John Byam Papers
Scope and Contents
The John Byam Papers contain drafts of letters, notes, and drawings written by John Byam, mostly during the time he lived at the Hearthstone Home for Adults in Hobart, New York. A significant number of the materials are letters or drafts of letters that Byam wrote to his extended family, which he usually copied over several times, often making subtle changes. These letters span from 1989 until about 2011, and almost all of them have multiple drafts of the same letter. Byam indicated that he rewrote these letters by noting, "I rewrote letter" or sometimes, "I didn't include this in letter." Byam almost always numbered his pages, and kept drafts of the same letter together, though some pages are loose and could not be matched with complete letters. Byam also kept extensive lists on various topics, which were also copied over several times. Examples of lists include: "The near or most popular names of boys"; "TV shows that are good to look at"; and, "The women who work here at Hearthstone."
Other material includes several composition books with Byam's notes, drawings, and lists in them. Byam tied packets of these notes, along with newspaper clippings (which often have drawings on them), and placed them inside the notebooks. During the processing of this collection, these packets were untied and flattened. If loose packets or notes were found in notebooks, the processing archivist retained the original order of the material within the notebook.
Byam used a variety of paper material for his letters, notes and lists, such as notebook and memo pad paper, printed material, newspaper and magazine pages, new and used envelopes, scraps of paper, and cardboard.
- Majority of material found within 1971 - 2012
- Byam, John, (1929-2013) (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research. Access to sensitive materials will be restricted at the discretion of the American Folk Art Museum.
Conditions Governing Use
The John Byam Papers is 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.
Born in Oneonta, New York in 1929, Byam spent a large part of his life assisting his parents in the daily operations of the family-owned trailer court. In the late 1940s Byam went to work for the Delaware and Hudson Railway, then served two years with the U.S. military stationed in Japan during the Korean War. In 1952 he returned home to his parents and took several jobs, including one as a part-time gravedigger for a local cemetery.
Byam’s sculptural work includes three-dimensional objects made of a combination of wood, sawdust, glue, paint and ink. Byam’s works on paper often include portraits and written commentary about contemporary culture and its fascination with media and celebrity.
Byam’s first exhibition,"The Artwork of John Byam: As Near As Can Be," was in January 2012 at the Project Space Gallery at SUNY Oneonta. Byam’s artwork was featured in subsequent solo and group exhibitions in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Miami and Paris.
Andrew Edlin Gallery, http://www.edlingallery.com/artist/john-byam
The Daily Star, https://www.thedailystar.com/news/local_news/on-the-bright-side-suny-oneonta-to-display-local-artists-work/article_bbb7f7f8-d9ad-534d-b58b-b7ddab93b489.html
Parker's Box, http://www.parkersbox.com/exhibitions/past/2012/Facetime3.html
New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/arts/design/outsider-art-fair-opens-at-548-west-22nd-street.html
Art Forum, https://www.artforum.com/news/john-byam-1929-2013-40688
3 linear feet (6 standard document cases)
Language of Materials
The John Byam Papers contain drafts of letters, notes, and drawings written by John Byam, mostly during the time he lived at the Hearthstone Home for Adults in Hobart, New York. The bulk of the materials is letters that Byam wrote to his extended family, which he usually copied over several times. Other material includes several composition books with Byam's notes, drawings, and lists in them.
The John Byam Papers are arranged first by type of material, and then chronologically. The first group of material includes notebooks and tied packets of papers. The next group is the bulk of the material, drafts of letters, and these are all arranged chronologically. The next group includes miscellaneous drawings, memos, and lists.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Denny Tomkins and Neil Rochmis, 2016
- A Guide to the John Byam Papers
- Mimi Lester; revised by Richard Moncrief
- April 2015
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note
- December 2022: This finding aid was revised and expanded to include additional, previously unprocessed materials. These additional materials were received at around the same time as the original accession in 2016, but were not processed until Fall 2022.