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Guide to the Bill Cunningham Collection
 MS 3137

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 01, 2019
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Scope and Contents

The collection includes various items related to the fashion designer and photographer Bill Cunningham that were acquired by the New-Historical Society at auction in 2017. A thread that links many of the items is their connection to a friend of Cunningham's, Roberta Wolfe-Baer. Most significant are the several notes from Cunningham to Wolfe-Baer, dating from about 1979 to 2016. These notes are typically short, handwritten on postcards, greeting cards, clippings from the New York Times of Cunningham's photographs, Post-it stickies on print-outs of Cunningham's photography, and the like. They were often sent for occasions like Wolfe-Baer's birthday on March 18 or the Christmas holiday season. In these notes, Cunningham often expresses his feelings behind the images sent or the sources of his inspiration, such as when referring to winter scenes or the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston (where he went "to dream of beauty" as a child). Occasionally Cunningham turns to current events, such as when referring to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Barack Obama "pulling the rug from under" the Clintons during the 2008 presidential primaries. But principally these notes are filled with Cunningham's affection for Wolfe-Baer and frequently play on his reference to her as the "Orange One." There are two letters from Cunningham to Wolfe-Baer's life companion, Stephen, dating from the months after her death in 2016 in which Cunningham reflects on her memory. Wolfe-Baer also appears in photographs in the collection, wearing an orange feather hat (which is now in N-YHS's museum collection).

In addition to the Wolfe-Baer notes, the collection includes an extensive number of newspaper clippings from around 1960 that relate to Cunningham's fashion work of the time, when he was known as William J. There are also several clippings from the late 1990s and into the 2000s when his photography appeared in the New York Times. Other clippings and tearsheets include articles by or about Cunningham.


The collection is arranged by document type.