Introducing The Romare Bearden Papers

Romare and Nanette Bearden [page 4 of 9], undated; Romare Bearden Papers [rk6gv1ww], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

The WPI is pleased to announce the inaugural release of materials in the Romare Bearden Papers (1900–2008, bulk 1940–1988).  

Vital to this initiative is The Romare Bearden Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1990 by the estate of the artist to preserve and perpetuate his legacy. The WPI is honored to partner with the foundation in helping to shape tomorrow’s art historical discourse.

“This is an exciting moment for the Romare Bearden Foundation and the perfect opportunity to leverage all of the research, resources and collective knowledge accumulated over the course of 30-plus years since the artist’s passing.”

—Diedra Harris-Kelley, Co-Director, Romare Bearden Foundation 

Bearden with artwork, undated; Romare Bearden Papers [9duk8c7q], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

The archives consist of documents and materials collected and maintained by African-American visual artist, writer, and composer, Romare Bearden

This initial launch of the archives includes three prominent series: Murals and Public Art; Photographs; and Sketches, Sketchbooks and Cartoons.

Murals and Public Art

Ceramic tiles with paint, 1986; Romare Bearden Papers [axmm2lss], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

Murals and Public Art features an assortment of materials, including news clippings, printed materials, blueprints, and correspondence related to Bearden’s development and presentation of public art projects. 

Regularly admired as a master collagist in museums and private collections, Bearden also created important public art works during his later career that allowed him to translate his signature style into bold, large-scale graphic statements.

Invitation and Press Release, November 3, 1976; Romare Bearden Papers [43oe5jbb], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

This series provides access to rare documentation on his involvement with art projects in public places across the United States.

Offering glimpses of Bearden’s planning process for the public art projects, these archives include images of sketches and test materials that would later be realized. Also notable is documentation for a now destroyed major commission from 1976 for “Urban Walls Atlanta,” in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.


Photographs is composed of prints, snapshots, contact sheets, film negatives, 35mm slides, and transparencies which offer an exclusive look into the extraordinary life and career of Bearden. 

Bearden in Studio with Artwork [page 1 of 51], 1959–1970; Romare Bearden Papers [bhcklvdd], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

This series includes photographs taken by notable photographers such as Sam Shaw, Frank Stewart, and Chester Higgins, Jr. The images consist of professional portraits and candid shots that capture the artist at work in his studio and record his attendance at key events with important luminaries of his era, including artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Ernest Crichlow, and Norman Lewis, writers such as Sir Derek Walcott, James Baldwin, and Albert Murray, as well as jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jackie McLean.

Personal photos chronicle Bearden and his wife Nanette’s visits to their home in St. Martin and feature their many beloved cats.

Sketches, Sketchbooks, and Cartoons

Landscapes, undated; Romare Bearden Papers [ccklf0h3], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

Sketches, Sketchbooks, and Cartoons shed light on Bearden’s artistic processes, showcase his draftsmanship, and reflect the breadth of his engagement with art history.

This series contains loose sketches, cartoons, complete sketchbooks and journals produced by Bearden. The subjects of his sketches include landscapes, portraits, human anatomy, and still lifes. 

Particularly noteworthy are preparatory works related to his collaborations with choreographers, Talley Beatty and Gary DeLoatch.

“Clown’s Carnival,” Sketches and Collages by Bearden, c. 1979; Romare Bearden Papers [tb63ye66], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

In addition, the collection features a variety of Bearden’s cartoons. While studying at New York University, he took extensive courses in art and was a lead cartoonist and then art editor for the monthly journal The Medley. From 1935–1937, he worked as a weekly editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Afro-American. 

Find what you were looking for yet, dear?, Cartoons by Bearden, Nos. 1-69, undated; Romare Bearden Papers [jyofdfuu], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

Now accessible to the public on the WPI Digital Archives, this major archival collection is fundamental to the research and development of the forthcoming Romare Bearden Digital Catalogue Raisonné.

Photographers on Bearden: a conversation with Frank Stewart & Chester Higgins, Jr.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022 at 6:30 pm ET on Zoom

In celebration of the launch of the Romare Bearden Papers, please join the WPI on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 at 6:30 pm ET for Photographers on Bearden, a webinar featuring renowned photographers Frank Stewart and Chester Higgins, Jr. in a conversation moderated by Dalila Scruggs, Curator of Photography and Prints at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

Photographers like Stewart and Higgins have created iconic portraits of Bearden which have become synonymous with the artist’s image. Forming part of the rich assortment of photographs available in the artist’s archives, they offer an exclusive look at Bearden at various moments in his career and provide a vital record of African American arts and letters in the 20th century.

For more information on the speakers or to register, click here.

Scroll to Top