage Door Canteen

Stanley, Kim

Stein, Gertrude

Stein, Gertrude (five smaller photographs)

Studio at 27 Rue de Fleurus

Svendson, Clara

Szell, George

Taylor, Paul

Tchelichew, Pavel

Toklas, Alice B.

Toklas, Alice B. (3 smaller photographs)

Turnbull, Andrew

Unidentified man

Unidentified man

Unidentified man

Van Dyke, Henry

Van Ophuigsen, Stephen (6 folders)

Van Vechten, Carl (3 folders)

Van Vechten, Carl (photograph of bust)

Van Vechten and Coleman Dowell

Van Vechten, Carl and Ethel Waters

Verdy, Violette

Verret, Shirley

Waters, Ethel

Waugh, Evelyn

Williams, John

Wolfe, Thomas

Box 2

May, 2003 Addendum. Gift of Kirkwood Community College


Ailey, Alvin

Albee, Edward (2 folders)

Allen, Betty

Bailey, Pearl

Baldwin, James

Cather, Willa

DuBois, W.E.B.

Field, Betty

Gish, Lillian

Graham, Martha and Bertram

Himes, Chester

Kellner, Bruce

Kellner, Bruce and Carl Van Vechten

Lenya, Lottee

Madden, Donald

Markova, Alicia

Martin, Mary

Moncion, Francisco

Mostel, Zero

Motley, Willard

O'Neill, Eugene

Petry, Ann L.

Price, Leontyne

Sands, Diana

Schuyler, Phillippa Duke

Stanley, Kim

Still, William Grant

Szell, George

Thomson, Virgil

Warfield, William

Waugh, Evelyn

Williams, John A.

Wolfe, Thomas

Box 3

August, 2003 Addendum. Gift of Kirkwood Community College


McFee, William. Book review of Parties, by Carl Van Vechten (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930)

Correspondence (photocopies)

Kellner, Bruce to Maude Jahncke, 1986. Incorporates Van Vechten letter to Ada Amanda Fitch Van Vechten, Grand Rapids, MI, 1892. In memory of Van Vechten's 106th birthday.

Van Vechten, Carl, to George Dutton. 1962, 13 August. To arrange a meeting.


"80 Writers Whose Books and Letters Have Been Given Over the Past 20 Years to the Yale University Library" by Carl Van Vechten. New Haven: Yale University Library, 1960.

"CVV 101" (observing the 101st birthday anniversary of Carl Van Vechten, c. 1981)

"Memoirs" by Fania Marinoff. Lancaster, PA: Bruce Kellner, 1987.

"My Favorite Authors." Bruce Kellner, 1985.

Schuyler, George S. "The Van Vechten Revolution". Reprint, Phylon, the Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture, 1950.


Seery, M. Jean. "Carl Van Vechten's Role in the Negro Renaissance." 1982

Addendum December, 2003


"The Tattooed Countess." A stage reading from the novel by Carl Van Vechten. Adapted by James V. Hatch.




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