Ready for Research: The Winold Reiss Collection

Graphic design for Photo Engravers Convention, Chicago. Poster featuring cartoon-like storks. Poster designed by Winold Reiss, circa 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64515

Graphic design for Photo Engravers Convention, Chicago. Poster featuring cartoon-like storks. Poster designed by Winold Reiss, circa 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64515

The following is a guest post by Owen Ellis, Archivist, Prints & Photographs Division.

An invaluable record of modern design and art during the 1920s through 1940s is now available through the Winold Reiss Collection. Close to 800 drawings, photographs, posters, and prints document the creativity and contributions of a visionary designer. The collection highlights include original designs by Reiss for dining establishments, apartments, and hotels as well as decorative art patterns, furniture, and commercial art such as packaging and labels. The Library of Congress has selections of drawings, rather than the documentation for entire design projects, in order to represent the diverse work Reiss created. All items held by the Library have been digitized and are available to the public.

Biography

Winold Reiss (1886-1953) came from a family of artists. His father Fritz Reiss (1857-1914) was a landscape painter and his brother a sculptor. Reiss himself was a versatile artist. He worked on everything from architecture and graphic design to landscape and portrait paintings. Departing from his native Germany he arrived in New York in October of 1913, and his wife Henriette and infant son Tjark joined him the next year. In the United States the young designer found success with many commissions where he could showcase his talents. Some of his most well-known works are the murals and rotunda ceiling in the Cincinnati Union Terminal; interiors for the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn, the Crillon Restaurant in Manhattan, and the Longchamps chain of restaurants; and his portraits of American Indians.

Design drawing for Manhattan Center Longchamps restaurant façade.] [Mosaic front for new Longchamps. Drawing by Winold Reiss, circa 1950. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.08123

Design drawing for Manhattan Center Longchamps restaurant façade.] [Mosaic front for new Longchamps. Drawing by Winold Reiss, circa 1950. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.08123

Langston Hughes, half-length portrait, seated, facing right, with right hand under chin. Photo of drawing by Winold Reiss, 1927. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/94507692/

Langston Hughes, half-length portrait, seated, facing right, with right hand under chin. Photo of drawing by Winold Reiss, 1927. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/94507692/

In 1915, Reiss co-founded the Society of Modern Art, which published the Modern Art Collector magazine. That year he also established his own school and studio in New York, where he mentored many art students. One of these was a young Aaron Douglas, who became a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance. He also painted portraits of prominent figures Langston Hughes and W. E. B. Du Bois. Writer Alain Locke was so impressed by his work, he asked Reiss to illustrate his book The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), which became one of the most important publications of African American culture at the time.

In the early 1920s Reiss traveled to the western United States, Mexico, and Europe, creating new works with inspiration from new subjects. His paintings of American Indians garnered him further attention. He was commissioned by the Great Northern Railway to paint dozens of portraits of members of the Blackfeet Tribe, which were distributed as lithographic reproductions in calendars. During his time on the Blackfeet Reservation he developed some close friendships, and was ultimately made an honorary member of the Blackfeet Tribe with the name “Beaver Child.” Reiss incorporated American Indian-inspired motifs into some of the commercial art he created, as his interest in American Indian cultures continued to grow.

Graphic design drawings for Barricini Candy packages. 3-D Study, circular candy box with Indian motif on blue background. Drawing by Winold Reiss, 1948. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64582

Graphic design drawings for Barricini Candy packages. 3-D Study, circular candy box with Indian motif on blue background. Drawing by Winold Reiss, 1948. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64582

Although Reiss loved the American West, he always returned to New York, the creative center for his career. Later in life he purchased a home in Reno City, Nevada, intending to retire there, but he passed away at a relatively young age in 1953. His ashes were scattered over a Montana hillside by members of the Blackfeet Tribe. All that remained was his legacy in the art world. The collection at the Library of Congress provides a sample of his diverse creative output. The bulk of his work remains with the Reiss-owned family archive.

Making the Collection Available Online

Between 1989 and 2014, Ford Peatross, then the Prints & Photographs Division curator for architecture, design, and engineering, gradually acquired a representative sample of Winold Reiss’s work, primarily from the Reiss Family. Not until 2018, however, was a scanner available that could do justice to the vibrant colors and metallic paints that Reiss used. We dived in at that point and assembled a team to organize, describe, and digitize each drawing. A Metis scanner captured each of the unique drawings effectively, utilizing lighting in multiple scan passes that can be adjusted to show off the reflectivity of the metallic paint, for example, and applying custom color profiles to accurately reproduce the colors Reiss selected for his designs.

Metis scanner being used to digitize a collection item. Photo by LC staff, 2020.

Metis scanner being used to digitize a collection item. Photo by Chris Masciangelo, 2020.

Tips for Accessing and Using the Collection

All of the collection can be viewed online through the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. You can browse through the images by searching for “Winold Reiss collection”; adding keywords such as “New York” or “magazine covers” will narrow down results. We organized most of the items into groups with a shared call number based on design project. Some works have not yet been associated with a specific project or date range and are described as unidentified or miscellaneous until more information is available. Each group has a catalog record description to provide information about the overall project, and each item is also cataloged individually with its own description.

Original materials can be seen in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room by making an appointment in advance. Extra time is needed to safely pull fragile drawings from their storage locations, which are in different locations according to their sizes. A research appointment (when Library of Congress reading rooms open for researchers) can be made by sending an inquiry to the Prints and Photographs Division through the Library’s Ask a Librarian Service.

The rights status differs among the drawings, with close to 500 items having “no known restrictions on publication” because works by Reiss received by the Library prior to 2008 included the intellectual property rights as part of the gift. Items received in 2008 and after require permission for publication. Each catalog record has a rights advisory note to guide your use of the materials. You can also reference the Winold Reiss rights statement on the Reading Room’s web site.

Highlights from the Collection

Reiss created art for a variety of companies and brands, exploring different styles and themes, many of which are represented in the collection. Other notable items are graphic designs made by Reiss for various publications. Included are designs for covers of books and magazines such as the Modern Art Collector and Detective Magazine.

Graphic designs for the Modern Art Collector Magazine. Medieval festival theme. Drawing by Winold Reiss, circa 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64317

Graphic designs for the Modern Art Collector Magazine. Medieval festival theme. Drawing by Winold Reiss, circa 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64317

Graphic designs for Detective Magazine covers. Cover for "The illustrated detective magazine" for April 1930, showing woman holding gun. Photomechanical print of design by Winold Reiss, 1930. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64008

Graphic designs for Detective Magazine covers. Cover for “The illustrated detective magazine” for April 1930, showing woman holding gun. Photomechanical print of design by Winold Reiss, 1930. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64008

Reiss also created designs for theaters, stages, and exhibitions, including the Music Hall and Applied Arts Building of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Very few of his commissions survive today, because building interiors and packaging styles are so frequently updated. His contribution to the Joyce Theater (originally Elgin Theater) in New York is still visible, and the collection contains several proposed designs for theaters, one of which was ultimately used for the Elgin.

Designs for the Puck or Elgin Theater, New York, NY. Exterior perspective study. Drawing by Winold Reiss, circa 1940. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64495

Designs for the Puck or Elgin Theater, New York, NY. Exterior perspective study. Drawing by Winold Reiss, circa 1940. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64495

Suggested treatments of Auditorium for Theatre and Concert Hall, New York World's Fair 1939. Scheme A, drawing 205 CD 2 (dark to light blue), sectional elevation. Drawing by Winold Reiss, 1938. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.15913

Suggested treatments of Auditorium for Theatre and Concert Hall, New York World’s Fair 1939. Scheme A, drawing 205 CD 2 (dark to light blue), sectional elevation. Drawing by Winold Reiss, 1938. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.15913

Design for Cincinnati Union Terminal. Study for the color treatment of the ceiling. Drawing by Winold Reiss, 1933. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64612

Design for Cincinnati Union Terminal. Study for the color treatment of the ceiling. Drawing by Winold Reiss, 1933. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.64612

Another extant commission is his designs for the Cincinnati Union Terminal. The Reiss Collection has the original drawing for the color scheme of the rotunda of the terminal (see above). Although the Library does not have original drawings for the murals themselves, they are documented in multiple photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith collection. The terminal’s history and architecture is also documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey, under the survey number HABS OH-705.

One of four large but intricate mosaic-tile murals inside the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, built in 1933 as Cincinnati Union Terminal, a passenger railroad station in the Queensgate neighborhood. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2016. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.42174

One of four large but intricate mosaic-tile murals inside the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, built in 1933 as Cincinnati Union Terminal, a passenger railroad station in the Queensgate neighborhood. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2016. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.42174

DETAIL OF DOME INTERIOR, LOOKING EAST - Cincinnati Union Terminal, 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati, Hamilton County, OH. Photo by Galeb Faux, 1981. Historic American Buildings Survey //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.oh0024/photos.127124p

Detail of dome interior, looking East – Cincinnati Union Terminal, 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati, Hamilton County, OH. Photo by Galeb Faux, 1981. Historic American Buildings Survey //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.oh0024/photos.127124p

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