The Stella Kramrisch papers
Held at: Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives [Contact Us]Philadelphia Museum of Art, PO Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives. 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
As a teacher, lecturer, curator and prolific writer, Stella Kramrisch (1898-1993) devoted nearly 70 years to the study and appreciation of Indian art. In remembering Kramrisch, Thomas Lawton, the former deputy director of the Freer Gallery of Art, observed that “all students of Indian culture must acknowledge an intellectual indebtedness” to Kramrisch’s numerous and highly original scholarly contributions.
Stella Kramirsch was born May 29, 1898 in the Moravian town of Nikolsburg (now Mikulov), Austria. When she was about ten years old, her family moved to Vienna. Her early years of education there included Greek, Latin and German philosophy, which introduced her to Indian literature. At the University of Vienna, Kramrisch complimented her studies in art history with courses on Sanskrit, and with the completion of her dissertation on early Buddhist sculpture in India, she received her doctoral degree in 1919. That same year, Kramrisch was invited to lecture at Oxford University. While in England, she met the Bengali writer and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, who was Asia’s first Nobel Laureate, having received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913. At that time, Tagore was involved in establishing an international university that would bring together scholars from East and West cultures. The university, which is known today as Visva Bharati, was located in the town of Santiniketan in West Bengal, India, and Tagore invited Kramrisch to go there to teach at Kala Bhavan, the university’s College of Fine Arts and Crafts. Accepting the offer, Kramrisch sailed to India in 1920 and taught Indian art and a survey of Western art at the college. In 1923 she left Bengal and joined the faculty at the University of Calcutta, becoming its first professor of Indian Art. The following year, Kramrisch published her first book, Principles of Indian Art, (translated from German), which prominent contemporary scholars highly praised. From 1937 to 1940, Kramrisch spent part of each year in London lecturing at the Courtlauld Institute.
In 1950 Kramrisch came to the United States to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia as a Professor of South Asian Art, and she continued to teach there until 1969. In 1954, Kramrisch also took on the role of curator of Indian art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and served as such until 1972. From 1972 until her death in 1993, Kramrisch oversaw the department as Curator Emeritus. Undaunted by the academic and curatorial demands made of her in Philadelphia, Kramrisch also accepted an appointment at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, and taught as a Professor of Indian Art from 1964 to 1982. As noted in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s published memorial, Kramrisch’s writings were even more far-reaching as many of her books continue to be used in universities around the world.
During her tenure at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kramrisch developed its holdings in Indian and Himalayan art and staged a series of ambitious exhibitions that, accompanied by the catalogues and related studies that she wrote, brought significant recognition to the Museum and to the field of Indian art and culture. One such exhibition opened in 1968. Entitled “Unknown India: Ritual Art in Tribe and Village,” it showcased nearly 500 religious and secular objects. After twelve years of planning, research and negotiations, another ground-breaking exhibition, “Manifestations of Shiva” opened in 1981. It was the first major exhibition in this country to examine the religious deity and to explore the multiple interpretations of its meaning. Many of the 197 objects displayed had never before left India. As to the Museum’s own collections, Kramrisch oversaw important acquisitions, including a 6th century bronze mask of Shiva, a bronze figure of Rama made during the Chola dynasty of Southern India, and “Radha and Krishna,” a painting by a Kishangarh school artist.
Kramrisch received worldwide recognition for her many achievements, including honorary degrees from Visvabharati University (1974) and from the University of Pennsylvania (1981). At a ceremony held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1979, Kramrisch was given the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, and in 1985 she received the Freer Medal for her contribution to the “understanding of Oriental civilization as reflected in their arts.” Perhaps the most telling statement of Kramrisch’s life’s work came in 1982 when the Indian government presented her with its highest civilian honor of Padma Bhushan. Kramrisch received the honor for “stimulating a renewed interest not only in the artistic heritage of India but also in its underlying philosophies and world view.” Stella Kramrisch died on August 31, 1993, at the age of 97.
Written by Bertha Adams
The Stella Kramrisch papers house the correspondence, writings and other research materials of Dr. Stella Kramrisch, curator of Indian art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1954 until her death in 1993. The records in this collection date from 1921 to 1999, and contain information about the art objects in Kramrisch’s personal collection (which were later donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art), her publications and research. There is also a large collection of photographs of Indian architecture, paintings and sculpture. The majority of the collection is printed material related to Kramrisch’s research and scholarship. The printed materials include off-prints of journal articles sent to her by colleagues and students, her numerous research notes (in English, Sanskrit and German), her own translations of ancient Indian texts and versions of her published and unpublished articles and manuscripts. Of particular interest to researchers may be the extensive photographic documentation of Indian art, mostly of architecture and sculpture of temples in India. Also of interest may be her personal papers, which include correspondence about her early life in India, research, travel documentation, and information about her lectures and teaching positions. These materials also include files brought together by biographers in the course of their research in the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives, which contain documents pulled from other parts of the collection.
This collection was processed in several stages; as such, some of the current arrangement reflects this. For example, the series “II. Writings and research notes," "III. Collected reference materials," and "Photographs" are divided into two separate subseries even though the contents overlap considerably. Researchers should refer to the series level scope notes for more information.
The “I. Art Collection” series contains records that relate to art Stella Kramrisch collected before and during her tenure at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The records in this series date from 1950 to 1997, and are divided into two subseries: “a. General records,” and “b. Gifts, loans and bequests to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”
The first subseries “a. General records” contains documentation for pieces of art belonging to Stella Kramrisch that were not in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s possession at the time of the records' creation or are not documented as ever being donated, sold, or otherwise given to the museum. These documents include inventories of items in Kramrisch’s apartment before and at the time of her death, appraisal records, documentation of items missing from her collection at the time of her death, and correspondence about various art items. The materials date from 1965 to 1995. Files are arranged alphabetically into several general categories according to subject or record type, and then alphabetically by a more specific subject and/or type or name of the work of art within those categories. General subject categories include "Loans," "Object files," and art objects that have been "Sold, given away, [or] lost."
The second subseries, “b. Gifts, loans and bequests to the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” contains records that pertain to items from Kramrisch’s personal collection which were ultimately given to the museum, and items that she acquired for the museum during her appointment as curator of Indian art. The bulk of this series is comprised of object files for the works of art, although there are some folders of inventories and related correspondence. These records date from 1950 to 1997. This subseries is arranged in alphabetical order by subject, indicating the kinds of records generated by the activities of the Philadelphia Museum of Art after acquiring pieces of art from Stella Kramrisch's collection both before and after her death.
The “II. Writing and research notes” series contains published articles and reviews, unpublished manuscripts, drafts and notes written by Kramrisch. This series also includes reviews written about Kramrisch's published work. The records in this series date from 1921 to 1993, and are divided into two subseries, “a. Subject file I” and “b. Subject file II.” There is overlap between the two subseries; researchers interested in Kramrisch’s writings should view the folder lists for both. Researchers should also note that records relating to lectures given by Kramrisch are found in the subseries "b. Subject files" of the series "VI. Personal papers."
The second subseries, “b. Subject file II,” contains very similar kinds of materials as “Subject file I.” These records are arranged alphabetically by subject or article title and span the years 1940 to 1991. Along with the records in subseries “a. Subject file I,” the materials in this subseries reveal Kramrisch’s extensive interest in symbolism in Indian art. Records of particular interest include astrological charts and diagrams, the Rig Veda and other Indian poetry, research about several puranas, information related to Buddhism and its influence on art and architecture and materials concerning an unpublished book-length research project about death and its relationship to and symbolism in Indian culture.
The “III. Collected reference materials” series contains the articles and publications collected by Stella Kramrisch concerning a wide variety of topics related to Indian art and culture. These items either were sent to her by students, colleagues and friends, or were collected as research for her own publications, teaching and art collection development. The records in this series date from 1921 to 1992. This series is divided into two subseries, “a. Subject file I” and “b. Subject file II.”
The subseries “a. Subject file I” dates from 1921 to 1992 and is arranged alphabetically by the name of the person or institution who created the publication. Additionally, there are some miscellaneous and “off-prints” folders located at the end of the series. Articles labeled as "off-prints" were not written by Kramrisch, but were sent to her by colleagues and students. In both subseries “a. Subject file I” and “b. Subject file II,” there are some miscellaneous files which contain articles written by authors with last names starting with the same letter; for example, “S: Miscellaneous” contains articles written by author’s with last names beginning with “S.”
The subseries “b. Subject file II” is comprised entirely of off-prints and is arranged alphabetically by the name of the person or institution who created the publication. The records date from 1923 to 1991. Though similar in content and arrangement, these records were more recently part of the Indian Art Department’s files and as a result are separated from the first subseries and thus reflect their prior arrangement. Interested researchers are advised to consult both subseries.
The “IV. Stella Kramrisch’s library catalog” series consists of catalog records detailing the contents of Stella Kramrisch’s personal collection of books. The materials date from 1994 to 1997 and are arranged in alphabetical order according to author’s last name. Also included at the end of the series are materials specifically documenting the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s cataloging project of Kramrisch’s library after her death; the catalog records found in the beginning of the series most likely were the products of this project. The “V. Photographs” series dates from 1948 to 1992 and contains two subseries: “a. Identified images“ and “b. Unidentified images.” Researchers should note that there is much overlap between the two subseries.
The “a. Identified images” subseries mostly contains photographs of Indian art, architecture and sculpture. The materials date from circa 1948 to 1992, although the majority of the images are undated. The materials are arranged in alphabetical order according to subject or geographic location of the image. Many of the photographs were taken at various sites in India, such as Ellora, Kerala and Elephanta, while some photographs are of art objects in museums, including various British and American institutions. The photographs most likely were used by Kramrisch in her research and many publications about Indian art. Of particular note are the photographs depicting Siva, various Indian temples, use of symbolism in Indian art and Kramrisch’s research project about Bharhut. Also included in the series are some personal photographs of Kramrisch, including a photograph album (located at the end of the subseries) possibly compiled by Nancy Baxter commemorating Kramrisch’s life. Some microfilm and slides also are filed at the end of the subseries. Many of these images were identified by an Indian Art Department intern between the years 2000 and 2003. Researchers should be aware that the identified photographs in this subseries are directly related to many of the unidentified photographs in subseries “b. Unidentified images.”
The “b. Unidentified images” subseries consists of undated photographs of Indian art. The images likely were collected by Kramrisch to use in her publications and research. Some of the photographs are arranged alphabetically according to genre and media type, including architecture, painting, people and landscape, pottery, and sculpture and relief. However, the majority of the photographs are entirely unidentified. At the end of the subseries are materials from photograph albums and binders, as well as some slides and negatives. Researchers are advised to refer to both subseries of photographs when conducting their research.
The “VI. Personal papers” series contains four subseries: “a. Correspondence,“ “b. Photographs,” “c. Subject files” and “d. Awards, honors and memorials.” The series dates from the 1930s to 1998.
The “a. Correspondence” subseries contains some of Kramrisch’s personal correspondence and dates from the 1930s to 1993. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent’s last name or by subject of the correspondence, with some miscellaneous correspondence arranged by date at the beginning of the subseries and postcards housed at the end of the subseries. While the correspondence in this subseries does not provide entirely comprehensive documentation of Kramrisch’s personal or professional life, researchers may be interested especially in the earlier correspondence as well as the letters from Gerta Calmann, which offer rare glimpses into Kramrisch’s elusive personal history. The letters of recommendation written by Kramrisch and discussion of art objects may be useful to researchers as well. The reference sheets included here may refer to correspondence files not found in this collection or some items of correspondence found in other series of this collection. The postcards found in this subseries reveal an almost daily communication from 1990 to 1993 with Helen Williams Drutt English, a Philadelphia artist who befriended Kramrisch. Also included at the end of the subseries are miscellaneous blank postcards. Researchers should note that some correspondents, including Gerta Calmann, Suzanne Levi and Asit Kumar Haldar, also communicated with Stella Kramrisch’s assistant, Nancy Baxter, after Kramrisch’s death. These letters can be found in series “VII. Nancy Baxter’s biographical research on Stella Kramrisch.”
The “b. Photographs” is a small subseries of undated personal photographs acquired from Stella Kramrisch’s apartment after her death in 1993. The photographs contain images mainly of Kramrisch’s several pet cats, personal friends and their children, and some photographs of objects in Kramrisch’s apartment along with visitors, including Anne d’Harnoncourt.
The “c. Subject files” subseries dates from 1943 to 1997 and is arranged alphabetically by subject. Included in this subseries are materials related to biographical research conducted by various individuals about Stella Kramrisch before and after her death. The materials seem to have been pulled from various other parts of the collection. Additionally, some of the biographical research includes correspondence with Kramrisch and between researchers and Philadelphia Museum of Art staff, so there is some overlap with the previous subseries “a. Correspondence.” Of particular note are records related to lectures given by Kramrisch, as well as her travel for symposia, seminars and conferences. Additionally, many of the records in this subseries relate to Kramrisch’s death and legacy; however, files concerning her estate are restricted. Researchers should contact the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives for more information.
The “d. Awards, honors and memorials” subseries consists of records and artifacts documenting the major awards and honors bestowed upon Kramrisch during her lifetime. The range of awards includes several honorary degrees from various American universities, the Austrian Cross of Honor, a festschrift, as well as several other awards from Indian and American organizations. Included in this subseries are materials related to the 1994 memorial for Stella Kramrisch, including information about the memorial concert, the event’s guest list, as well as condolences written to staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The materials date from 1948 to 1994 and are arranged in chronological order.
The “VII. Nancy Baxter’s biographical research” series contains three subseries: “a. Correspondence,” “b. Topical research files” and “c. Kramrisch family genealogy.” The materials in this series were produced and kept by Stella Kramrisch’s assistant, Nancy Baxter, while she was conducting research for a possible biography to be written about Kramrisch after her death. The series dates from 1987 to 1999 with the bulk of the materials dating from 1995 to 1997.
Subseries “a. Correspondence” contains letters written to and by Nancy Baxter during the course of her biographical research about Stella Kramrisch after Kramrisch’s death. Often, Baxter gleaned correspondents’ names from Kramrisch’s personal correspondence, so there is some overlap in subject with the the subseries “a. Correspondence” in the “VI. Personal papers” series. While these letters were not produced by Kramrisch herself, researchers may find them useful as many contain personal anecdotes and memories of Kramrisch, especially about her life in India, as conveyed by the various correspondents. Also of particular interest is the significant correspondence Baxter maintained with John and Bernard Kramrisch, who were related to Stella Kramrisch and helped Baxter with her genealogical research about the Kramrisch family. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent’s last name or subject of the correspondence with a folder of miscellaneous letters included at the end of the subseries. The subseries dates from 1986 to 1999.
The “b. Topical research files” subseries contains materials collected and compiled by Baxter as background research concerning Kramrisch’s earlier life, study and travels, as well as about her involvement in the Indian art community. The files detailing the “chronology” of Stella Kramrisch’s life may be especially helpful to researchers as these files were in part a culmination of Baxter’s research. Also included in this subseries are records related to the inventory of the Kramrisch collection acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as copies of Kramrisch’s passport. The subseries is arranged in alphabetical order by topic and dates from 1983 to 1998.
The “c. Kramrisch family genealogy” subseries is a small subseries containing various family trees, charts, genealogical survey forms, and other research compiled by Nancy Baxter about Stella Kramrisch’s family. Many of these records were produced as the result of Baxter, with help from John Kramrisch, contacting various possible relatives of Stella Kramrisch. Given that Stella Kramrisch rarely spoke of her early life and family history, researchers may find the materials in this subseries as a good starting place for more information about the extended Kramrisch family. The records are arranged in alphabetical order according to Baxter’s given titles. The subseries dates from 1995 to 1996 with some undated materials.
Transfered from the Indian Art Department.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe and Sarah Newhouse
- Finding Aid Date
- 2011 June 8
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.