Waldo Peirce letter, 1943. Courtesy Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution


Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

In an age of e-mail, texting, and tweeting, More Than Words reconnects us with the wonders of handmade communications. Developed by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, the exhibition consists of 58 hand-illustrated letters from such celebrated artists as Alexander Calder, Thomas Eakins, Andy Warhol, and Andrew Wyeth.

Paul Manship to Leon Kroll, ca. 1935. Courtesy Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.Their communications offer an intimate view of the artists’ worlds—their families, friends, business relations, travels, and personal observations. The exhibition includes an impressive assortment of correspondence—exuberant thank-you notes, winsome love letters, reports of contemporary events, and more—each in the sender’s own distinctive style.

In a letter to his parents written in 1901, painter William Cushing Loring describes the scene in Paris as the city celebrated Bastille Day: “The streets are crowded with people, the buildings a mass of colors . . . thousands of red white and blue lights. Bands are playing in every square. All [of] Paris seems to be dancing.” For Loring, words alone were not enough to convey the grandeur of the event. He interrupts the text with a lively pen-and-ink drawing of Parisian dancers, vigorously sketched with a spirit that conveys the dizzying excitement of the day.

“One should never forget that the power of words is limited,” writes painter Walter Kuhn in a 1913 note enlivened with animated sketches of pinch-faced ladies in berets. His pages, like the works of other artists, are embellished with drawings, caricatures, watercolors, or collages, creating letters that are verbally and visually engaging.

Rarely captured in more finished, public pieces, these spontaneous examples of epistolary art will fascinate anyone interested in American art or intrigued by the vanishing tradition of letter writing.

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Exhibition specifications

Contents 58 framed works of art on paper, text panels, labels

Companion book, educational and promotional resources, speaker list, bibliography

Participation Fee

Special reduced fee per 10-week booking period, plus prorated shipping


200 running feet (61 running meters)

Crates 8

3,200 pounds

Category Art



Prorated, SITES-designated carrier; $4,448 per venue

SITES Contacts Ed Liskey, 202.633.3142 (Scheduling)
Toured Through


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Tour itinerary

Dates   Host Institution Status
11/4/06 1/14/07 Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA Booked
5/12/07 7/15/07 Nixon Library and Birthplace, Yorba Linda, CA Booked
8/4/07 10/14/07 Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, GA Booked
11/3/07 1/13/08 San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX Booked
2/2/08 4/13/08 J. Wayne Stark University Galleries, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX Booked
5/3/08 7/13/08 Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Manhattan, KS Booked
11/1/08 1/18/09 Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI Booked
2/7/09 4/19/09 Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, LA Booked
5/9/09 7/19/09 Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL Booked
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Related publications

More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art by Liza Kirwin.

Words can speak volumes, but, as every letter writer knows, there are times when they simply won't do. And when the author happens to be a visual artist, the results can be both intimate and transcendent. This book is a testament to those occasions, a compilation of personal letters by some of America's most revered artists, each one adorned with an illustration. Writing to wives, lovers, friends, patrons, clients, and confidants are such revered artists as Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Frida Kahlo, Andrew Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Lyonel Feininger, John Sloan, Alfred Frueh, Man Ray, Eero Saarinen, Alexander Calder, Gio Ponti, and Andy Warhol.





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July 12, 2006

Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition of Personal Letters Provides Intimate Glimpse of Famous Artists

Personal letters from some of the most important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries will soon be on display as part of the new Smithsonian traveling exhibition, More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

Opening at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., on Nov. 11, the exhibition provides a unique look into the lives of key artists, including Thomas Eakins, Frida Kahlo, Marcel Duchamp, Dale Chihuly and Andy Warhol, through handwritten letters to family members, friends and business associates. The exhibit will remain on view through Jan. 14, 2007 before beginning a 10-city national tour.

“The personal letters featured in More Than Words uncover new insights into the personalities and creative processes of some of America’s finest artists,” said Liza Kirwin, the exhibition’s curator and curator of manuscripts at the Archives of American Art. “In this age of modern technology, the works are designed to inspire us to communicate more thoughtfully and remind us to cherish handwritten, personal communications.”

Each writer’s unique style provides interesting clues about their personality. While some of the letters were sent as personal notes, others explore the travels or business relations of the artists. Most of the letters include drawings, caricatures, watercolors and collages that further shed light on each artist’s individuality.

Throughout the exhibition, letters are arranged in sections by theme. The sections include “Bon Voyage,” containing letters written to and from travelers; “I Do,” consisting of letters written from the heart; “Plays on Words,” featuring creative letters using metaphors, puns or puzzles; “Visual Events,” describing key personal, professional and political events; “Graphic Instructions,” providing illustrated directives to the reader; and “Thank You,” showing letters of gratitude.

More Than Words is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. A book that complements the exhibition has been published by Princeton Architectural Press (2005) and is currently available in book stores.

The Archives of American Art was founded in 1954 at the Detroit Institute of Arts and joined the Smithsonian Institution in 1970. The Archives’ mission is to collect, preserve and make available primary sources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States. Its collections of letters, unpublished writings, financial records, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, photographs and other primary material, comprising more than 15 million items, are the world’s largest single source for such information.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play.

Norman Rockwell Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May through October; from December through April, weekday hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekend/holiday hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rockwell’s studio, located on the museum grounds, is open May through October.

News Media only: Jennifer Schommer (202) 633-3121
Public only: (202) 633-10

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