Helen Balfour Morrison photograph collection
Scope and Content of the Collection
A preliminary inventory of photographs taken by Helen Balfour Morrison intended for a “Great Americans” series of portraits. The Morrison-Shearer Foundation describes the history of the project as follows: “While preparing to photograph Jensen, Helen was already making portraits of other notable individuals as well – sometimes doing four or five portrait sittings a day in Chicago. Rockwell Kent sat for her and introduced her to Bill Kittredge at the Lakeside Press, who suggested she do a book on Great Americans. She began more actively seeking out notables and asking to photograph them…”
The collection includes over 900 prints, with over 550 unique images. Individuals represent a wide range of professions including visual and performing artists, educators and academics, architects, journalist and literary writers, scientists, social activists, and business and government leaders. Many of the photographs were exhibited throughout the United States during the 1930s and 1940s.
The majority of the photographs are black and white prints between 11” x 14” and 14” x 18”. Due to varying sizes of the prints, small prints have been separated out and are listed separately. Also included is a portfolio of portraits compiled by Morrison, with many inscribed prints. Other photographs by Helen Balfour Morrison along with slides and negatives are still unprocessed and will be added to the inventory once completed.
- Creation: approximately 1935-approximately 1957
- Morrison, Helen Balfour, 1900-1984 (Person)
Materials are in English.
Conditions Governing Access
The Helen Balfour Morrison Photograph Collection are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).
Ownership and Literary Rights
The Helen Balfour Morrison Photograph Collection are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright belongs to the Morrison Shearer Foundation. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.
Biography of Helen Balfour Morrison
White American photographer and artist.
Helen Balfour was born in Evanston, Illinois on August 1, 1900 or 1901 to Fannie Lindley and Alexander Balfour. In her later teenage years, Helen took a job in a photography studio to help support the family after the death of her mother. At this studio she learned to use the portrait camera and helped expand the studio’s business with creative ideas of her own. In the 1920s, Helen and her brother Malcolm (“Mac”) started their own commercial photography business in Evanston. She married Robert Bruce Morrison (March 5, 1902 – June 19, 1966), a publishing executive, in 1925 or 1926.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Morrison undertook several photography projects. She is known for her “Great Americans” or “Notable Americans” series, photographing some 200 people, among them Robert Frost, Helen Hayes, Nelson Algren, Frank Lloyd Wright, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, Mies van der Rohe, Amelia Earhart, and Jane Addams. During the same time period, Morrison created a series of documentary and artistic photographs of African American communities in Kentucky.
In 1943 she became lighting director and artistic collaborator with modern dancer Sybil Shearer and by the mid-1950s was photographer Shearer exclusively. Her collaboration with Shearer produced a large collection of extraordinary dance photographs and films, as well as an intense and sensitive documentation of Shearer’s life. Their artistic and personal collaborations continued until Helen’s death on November 6, 1984.
28 Linear Feet (2 boxes and 14 oversize boxes)
A preliminary inventory of photographs taken by Helen Balfour Morrison intended for a “Great Americans” series of portraits. The collection includes over 900 prints, with over 550 unique images. Individuals represent a wide range of professions including visual and performing artists, educators and academics, architects, journalist and literary writers, scientists, social activists, and business and government leaders.
Materials arranged alphabetically by subject with small prints listed at the end.
Collection Stack Location
1 43 1-3
Gift, Morrison-Shearer Foundation.
Catherine Grandgeorge, 2021.
- Inventory of the Helen Balfour Morrison photograph collection, approximately 1935-approximately 1957
- In Progress
- Catherine Grandgeorge
- Language of description
- Script of description