Press Releases

Photography Collections of Gordon Parks and Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation Find New Home at Purchase College

Date Released: 6/2/2009

June 2, 2009 – Pleasantville, NY – More than 4,000 prints and 20,000 negatives of groundbreaking African-American photographer Gordon Parks’s work – along with a large collection of 19th and early 20th century images by Mathew Brady and other early American photographers – will move to a new home at Purchase College/State University of New York, where the collection will be preserved, catalogued, and made available for public view and study, according to officials of the Gordon Parks Foundation, a division of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.

As the first black photographer at LIFE magazine, Gordon Parks masterfully chronicled everything from the Civil Rights movement to gang life to the worlds of fashion and art.  With equal parts grit and beauty, he photographed poor families living in squalor as well as professional athletes and glamorous stars.  His iconic images of boxer Muhammad Ali are among his most well-remembered and widely-reproduced, but his portraits of neighbors from his Fort Scott, Kansas childhood home, and the signature “American Gothic” image of a black cleaning woman holding mops in both hands are stunning images that underscored race and class issues in mid-20th century America. 

In addition to his photo work, Parks was a respected musician, poet and novelist.  He wrote The Learning Tree (and directed the film version). He also wrote, directed, and scored 1971's iconic Shaft, which ushered in the sub-genre that became known as "blaxploitation."

"Gordon Parks' career is one that could never be categorized," said Dyllan McGee, Executive Director of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.  "His wide-ranging work showcased a personal journey from poverty to wide acclaim, but his photographs also documented a crucially important time in America’s history and they resonated with people all over the world.  We're thrilled that this collaboration with Purchase College will allow so much of Gordon’s artistic output to be more broadly seen, studied and understood."

The Parks collection moves to Purchase College along with the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection of 100,000 Civil War-era photographs by Brady, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O'Sullivan, and the newly acquired collection of LIFE magazine photojournalist Ed Clark who chronicled, among other things, the impact of war on Americans in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. 

"We are privileged to have these exquisite collections at Purchase College," said President Thomas J. Schwarz.  "Together they form an extraordinary resource for students and scholars of American social history and culture.  This partnership with the respected Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation not only provides teaching and research benefits for our students and faculty but also opportunities for the college and the foundation to collaborate on digital and physical exhibitions that will help inform the public."

The Parks collection, and all of Meserve-Kunhardt's photographic holdings, will be housed at Purchase College Library, where the prints, negatives and other related memorabilia will reside in an active, climate-controlled area in the library's offices. 

"There is enormous potential for a collection like this,” said Patrick Callahan, director of the library at Purchase College.  "The photographs are all beautiful and richly evocative, and I'm confident that our students will directly benefit from having access to these research materials."
The Parks and Meserve-Kunhardt collections will also get further exposure though the acclaimed Neuberger Museum of Art, which is situated on the Purchase College campus.
"These collections are among the most important resources to become available here since Roy Neuberger made the gift of twentieth-century American Art that established the Neuberger Museum of Art," said Thom Collins, Director of the Neuberger Museum.

The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation acquired the Gordon Parks Collection in 2007, after Parks' death the previous year.   Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. and Parks were colleagues and close friends at LIFE magazine.  Parks was so impressed by the Foundation’s care for the work of 19th century photographer Mathew Brady, he began discussions months before his death to leave his photographic legacy in the Foundation’s care.  Meserve-Kunhardt founded the separate, non-profit Gordon Parks Foundation under its auspices, with the mission of preserving Parks’s legacy, supporting young artists, and opening the collection to public review and scholarly research.

About the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation
The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation is a New York State 501(c)(3) corporation,  created in 2002 and dedicated to the preservation of oral and visual history and its use to inform, educate, and inspire.  Named for Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., a former managing editor of LIFE magazine, and Frederick Hill Meserve, Kunhardt’s maternal grandfather, who began collecting historical photographs and glass negatives in 1897, including rare photos of President Abraham Lincoln, The Foundation’s collection, which also includes the comprehensive archive of children’s book author Dorothy Kunhardt (Pat the Bunny), offers unparalleled insight into 19th- and early 20th-century America.  For more information, visit www.mkfound.org.

About the Gordon Parks Foundation
The Gordon Parks Foundation was created to preserve and perpetuate the artist's legacy, support the work of others, and honor those whose contributions have advanced what Parks called "the common search for a better life and better world."  For more information, visit www.gordonparksfoundation.org.