Autograph Letter to his Longtime Mistress from the World-Renowned Japanese-American Sculptor and Designer

Signed by Isamu Noguchi

$850
Item: 20588
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NOGUCHI, ISAMU. (1904-1988). Japanese-American sculptor and designer. ALS. (“Isamu”). 3pp. 4to. (Takamatsu), January 13, 1971. To his longtime mistress PRISCILLA MORGAN (1919-2014).

“Your cable was just forwarded to me for which many thanks. I’m glad Bonnier has come thru. Actually Ogeki did not seem to be as much worried – mainly I think because Steph Simon is selling now better than ever, and Japan has been picking up.

I have been told that Stanley Marcus would be personally interested, as I have told you, if it is possible to get him.

Michael Blackwood who is at 58 W. 58 has been approached by German television to do something on me, and as he took all that wonderful footage on my fountains I am eager that he should do it, especially as there will be a big sculpture of mine in Munich for which I have to go there in early May to do the initial space layout.

This is not that I want to undercut Eagle. As you would say why not a dozen films. What Eagle took at the Whitney Museum is good and so I hope a certain fair swapping of footage can be arranged – and I have written Michael accordingly.

Shoji will have reported all the happenings. I may go off to India & Israel next month, in which case I will of course come by New York if only to take care of Bernie. I think I will have my assistants here along as I have been promising them a good world tour.

I’m so glad about Shoji and all the Indian airports. Its [sic.] really fantastic.

And how is Harlem? Hope this year will finally see it happening — my Big New Year wish!

Happy New Year to Candida, Melody, Christina (Kristina?) Wanda Sophie and all you[r] retinue. Love…”

Noguchi was born out of wedlock to an American mother and Japanese father. His untraditional background led to an itinerant youth, spent variously in California, Japan and with guardians in Indiana. After expressing interest in becoming an artist, his guardian arranged for an apprenticeship with Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum, whose disparaging remarks about his talent did not deter the young Noguchi, who, soon after, dropped out of Columbia’s premed program to devote himself full time to sculpture. In 1926, the Guggenheim Foundation awarded him one of their coveted fellowships affording him the opportunity to study with sculptor Constantin Brancusi. In 1929, after returning to New York, his work matured and his artistic reputation grew. He forged vitally important relationships with Martha Graham and Buckminster Fuller. Noguchi completed several portraits of Graham and went on to design many sets for her dance company; also in 1929, Noguchi sculpted a chrome-plated bronze bust of Fuller. The men became life-long friends with their initial collaborations including a U.S. lecture tour, a Noguchi model of Fuller’s Dymaxion car and a joint partnership with Japanese-American architect Shoji Sadao (b.1927). Noguchi would later work with Sadao on production of his Akari Light Sculpture and Noguchi Museum in Long Island City.

Noguchi in 1955 with his Akari light sculptures

Despite Noguchi’s initial successes he had difficulty earning a living during the Great Depression, and in 1934 he began to submit work to the Public Works of Art Program, the nation’s first federal relief program for artists. His proposed monument to statesman Benjamin Franklin, Bolt of Lightning, a large stainless steel sculpture in Philadelphia, was initially rejected, but ultimately installed in 1984.

Noguchi’s artistic trajectory was again interrupted by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent internment of Japanese-Americans, during which time he became a voluntary internee at the Poston Internment Camp in Arizona where he sought to promote art and community. However, he was viewed as an outsider by the camp residents and was later accused of espionage by the FBI.

After the war, Noguchi began his influential relationship with Herman Miller, for whom he designed the iconic Noguchi table, still commercially available, and his oeuvre grew to include landscape design, industrial design, fountains (mentioned in our letter) and sculpture of all sizes. In 1948, he left the United States, traveling the world to research the “environment of leisure.” As his fame increased, he received commissions for such high-profile works as Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, UNESCO’s Garden of Peace in Paris and the Dodge Fountain in Detroit.

In 1960, Steph Simon’s (?-?) Paris gallery hosted an exhibition of Noguchi’s Akari light sculptures. Simon is “best-known for introducing and championing the designs of Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand. Thanks to Simon, Akari have had an especially strong impact on design in France,” (“Akari Unfolded: A Collection by Ymer & Malta,” The Noguchi Museum website, www.noguchi.org). Eight years later, Noguchi’s first American retrospective was held at New York’s Whitney Museum.

Morgan, a well-connected talent agent, met Noguchi in 1959 in Paris and the pair fell passionately in love. Although they never married and had other love affairs, theirs was a relationship which spanned 30 years and geographical divides. Of Noguchi, Morgan said “No one could own Isamu… [but] he was the great love of my life,” (“Noguchi’s Loyal Mistress,” The Observer, McPherson). Morgan represented writers and television personalities, first through her own agency and, later, at William Morris. After tiring of television work, she became an associate director of Gian Carlo Menotti’s Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto. Through her lover Rene Bouche, she became acquainted with Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Christo, and Saul Steinberg and counted among her friends, Ezra Pound, Humphrey Bogart, and Harvey Lichtenstein. Her obituary described her as “an agent, an amanuensis, an administrator, a salon-keeper and a behind-the-scenes alchemist who helped forge creative partnerships for decades… a doyenne of international culture, longtime official of the Spoleto arts festival and all-around facilitator for artists… Known for recognizing talent and nurturing it, for making connections among artists,” (“Priscilla Morgan, Cultural Matchmaker, Dies at 94,” The New York Times).

Noguchi among his sculptures

Immediately after the start of their love affair, Morgan urged Noguchi to write his own biography and acted as his amanuensis. She helped him pick out his studio in Long Island “where she often would clean and cook for him… She nursed him through excruciating back operations, reading long books aloud in an un-air-conditioned hospital room and arranging for visitors when visitors were called for, and for solitude when they were not. She put the drops in his eyes after two cataract surgeries,” (op. cit., McPherson). In fact, “when Noguchi was working in Japan or Italy, Priscilla Morgan took care of his affairs in New York. She sorted and forwarded his mail. She organized his filing system, and, with his accountant Bernie Bernstein, dealt with his bills. She made sure that his studio was clean, his plants were watered, his alarm system was working, his car was functioning. She took potential patrons to see his sculptures, either at a warehouse where some of his work was stored or at his studio. Storage, transportation, and insurance issues were in her hands. She also handled a number of loans and sales. She had frequent exchanges with dealers who might be interested in showing Noguchi’s work,” (Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi, Herrera).  For nearly a decade after his death, she devoted herself to protecting and promoting his artistic legacy and was an honorary life trustee and board member of the Noguchi Foundation.

Michael Blackwood (?-?) is a prolific and award-winning producer of art and architecture documentaries. Noguchi was a collaborator on and subject of a number of his works including the 1970 film Japan: The New Art. Blackwood’s films are archived at the Harvard Film Academy. Noguchi was also the subject of a film by Hungarian-American photographer and cinematographer Arnold Eagle (1909-1992) entitled Noguchi: A Sculptor’s World, released in 1973. Stanley Marcus (1905-2002) was the president of the retailer Neiman Marcus. Lightly folded and near fine. With the original envelope. Rare.

Autograph Letter to his Longtime Mistress from the World-Renowned Japanese-American Sculptor and Designer

Signed by Isamu Noguchi

$850 • item #20588


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