Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 7439
Davis, Robert Tyler
Robert Tyler Davis Papers, 1918-1977 and undated
Robert Tyler Davis (1904-1978) was born in Los Angeles, California. He was a museum administrator and an educator in art and art history, specializing in Pacific Northwest Native American art, and decorative arts, particularly tapestries. He graduated from Franklin High School, Los Angeles, and studied art history, drawing, and painting at the University of California at Los Angeles, and at Harvard, A.B., 1926, A.M., 1928. He was a Carnegie Fellow (1927-1929), and studied fine arts abroad, taking courses at the Sorbonne. He taught drawing, painting and art history at the University of Rochester, in New York (1929-1933), and at the Erskine School for Girls, Boston, when he returned to Harvard for graduate museum studies between 1933 and 1934.
On September 6, 1934 Davis married mystery novelist Lillian Soskin, and became Director of Education at the Albright Gallery in Buffalo, New York. In 1939 Davis was named Director of the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, where he researched and collected Native American art. His book, Native Arts of the Pacific Northwest, was published in 1949. From 1947 to 1952 Davis was Director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and Professor of Fine Arts at McGill University in Montreal. Davis was Director of the Vizcaya-Dade County Art Museum, 1953-1957, Interim Director of the Joe and Emily Lowe Gallery, University of Miami, 1955-1956, and Coordinator of Humanities and Professor of Art at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, 1956-1959. Lillian Davis died October 12, 1957. Davis was remarried January 29, 1959 to Janet Evans Golby.
In 1960 Davis was hired as museum consultant and liaison for the French and Company art dealership in New York. In September 1968 Davis became Assistant Director of the National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.; Acting Director, June 1969-January 1970; and later Special Assistant for the Collections, 1972-1975. His son, Martin M. Davis, died in 1969, and Janet Davis died in 1973. In 1975 Robert Tyler Davis retired to Lily Dale, New York, and traveled extensively. He died in 1978 in Pasadena, California.
These papers document Robert Tyler Davis' education and career, 1918-1977. The majority of the material is dated 1937- 1977. A fair amount of incoming correspondence illustrates Davis' personal life, and, to a lesser extent, his professional career. Of special note are letters from Davis' second wife, Janet, and journals kept during his travels. Materials concerning his career consist largely of photographs, newspaper clippings, and research notes, and less often include official business papers and correspondence. The most detailed division regards his directorship of the Vizcaya Museum. Davis' research on the Gellatly Collection in the Smithsonian is also well documented. Other materials include travel photographs, artistic sketches drawn by Davis, and notes.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Davis, Robert Tyler
- Albright Art Gallery (Buffalo, N.Y.)
- Portland Art Museum (Or.)
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
- McGill University
- Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (Miami, Fla.)
- Joe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery (University of Miami)
- French & Company (New York, N.Y.)
- National Collection of Fine Arts (U.S.)
- Harvard University
- University of Rochester
- University of Miami
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7439, Robert Tyler Davis Papers