The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera
Henry Francis du Pont
5105 Kennett Pike,
302-888-4600 or 800-448-3883
OVERVIEW OF THE COLLECTION
Creator: Byrdcliffe (Art colony)
Dates: ca. 1869-2000
Acc. No.: 92x39, 98x4, 00x162, 01x81, 02x170, 06x54-56, 06x1; 06x66, 06x67, 07x88; 10x3; 10x63, 11x13
Quantity: ca. 170 cu. ft.
Location: 41-42 A-E, map case A, drawers 1 and 10, and map case C, dr. 3-5
In 1901, Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead purchased about
1,000 acres of land near
Born in 1854 to Francis Frederick and Isabella
Dalglish Whitehead, Ralph grew up in Saddleworth,
In 1892, Whitehead married Jane Byrd McCall of
Names synonymous with the arts and crafts movement
peopled Byrdcliffe during its early years, and they produced furniture,
pottery, textiles, paintings, and artistic photographs. Jane Whitehead took particular interest in pottery and spent time in
Ultimately, Byrdcliffe failed as a community of
artists. Its founder, Ralph Radcliffe
Whitehead, experienced difficulty relating to his residents, and after a time
they left, never to return to his colony.
In addition, it was hard to transport the furniture produced there to
market. As time passed, Byrdcliffe
simply became a place for the Whiteheads to raise their two children and to
entertain family and friends, although the cottages built for craftspeople
continued to be rented during the summers.
In 1917, Jane wrote to her son, Ralph, Jr., “now let us realize that it
has had its day--its raison d'etre has passed by.” Even so, because Byrdcliffe had acted as a
magnet for arts and crafts practitioners,
Byrdcliffe remained in family hands for about
seventy-five years. Ralph Whitehead died
in 1929, only 25 years after Byrdcliffe had experienced its busiest times and
just a few months after his eldest son had died in a shipwreck. Jane died on
The Byrdcliffe archives includes family correspondence, featuring letters to and from Jane and Ralph Whitehead beginning in the 1890s; photographs, many of which are dated and the people in them identified (twenty of which were taken by Jesse Tarbox Beals); more than 600 original drawings and paintings, including furniture designs by Edna Walker and Zulma Steele, and colored designs for rugs created by Marie Little; approximately 575 issues of magazines; scrapbooks; over 700 study prints taken from large 19th century portfolios depicting ornaments from Medieval, Renaissance, and pre-Raphaelite sources; manuscript records of expenditures and income from items produced at the colony; Byrdcliffe’s library card catalog, including both the cards and the physical square-shaped catalog; the Byrdcliffe Guest Register; trade catalogues of products used at Byrdcliffe; about 80 monographs, as well as publications written by Jane and Ralph Whitehead; land surveys; and legal documents. In addition, there are drawings of furniture available from the English firm of Morris and Company, and many unsigned drawings and paintings, mostly landscapes, probably mostly executed by Jane Whitehead.
The collection also includes letters from the sons Peter and Ralph, Jr.; some genealogical information about the Whitehead and McCall families; information about Woodstock, New York; a few poems, including one written about Peter; Ralph Whitehead’s leather trunk; and a collection of newspaper articles about the sinking of the ship Vestris, in which tragedy Ralph, Jr. lost his life. Other items of interest is a volume bound by Cobden Sanderson and the guest register from the wedding of Jane McCall and Ralph Whitehead, which is on a sheet of birch bark.
|I.||Designs, Drawings, and Paintings|
|II.||Reproductions and Prints|
|V.||Monographs and Trade Catalogs|
|VI.||Business and Real Estate Records, Printed Ephemera|
|VII.||Photographs, Glass Plate Negatives, Photo Albums, and Post Cards|
|XI.||Newspapers and Miscellaneous|
The items that are in this series are housed in thirteen boxes and four map case drawers, with one framed item hanging on the wire wall. Included are furniture designs from the woodworking shop at Byrdcliffe, many credited to Zulma Steele, Edna M. Walker, Bolton C. Brown, and Dawson Watson; drawings of furniture hardware, pottery, glassware, along with other odds and ends of design work; architectural plans for buildings at Byrdcliffe and homes of the Whiteheads; rug designs by Marie Little; and unsigned paintings and drawings, most of which are assumed to have been done by Jane Whitehead. Since materials were first arranged by size, not all the designs depicting an item, a piece of furniture for example, are housed together; however, notes are included to refer the researcher to locations of related materials.
Although a few colored items are included, this series consists mostly of black and white photographic reproductions of art work, the vast majority of which depict Italian Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings. They were collected by the Whiteheads because of their interest in these periods of art, and they may have inspired some of the work at Byrdcliffe. Some of the reproductions are labeled, and others were identified from books about art history. For the rest, often the subject is obvious (Madonna and Child for example), but if it is not, there is a full description. Also included in this group are photographs of landscapes, people, furniture, and buildings, mostly taken in Italy, as well as some prints, wallpaper samples, and posters advertising museums throughout Europe. These posters were probably collected because of their artwork. Finally, Series II contains a copy of the book Pictures and Poems, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
These design books are mostly from
Series IV contains issues of periodicals collected by the Whiteheads. Most relate to art or ceramics, but other interests are also represented.
Ralph Whitehead’s interests in ceramics and in
weaving are clearly indicated by the quantity of works on these topics. Of special note are the sample books of
dyes. Also included are works by John
Ruskin, Whitehead’s professor at
This series is comprised mostly of miscellaneous
manuscripts. Included are inventories of
libraries at Byrdcliffe, lists of contents of several buildings at the colony,
pottery production notes, and observations about dyeing and weaving. Of particular interest is a scrapbook with
samples of fabric and thread, all probably hand-dyed, and attendant notes about
dyeing. As well, there is a book related
to the Ambrose Choral Society of Woodstock, a collection of writings by Ralph
Whitehead, and a scrapbook that Jane Whitehead kept when she was in
Photographs are mostly family pictures, including
some of Jane and Ralph as children and young adults. In addition, there are photographs taken at
Byrdcliffe in 1908 by Jesse Tarbox Beals, a couple of photos taken by Eva
Watson Schutze, photographs of the
Whiteheads’ various homes, and modern prints developed from glass plate
negatives. The same image may be found
in more than one location because, for example, one copy is in a photo album,
and another copy is loose, or because different copies of the same image are
separated because of size. Post cards
are from various family trips and from Ralph, Jr.’s World War I service in
Series VIII contains correspondence, mostly from
Ralph to Jane, but also letters to and from other members of the Whitehead
family and family friends. Letters from
Ralph, Jr., and Peter are also found.
These include letters written by Ralph, Jr., while he was stationed in
The calendars in this series belonged to Jane Whitehead. The entries are brief and record her schedule on various days.
The maps in this series mostly relate to real estate
owned by the Whiteheads in
Miscellaneous materials, mostly oversized, and
newspapers are in Series XI. There are
only a few newspapers; of especial note are copies of the
Almost all the papers were a gift to the Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera beginning in 1991 from Mark Willcox, the nephew of Ralph and Jane Whitehead.
Accession 06x1 gift of Robert Edwards.
Accession 07x88 gift of James J. Kopp.
LANGUAGE OF MATERIALS
Most of the materials are in English. Some are in German, French, or Italian.
RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS AND USE
Collection is open to the public. Copyright restrictions may apply.
Many of the items, including photographs and drawings, have been microfilmed on 2 reels (M3002 and M3015). Researchers are asked to use the microfilm when possible to preserve original items in the collection. An index is found at the front of each reel.
Prints have been made from the glass plate negatives, and the prints must be used.
Whitehead, Ralph Radcliffe, 1854-1929
Whitehead, Jane Byrd McCall, 1861-1955
Whitehead, Ralph, Jr., 1899-1928
Whitehead, Peter, 1901-1975
Beals, Jessie Tarbox
Steele, Zulma, 1881-1979
Walker, Edna M.
Moore, Anne Carroll, 1871-1961.
Ruskin Co-operative Association.
Arts and crafts movement
Decoration and ornament
World War, 1914-1918.
Glass plate negatives
Byrdcliffe: An American Arts and Crafts Colony. Edited by Nancy Green.
Edwards, Robert. “The Utopias of Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead,” The Magazine Antiques, January 1985, pages 260-276.
Lock, Lisa L. The Byrdcliffe Colony and the Politics of
Arts and Crafts. M.A.Thesis.
Winterthur Program in Early American Culture,