Mary Tarleton Knollenberg papers, 1893-2014

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Knollenberg, Mary Tarleton, 1904-1992 and Patterson, Ippy
Mary Tarleton Knollenberg (1904-1992) was an American sculptor working primarily in bronze, stone and plaster. Her artwork characteristically portrays the female form and expressions of female identity. She specialized in nudes; however, her oeuvre also contains animals, busts, and portraits. The Mary Tarleton Knollenberg papers comprise photographs of her family and her sculptures, correspondence with her husband and fellow artists, journals, and ephemera related to her work and exhibitions. The collection also contains resources used in the creation of the retrospective Modern Figures, written by Tarleton's grand-niece, Ippy Patterson.
4 Linear Feet (8 boxes)
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The Mary Tarleton Knollenberg papers are arranged into the following five series: Correspondence, Photographs, Writings, Publicity and Other.

These series comprise Mary Knollenberg's personal photographs of her family and sculptures; writings, diaries and sketches; as well as ephemera and publicity related to her work and exhibitions. The collection also includes correspondence between Mary and her husband Bernhard Knollenberg, friends, and other prominent artists of the time. In addition, The Mary Tarleton Knollenberg papers contain the journals and poetry of her mother, writer Mary L. Tarleton, as well as letters between her parents during the early years of their relationship.

These materials were assembled by Mary Knollenberg's great-niece, the artist Ippy Patterson, who used them to research Mary's life and work. Acquired as part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture.

Biographical / historical:

Mary Tarleton Knollenberg was a sculptor born in 1904 in New York City. She received a scholarship to study at the Solon Borglum School of American Sculpture, where she was able to commute from her parent's house and keep her own studio. While attending school, she trained with influential sculptor Mahonri Young, grandson of Mormon founder Brigham Young.

At age 21, an inheritance from her grandfather allowed Mary to study in Paris with Antoine Bourdelle and stay in the famous Hotel Venezia. Living abroad allowed MTK exposure to many prominent individuals of the time period. She befriended artists, authors and cultural leaders including: Guy Pene du Bois, Gaston Lachaise, Louis Bromfield, Charles Lindbergh, Rosemary Park and many others throughout her lifetime. These relationships are reflected in her correspondence as well as the portraits she sculpted.

After returning to the United States, MTK trained with animal sculptor Heinz Warnecke in East Haddam, Connecticut. In 1934, she married widower Bernhard Knollenberg after many years of courtship. He was a lawyer, Revolutionary War historian and head of Yale's Sterling Memorial Library. They were married for 35 years and lived for the majority of that time in Chester, CT where MTK died at the age of 88.

While in Paris, Mary developed Tuberculosis, an illness that plagued her throughout her life. She was also plagued by self-doubt and depression. Her existing oeuvre is small because she was frequently unable to complete her work to her own satisfaction, and she even allowed many of her large-scale works to disintegrate.

Mary is most well-known for her sculptures, made primarily from bronze, stone and plaster, that deal with female bodies. These nude figures are often displayed in contemplative or reclining poses. These motifs reflect MTK's struggle with female identity and what it meant to be a woman artist. These questions also undermined her efforts to complete her sculptures.

Although her body of work is small, Mary Tarleton Knollenberg's life and work stands as a testament to her role in transforming sculpture as a medium for women artists.

Acquisition information:
The Mary Tarleton Knollenberg papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift 2016.
Processing information:

Processed and described by Valerie Szwaya, 2016.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

Women sculptors -- United States -- 20th century
Scupture, American
Patterson, Ippy


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