Margot Wells Backas and James J. Backas papers
Held at: Bryn Mawr College [Contact Us]Bryn Mawr College Library, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr 19010
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Bryn Mawr College. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Margot Wells Backas grew up in Pennsylvania, attending the Quaker boarding school, Westtown, located in West Chester, PA. She then attended Vassar College and went on to receive her MA in American cultural history from Harvard. Margot was a strong supporter of the arts in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore area. She was the humanities editor of the Johns Hopkins University Press, resurrected the New York publishing firm of Horace Liveright, and was an administrator at the National Endowment for Humanities. Backas joined the William Steinway Diary project at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2002 and continues to be a researcher there. Additionally, Backas has written book reviews for the Times of London and The Washington Post, among other publications. Backas serves as the literary executor of Anne Truitt's estate.
In 1973, Margot married fellow patron of the arts, James J. Backas (1926-2003) in 1973. Jim was an accomplished musician who received his doctorate of arts in 1999 from Oklahoma City University. Backas was the founding director of the American Arts Alliance in Washington, D.C. and executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council. While he loved classical music, Backas advocated for more funding of folk life and folk artists. Mr. Backas was a lecturer of music history at the Peabody Conservatory. He died of a heart attack at the age of 77 in his Georgetown home on June 25, 2003.
This collection consists mostly of letters sent to Margot and Jim Backas by artist Anne Truitt between the years of 1976 and 2004. There are some newspaper clippings, advertisements for Truitt's art exhibits and other incoming correspondence to the couple. Truitt writes regarding Margot Backas' role as her literary executer as well as personal correspondence.
Gift of Margot Wells Backas and James J. Backas.
- Bryn Mawr College
- Finding Aid Author
- Elizabeth Reilly
- Finding Aid Date
- 2014 June
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
The Margot Wells Backas and James J. Backas papers are the physical property of Bryn Mawr College Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors' heirs and assigns.
1p. Thanks Margot for assisting in bringing Truitt's book, "Daybook," to fruition.
2p. Margot is copied on Eric Pumroy's response to Anne Truitt's letters dated June 25th and July 3rd of 2002. "To the best of my knowledge, no one has used your archives without your written permission. This includes Susanna Saunders...It has been a number of years since you authorized Mrs. Saunders to use your papers, so I am enclosing a copy of your letter to Leo Dolenski, the Manuscripts Curator at the time, so that you will have record of it...Part of our responsibility to the scholarly world is to publicize the availability of important archives such as yours." Truitt's letter to Dolenski is dated 7 Aug 1995.
1p. President of Yaddo invites the Backas' to celebrate Truitt's new book, "Prospect: The Journal of an Artist."
All letters in this subseries are from Anne Truitt to Margot Wells Backas, unless otherwise noted.
Truitt laments that "Daybook: The Journal of an Artist" has only received one book review in a major newspaper. Included is the Boston Globe's book review titled, "An artist looks back with fine perceptions." The review was published October 15, 1982.
Thank you note for dinner.
References a poem from Julia Randall, possibly the one located in Box 2, Folder 7. Truitt credits Randall for putting her in touch with Margot: "I owe her an eternal debt of gratitude for putting us in touch with each other."
"She [Susanna Sanders] has not been in touch with me for some time, and I had - frankly - hoped that she had dropped the idea of writing about me; her intelligence, her un-derstanding of my work, seems to me faulty."
Truitt includes the letter she sent to the librarian at Bryn Mawr College's Canaday Library on 28 July 2000. "I write to ask if you would be kind enough to review the agreement under the terms of which I deposited - and have continued to deposit - an archive about my work in the Library...I am concerned with the matter of access."
Attaches a letter from Leo Dolenski dated 3/18/01. Hopes that she and Margot can meet with him when they travel to Bryn Mawr. Details from Dolenski's letter: "Margot Backas, since she is your literary executor, should indeed come to the College and see for herself just where, and perhaps more importantly, meet the new curator."
Attaches a letter dated 19 July 2001 that she sent to Eric Pumroy. "It was a pleasure to talk the archive over with you. I trust that you can clear the matter of our contract with the Librarian, and I look forward to hearing from him also on its commitments. It seems to me that we might be wise to rewrite the whole contract, including Margot Backas clearly in its stipulations. My daughter Alexandra's name should simply read "Alexandra Truitt." In Truitt's letter to Margot: "Our time together on this visit meant much more to me than just the archive business. If I may say so, I feel closer to you on many levels, all of them important to me." She also thanks Margot for accompanying her to the archives.
Sends two letters to Margot. A letter dated 17 Aug 2001 from Hiram W. Woodward Jr. of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. "I would like to invite you to discuss an installation project here at the Walters Art Museum. The project I have in mind should incorporate one or more of your works and a greater number of objects from the permanent collection of the Walters." In Truitt's letter, she tells Woodward that she would be interested in discussing the possibility.
"I trust that you are home, safe and sound. I have thought of you and Jim so often, so far away from home when the terrorist attacks took place, and with the added worry about the safety of air travel. " Also, discusses how she is sad at Yaddo because she is not producing art as much as usual.
Truitt sends a letter from her lawyer, Douglas L. Siegler, to Margot. The letter is addressed to Eric Pumroy at Bryn Mawr College and dated 28 May 2002. "I would like a copy of the Deed of Gift executed by Mrs. Truitt, as well as any related correspondence and copies of policies regarding access to the papers that is or will be in effect."
Truitt sends a copy of her letter to Eric Pumroy to 3506 35th St, N.W., Washington, D.C. Margot. "Because the archive was designed to be unusually complete, we stipulated that access to it be specifically confined as stated in our agreement, i.e., allowed only by way of written permission from me, or from Margot Backas or my children after my death. I have never so given permission, yet the archive has been open to examination, and to use – vide a Ph.D. dissertation which I recently received. I am distressed that my trust in the college has been breached."
Truitt copies Margot on a letter sent to Eric Pumroy. "My experience with this dissertation has lead me to reconsider the whole matter of my archive at the College. If we are to continue our association, I most strongly agree with you that clarification should be brought to bear on the matter of respect for privacy, as well as on respect for the scholarly interests that constitute the purpose of the archive." Yellow Post-it note is attached to the letter: "Dear Margot, Thank you, Thank you! Love, Anne"
Thanks Margot and Jim for having her grandson, Charlie, over for a luncheon. Includes a thank you note to the Backas' from Charlie.
Copies Margot on a letter to Eric Pumroy, Susanna Sanders and notes on Sanders' dissertation. In Truitt's letter to Mr. Pumroy: "As a special courtesy to Susanna Sanders, I would be grateful if you would enable her to read my annotations if she wishes to do so. This permission is entirely personal, an exception, and does not give her the right to 'fair usage' of my annotations." In her letter to Sanders, she tells her that she sent the notes to Pumroy. From Truitt's notes on Sanders' disseration: "The annotations are self-explanatory. They particularly address two general aspects of the dissertation. The first is the plethora of factual errors...SS consistently attributes to me feelings and motivations that run the gamut from misunderstanding to assumption."
Sends Margot copy of letter sent to Eric Pumroy: "I would like to make some changes in the biography and also to take some time to consider the legal Deed." In Truitt's letter to Margot: "I thought the matter over and concluded that I agree with you that the archive should be complete; also that I have reached the point of no return with Bryn Mawr: further thought on the whole sequence of events is simply egoistic churning."
TL, College Park, MD. 1p. "We gratefully acknowledge receipt of your statement concerning Anne Truitt." from the Special Research Assignment Committee.
"General note: punctuation and grammar are troublesome throughout, too much so for me to comment on each occassion. Equally so, infelicitous writing style. Often subject and verb don't agree - per page 1 of Preface, for example. It is also repetitious."