List-Nerd Paradise: Smithsonian Archives’ Famous Lists

Lists are everywhere. They’re in our everyday lives, in history and even in art. I was reminded of this as I walked through the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City this weekend. I went to see their newest exhibit – “Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists Enumerations from the Smithonian’s Archives of American Art” – also known as…”List-nerd paradise.” I was in heaven.

I’m a serious list maker – but these lists put even me to shame. There were lists of everything! Some were handwritten, some typed, some in drawings and doodles. Lists of animals, jewelry in production, things that made the author happy, models for paintings, expenses, clients, instructions, reasons for being too busy, inappropriate words and more desirable alternatives, resumes, receipts, addresses, costumes, slogans and even paint colors! You name it – there was a list for it.

Here’s a list (of course) of my favorites:

A Packing List

This is artist Adolf Konrad’s packing list. It’s from December 16, 1963. I love how he drew out every one of his paintbrushes, his comb, camera and all of his outfits. Just goes to show – it doesn’t matter HOW you make a packing list…as long as you make one to stay organized when you travel.

An Inventory List

Jewelry designer Margaret De Patta made a list of all of her orders in 1946. She neatly crossed each one out when she completed it. The satisfaction of crossing off something on your to-do list is immense. I just don’t know how she had the self-control to cross them off so neatly. Whenever I finish a task, I’m usually so excited I pass my pencil over the line a whole bunch of times – back and forth. Sometimes this makes the item vanish forever!

A Booze List

This one made me chuckle. It was also my husband Jay’s favorite. (Yes, he gets brownie points for going with me!) It’s a receipt from John Heller’s Liquor Store in Greenwich Village (which is now Taqueria De Mexico by the way) for $274.51. It is from painter Franz Kline’s purchase on New Year’s Eve 1960. He got a variety of booze including: red wine, Scotch, and Champagne. It’s fun to find old receipts so you can look back and remember exactly what you were doing on that date. In Kline’s case – getting drunk.

A To-Do List

This is Janice Lowery’s to-do list – or as she wrote it “2 do’s.” It takes you inside the artist and journal writers life – errands, work stuff, etc. She used both pictures and words to write these notes in her journals.

One of her other lists on display read:

1. Enjoy the process of letting go

2. Establish fair prices

3. To have fun

Isn’t it amazing that we often forget the simple stuff? This list made me smile.

A Love-Letter List

But it didn’t make me smile as much as this last one. This was my absolutely favorite in the whole exhibit. It’s essentially a love-letter list! How sweet! I want one! (hint, hint)

Architect Eero Saarinen, who designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, wrote it about his soon-to-be wife Aline Bernstein in 1954. It’s clear that he notices the obvious – that she’s beautiful, funny and generous. But he also notes that she’s terribly well organized! How perfect – a man who appreciates a little neurosis in his life!

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7 replies
  1. Isidro
    Isidro says:

    Superb examples of how we organized our lives. Yes, fascinating and so real. Thanks for posting these examples. Definitely I need to visit the Morgan.

    • List Producer
      List Producer says:

      Isidro — thanks for checking out the blog. The exhibit was really wonderful, you should see it for sure! Seeing someone’s lists is so personal — this was a nice sneak peak into these artists’ lives.

    • List Producer
      List Producer says:

      Shirley — you should really go see it — it was fun. Some really interesting stuff. The museum has a few other exhibits going on too.

      Marnely — love that your chef keeps the first prep-list of the season! Would love to see those!

  2. Nelly Rodriguez
    Nelly Rodriguez says:

    LOVE these lists! Specially the drawn packing list, wish I was that artistic to be able to create that! 🙂 My chef on MV saves the first prep-list of the season, year by year. Might need to tell him to display them! 🙂


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