Six Degrees of Ernst Bacon

Peggy Bacon, ca. 1920. Photograph by Soichi Sunami. Peggy Bacon papers, 1893-1973. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Ernst Bacon, Ernst Bacon Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

I recently toured the Archives of American Art’s new exhibit, “Six Degrees of Peggy Bacon. ” The exhibit riffs on the idea of  “six degrees of separation”  popularly associated with actor Kevin Bacon, and uses as its central figure New York artist Peggy Bacon, who is little remembered today but was a well-connected member of the New York art world.

In this age of social media, we are all connected more than ever. The connotations of “connected” may have changed over time, but the idea of social connection was hard-wired into human endeavor long before the internet existed.   Archives of American Art Specialist Mary Savig put it simply: “Artists don’t operate in a vacuum.”  Savig alerted me to the exhibit she curated, and when I mentioned the Music Division’s Ernst Bacon Collection, she was kind enough to draw the connections between the two unrelated Bacons:

  • Ernst Bacon was friends with photographer Ansel Adams
  • Ansel Adams co-founded the photography group f/64  with photographer Imogen Cunningham
  • Imogen Cunningham photographed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham (the subject of a Performing Arts Encyclopedia presentation)
  • Martha Graham participated in an American Artists Congress forum organized by painter/photographer/printmaker  Yasuo Kuniyoshi
  • Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Peggy Bacon became friends at the Art Students League

With the help of the web site The Oracle of Bacon,  I was able to connect Ernst Bacon to Kevin Bacon:

  • Ernst Bacon was friends with playwright Thornton Wilder
  • Thornton Wilder was friends with actor Montgomery Clift, who appeared in a production of Wilder’s play The skin of our teeth
  • Montgomery Clift worked with actor Eli Wallach in John Huston’s 1961 film The Misfits
  • Eli Wallach appears in a bit part in Clint Eastwood’s 2003 film Mystic River, starring Kevin Bacon.

In the parlance of Baconalia, this gives Ernst Bacon an impressive  Kevin Bacon degree of four.

The Archives of American Art exhibit connects Peggy Bacon to a wide variety of artists from Romare Bearden to Joseph Cornell to Andy Warhol, but her sphere of influence reached far outside her own field. Peggy Bacon can be connected to photographers like William Stieglitz,  musicians like Duke Ellington and Mary Chapin Carpenter, and even President Ulysses S. Grant.  I bet my fellow bloggers at the Library of Congress can find connections to Peggy Bacon within their own divisions.

6 Comments

  1. Sharon M.
    July 10, 2012 at 10:58 am

    LOL! Wonderful post!

  2. Pat Padua
    July 10, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Thanks Sharon!

  3. Q
    July 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Fantastic thinking to bounce between Library of Congress’ collections and Archives of American Art. Such fun to make the link between artists, musicians, and creative people. Great entry.

  4. Leonard Schilke-Braem
    July 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Highly interesting. Thank you very much!

  5. Shea
    August 15, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Peggy Bacon is my great grandmother, I’ve recently tried to create a family tree and the internet is the best thing when it comes to this. Thanks for giving me some ideas

  6. Ellen Bacon
    February 9, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    I was Ernst Bacon’s 4th and last wife. In connection with this article, it’s interesting to note that Ernst’s third wife was named Peggy Bacon.

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