Charles O'Neal Collection related to Nek Chand and Agatha Wojciechowsky
Scope and Contents
This collection contains materials about two artists, Agatha Wojciechowsky and Nek Chand. The bulk of the materials relate to Wojciechowsky, her work, as well as O’Neal’s relationship with her. These include press about Wojciechowsky, a book of her automatic writing, and a piece of writing and video documentary O'Neal created. The documentary is contained in this collection on various magnetic and digital media. It has been digitized and is available to view online. Materials about the artist Nek Chand include photographs and a printed souvenir book and articles about the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. These materials were presumably created or compiled during a trip that O'Neal took to the site around 1978.
- 1964 - 1981
- Digitized: 2014
- O'Neal, Charles T. (Person)
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 Charles O'Neal Collection related to Nek Chand and Agatha Wojciechowsky 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.
Charles Turner O'Neal (1937-2018) was a photographer and designer with wide-ranging interests and talents. O’Neal worked as a photographer for the J. Walter Thompson advertising company. Outside of work, he photographed men and nature. His photos have been featured in magazines and collected by private collectors and museums, such as the Leslie-Lohman Museum. His design work includes the Burger King crown and a Chelsea brownstone he restored later in life after his retirement. O’Neal was an ardent traveler. He often traveled for his work with J. Walter Thompson, but also in pursuit of his creative passions. As an adventurous, creative, spiritual, and eccentric individual himself, O’Neal likely felt a kindred connection with the two artists featured in this archives collection: Nek Chand and Agatha Wojciechowsky. O’Neal’s affinity for the work of architect Le Corbusier led him to Chandigarh, India, where he witnessed Nek Chand’s Rock Garden of Chandigarh in its early years before it became a well-known tourist destination. He traveled back to India many times in his life and took photographs of the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. He was influenced and inspired by medium Agatha Wojciechowsky, with whom he developed a deep personal relationship as her student and assistant, and as a fellow medium. O’Neal was one of the few people Wojciechowsky trusted to witness and film her while channeling spirits. He created a short film entitled The Art Mediumship of Agatha Wojciechowsky in 1976, featuring the medium in the act of creating art using her supernatural gifts. He was active in her church and business and helped with the logistics of sending her artworks to be exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. In 2014, he donated some of Wojciechowsky’s art work, automatic writing, archival materials, and his short film to the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM). A devoted supporter of AFAM, he was pleased when in 2018 the museum featured Wojciechowsky’s work and his short film in its exhibit Vestiges and Verse: Notes from the Newfangled Epic. It was the last art exhibition O’Neal attended before his death.
Nek Chand (1924-2015) was an Indian artist best known for creating the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, an art environment with an estimated 30-40 acres of rock structures and sculptures of people and animals. Chand was born and spent most of his youth in Barian Kalan, in India’s Tehsil Shakargarh district (now part of the Punjab province of Pakistan). After a short period away from home to attend high school, he returned to his family’s village to work as a farmer. In 1947, the partition of India and the end of British rule forced Chand’s family, which practiced Hinduism, to flee their village, now within the borders of Islamic Pakistan. In 1955, Chand came to Chandigarh to work as a road inspector for the Indian government. At the time, Chandigarh was being completely redesigned and rebuilt into a metropolitan capital of the Punjab and Haryana states by Swiss French architect Le Corbusier. A few years later, Chand began to collect materials for what would become his garden, such as rocks, recycled trash, and debris from small villages that had been leveled to create Chandigarh. In 1965, Chand bravely and secretly began constructing his garden illegally on public land, turning rubbish into beautiful sculptures. In 1972, government officials discovered the garden, but due to public outcry, the environment was not torn down and was opened to the public in 1976. Chand was given a salary and staff to oversee and expand the garden. It has become one of the most treasured places in India and is a lasting testament to the inventiveness of its visionary creator.
Agatha Wojciechowsky (1896-1986) was a medium, healer, spiritual leader, and artist known for channeled paintings and automatic writing created through her supernatural connection with spirit guides. Wojciechowsky believed in the continuity of human consciousness after bodily death, and that living beings could access, learn, and create from this consciousness by connecting with spirits in another dimension. Produced in a trance state, Wojciechowsky’s writing and paintings are the product of her receipt of instructions from her spirit guides. Born in Steinach, Germany, she developed a belief and communication with spirits at a young age. In 1923, she immigrated to the United States and worked as a governess and domestic worker in New Jersey. She later married her husband Leo, a Polish immigrant, and raised two children in New York City. Sometime after World War II, Wojciechowsky met psychic Bertha Marks. Guided by her spiritual gatekeeper, Morning Glory, and Marks’s spirit guide, Mona, Wojciechowsky bound a pencil to her hands with a rubber band and became an artistic instrument of spirits. She began with circular loops that later became automatic writing, filling notebooks with writing in an imagined language that she believed would be understood in the future. She then began to draw and paint portraits of spirits and abstract landscapes of floating faces. By 1961, Wojciechowsky was an active member of New York’s Spiritualist community. She later became an ordained minister of the Universal Spiritualist Church. She traveled the world as a spiritual leader, teacher, and healer. Her work, which she believed had healing properties, has also traveled widely. Wojciechowsky’s first solo show, The Spirits, was at the Cordier and Ekstrom Gallery in New York City in 1963. Since then Wojciechowsky’s work can be found in numerous collections including the American Folk Art Museum (New York), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Menil Collection (Houston).
“Agatha Wojciechowsky,” Andrew Edlin Gallery, https://www.edlingallery.com/artists/agatha-wojciechowsky (accessed August 8, 2023)
"Agatha Wojciechowsky: Spirits Among Us," Andrew Edlin Gallery, https://www.edlingallery.com/exhibitions/agatha-wojciechowsky-spirits-among-us (accessed August 8, 2023)
Blumberg, Naomi. “Nek Chand: Indian Artist,” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nek-Chand (accessed August 8, 2023)
Obituary for Charles Turner O’Neal, New York Times, November 18, 2018, https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/nytimes/name/charles-oneal-obituary?id=15908747 (accessed August 8, 2023)
0.25 linear feet (1 half-size document case)
Language of Materials
Materials for each artist are separated into folders by type.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Charles O'Neal, 2014
- A Guide to the Charles O'Neal Collection related to Nek Chand and Agatha Wojciechowsky
- Mimi Lester; revised by Regina Carra and Richard Moncrief
- July 2016
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- July 2023: This collection was processed in July 2016 by Mimi Lester. Finding aid notes were written and later published by Regina Carra and Richard Moncrief.