Love Letters from Paul Brown

To piggyback on intern Grace Pierce’s wonderful blog post a few weeks ago, I’d like to highlight a little more about Paul Brown. 

In 1986, his widow, Harriet, donated several works of art to the National Sporting Library, the predecessor of the NSLM. Within this generous artistic donation were personal papers, including almost one hundred decorated envelopes.  Though we don’t have the actual letters, the envelopes represent the courtship between the artist and his sweetheart, his future wife.

Both natives of Minnesota, Harriet went to school at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts while Paul’s family had moved to Garden City, New York.  They met after the Brown family had moved, his father staying in touch with friends back home.

The envelopes are sometimes addressed to “Harriet” but more often informally to her by her nickname “Sally,” sometimes spelled “Sallie” – the long letters allowing Paul to have fun, like in the instance below:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.61

Many envelopes were decorated with images of stick figures, possibly enacting what Harriet was doing at school, for instance moving into Tyler House at Smith College:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.37ab
Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.44

Or cheering on Harvard against Yale:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.81

Shortly before her graduation, Harriet’s mother passed away, forcing the young woman to return home to St Paul. Her family lived for some time in the St Paul Hotel, a luxury hotel, then and now. The envelope shown below uses an elegant font that would not be out of place at a sophisticated establishment, her initials turning into its own brand. The motif on the left side mirrors that of the bellhop’s uniform, very much in the same manner that hotels tend to do – stamping their design throughout.

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.24

The artist often incorporated the postage stamp into the scene, like in the bellhop above, and in more abstract designs, like the one below:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.13

His sense of humor came through, like the envelope below, poking fun at his golfing skills:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.32

One last memento to share: an envelope postmarked on October 17 and decorated with a “just married” banner, perhaps the last letter before their nuptials on November 12, 1923. A fitting end to such a sweet collection.  

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.78

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

4 Comments

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  1. SO kool! What a charmer to woo with creative graphics! It seems his talent was a river of creativity that flowed from his mind constantly. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. What a lovely blog. Paints such a moving story about such a talented man. What wonderful creative and heartfelt way of displaying his love for his betrothed.

    Paul Brown has always been a favorite of mine. But from now on, when I see his work, I will be viewing it through a different lens then I did before. And, I have a new appreciation for the hand that held that pen.

    Thanks Lauren.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t even imagine how wonderful and magical it would be to receive envelopes addressed such as these. So much has been lost through the age of the e-mail. Very sad indeed.
    Thanks for sharing this insight into a truly remarkable artist. He’s long been a favorite of mine!

    Like

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