American Folk Art Museum Archives

Ralph and Eva Fasanella Papers Edit

Summary

Identifier
A0007

Dates

  • 1914 – 2013 (Creation)

Extents

  • 30 cubic feet (Whole)

Agent Links

Subjects

Notes

  • Abstract

    This collection contains material related to Ralph Fasanella’s artistic career, his work in labor unions, and his personal interests. Much of the material is correspondence between Ralph Fasanella’s wife, Eva, and the various museums, collectors, unions, and other various individuals and institutions with which the Fasanellas worked closely.

  • Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gifts of Marc Fasanella, 2009-2014

  • Conditions Governing Access

    The collection is open for research. Access to sensitive materials may be restricted at the discretion of the American Folk Art Museum.

  • Conditions Governing Use

    The Ralph and Eva Fasanella Papers are owned by the American Folk Art Museum. The collection is subject to all copyright laws, and is dedicated to public use for research, study and scholarship.

  • Preferred Citation

    [item description], [date], Ralph and Eva Fasanella Papers, [box and folder number], American Folk Art Museum Archives, New York

  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    Series XI: Audio/Visual Material contains audio/visual material in many formats. DVDs and CD-ROMs can be viewed in the American Folk Art Museum reading room with appropriate advance notice. All other material, including VHS and audiocassettes, cannot be viewed at this time.

  • Separated Materials

    There are approximately ninety books from the Fasanella estate that have been entered into the American Folk Art Museum library. These include both books from Fasanella’s personal library; and books that feature reproductions of Fasanella’s artwork. Books that are unrelated to folk art (for example, a math textbook with a Fasanella reproduction) were boxed and stored in the archive. Duplicate books that were already in the American Folk Art Museum library were also boxed and stored in the archive. All other books are on the shelf alongside the museum’s library collection. Each book has a book plate that states it is part of the Fasanella library, and the library catalog records for each book also indicate that the books were donated as part of the archival collection.

  • Processing Information

    After the bulk of the Fasanella collection came to the American Folk Art Museum in 2009, it was arranged by consultant Tae Smith into general categories, and a folder-level inventory was created. No notes were kept about the material’s original order, and a finding aid was not written, so there is no information about any decisions that were made about the categories. This 2009 inventory is available for viewing upon request.

    After eight more boxes of Fasanella archive and library material were donated in 2014, the Ralph and Eva Fasanella Papers were further processed, with the intent of incorporating the material and creating a complete finding aid. The general categories created in 2009 were maintained, although some were combined or refined into more distinct categories.

  • Biographical Note

    Ralph Fasanella (1914–1997) was a working-class New Yorker and renowned painter of “social reality.” Through his colorful and dense compositions, he depicted complex themes of social and political unrest, historic events, the importance of leisure, and the unique energy of New York City and its citizens.

    Born in the Bronx and raised in New York City’s Little Italy, Fasanella was the son of Italian immigrants who, like so many others, left their country in search of a better life. Fasanella’s working-class identity, formed during those early years, was one that endured throughout his life. Raised by a mother who was involved in labor rights and anti-fascist activism, Fasanella himself became an advocate for unionism and worked as an organizer—most notably for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America. Immediately prior to his union organizing, he fought against Franco’s army in the Spanish Civil War, as a member of the all-volunteer Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

    Fasanella’s early activities as a light industry worker and labor organizer gave way to his bourgeoning interest in painting. In 1945, at the age of thirty-one, Fasanella began to draw as a way to alleviate pain in his hands. He attended some art classes, but he felt self-conscious about the pretensions of being an “Artist”; he came to terms with it by using his art as a tool to agitate for social change. He eventually transitioned out of his role with the union and devoted himself full time to his painting. Drawing upon the people, places, and social matters that surrounded him, Fasanella quickly developed a body of work and was offered exhibitions at the prominent ACA Galleries in New York in 1946 and 1947. However, after this brief period of art world recognition, Fasanella was blacklisted during the McCarthy era because of his leftist profile, and gallery interest ended abruptly. Through these and ensuing years, he maintained an earnest and consistent effort with his painting, while working at a family-owned gas station in the Bronx to earn an income.

    In 1972 Fasanella was “discovered” and featured on the cover of New York Magazine. Although he had been producing and showing his work on a regular basis at venues such as union halls, churches, and a variety of public spaces, the feature framed Fasanella as a “primitive” artist—a label he roundly dismissed. Nevertheless, it was this media attention that led to a turning point for Fasanella, who, at the age of fifty-eight, became able to focus his full attention on his artmaking. His incisive visual narratives continue to resonate with contemporary audiences, proclaiming social engagement and action as a primary effect of artistic expression.

    Source: Juliana Driever, Independent Curator

  • Scope and Contents

    The Ralph and Eva Fasanella collection contains an extensive amount of material related to Ralph’s artwork, and the instrumental role that Eva played in managing his career. Together, the Fasanellas were in touch with many different arts and cultural organizations; traveled across the United States to attend and speak at lectures, rallies, award ceremonies, celebrations and remembrances; and worked relentlessly to have Fasanella’s artwork in public places (a project aptly titled Public Domain).

    Much of the material in the collection is correspondence between the Fasanellas and organizations and institutions interested in original artwork, reproductions, or licensing images. This correspondence is organized into several categories and arranged in respective series, which also include non-correspondence material. Much of Series 1: Arts and Cultural Organizations and Series 2: Exhibitions, for example, are correspondence, but also include material such as printed matter relating to the series.

    Eva Fasanella was incredibly involved in managing Ralph’s career, and evidence of that can be seen in Series 4: Sales, Rights, and Management, as much of the material is correspondence written to or written by her. Material in this series is further broken down into sub-series, which include the different facets of Ralph Fasanella’s career: the selling, conservation, marketing, and more of his original artworks; contracts and inventories of his poster sales; paperwork and licensing related to reproductions of his artwork on books and magazines; and material related to court cases in which the Fasanellas were involved.

  • Arrangement

    The collection contains twelve series, organized by category. The arrangement of the collection is loosely based on how it was arranged when it was first processed in 2009. Some groupings of material were combined or refined into more distinct categories.

Components