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Harry Smith papers, 1888–2010, bulk 1987–1990

The Getty Research Institute has acquired the papers of Harry Smith (1923–1991), a multidisciplinary American artist and collector who worked in film and painting and was a major cult figure among artists and poets from the 1950s to the 1980s.

This wide-ranging archive consists of writings on film projects and ethnography, documents and photographs related to Smith's early interest in Pacific Northwest Indians as well as a complete collection of his most significant films, audiotapes, and ephemera. Described by scholars, friends, and critics as an alchemical filmmaker, musical archaeologist, and avant-garde shaman, Smith has become an influential yet not widely known figure of the Beat generation.





This archive allows scholars specializing in one aspect of Smith's complex oeuvre to make connections with related practices. Film specialists, for example, will have access to Smith's ambient sound recordings, which served as critical source material for his films. Likewise, scholars studying Smith's personal collections of materials such as pop-up books, gourds, and found paper airplanes will not only be able to evaluate the depth of his ethnographic research but also understand how his collecting and categorizing methods influenced the composition of his own work.





The diverse nature of Smith's work intersects with several key archives held at the Research Institute. For example, Smith was a colleague of Robert Mapplethorpe, a fellow resident at New York City's Chelsea Hotel, and he featured Mapplethorpe's work and studio in his Film #18, Mahagonny (1980). The Robert Mapplethorpe Archive may help illuminate the nature of the two artists' relationship and their work. Additionally, Smith's early interactions with Beat artists and poets link him to the archives of Betty Asher, Charles Brittin, George Herms, and Edmund Teske, that document the postwar Southern California art scene.