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George Daniel Hoffman Papers, 1915 1999   

| Manuscripts Gifts 2006 | Front Page 2006 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |

In 1984 The State newspaper described George Daniel Hoffman as "truly the renaissance Man." Born in Buffalo, New York, on 8 April 1915, Hoffman exhibited signs of greatness in the arts of painting and music from an early age. As a boy, Hoffman became a member of the Morning Boy Choristers, a well known local Buffalo boy’s choir that performed a weekly radio show. And, as a young teenager, he won several drawing contests in the Buffalo Times. Hoffman was educated in the Buffalo public school system and graduated from the Buffalo School of Fine Arts (1936) and the State University of Buffalo (1937) with a degree in Art Education.

Hoffman’s papers are all but silent about the years between his college education and military service. He taught briefly in the New York public school system, first in Schuylerville, then at Schenectady, before joining the United States Air Force in 1945. He served mainly at AACF headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina, and worked as an Air Force artist. Hoffman was honorably discharged in 1947 and moved to New York City, where he continued to study art at the Parsons School of Design and the Commercial Workshop. It was at this time that he began pursuing a career as a full time portraitist.

By the early 1950s Hoffman had established himself as a successful high society portraitist. His subjects at the time included the Albert Warners and the Spyros Skouras family (movie moguls); Harriet Annenberg Ames and Rita Allen (Broadway producers); Frances Greet (opera singer); and Lady Beatrice Graham. During this period, Hoffman also pursued a music career, singing with the 1950 world premiere of the Lukas Foss and Jean Karsavina adaptation of Mark Twain’s classic tale, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," as produced by New York’s After Dinner Opera Company, and ultimately performing a one man recital at Carnegie Hall in 1952. In conjunction with the latter performance, a selection of Hoffman’s finest portraits was exhibited in the Carnegie Hall green room, including his most famous portrait, that of quintessential American folk artist Grandma Moses.

Hoffman had been commissioned in 1950 by Otto Kallir of Gallerie St. Etienne, in New York City, to paint Anna Mary Robertson Moses’ official portrait. She made several dozen sittings for her portrait, and Hoffman maintained a visual journal to document the portrait from first sitting to the project’s conclusion. After its completion, the portrait was exhibited on tour by the Smithsonian Institution. Moses’ portrait has been shown in a number of notable museums over the decades, and there is no doubt that Hoffman’s success with this portrait catapulted his art career. The portrait is now on display in the Grandma Moses Gallery at Vermont’s Bennington Museum.

In the late 1950s Hoffman moved southward, initially settling in Selma, Alabama. There he continued painting portraits of socialites, including Selma’s mayor, Joseph T. Smitherman, and Rex Morthland, president of Banker’s Association of America. In 1963 he relocated to Columbia, South Carolina. His art career continued to flourish there as he painted portraits of such political luminaries as Governors John C. West and George Bell Timmerman. Other South Carolinians who sat for Hoffman included Episcopal Bishop William A. Beckham, Henry J. Cauthen, Dr. Maceo Nance, Judge John Grimball, Hyman Rubin, and University of South Carolina President William H. Patterson.

Hoffman was to remain in Columbia for the rest of his life and would continue to be an active participant in the city’s arts community until his death on 18 April 1999. His long standing association with Ebenezer Lutheran Church led to the publication in 1979 of a series of architec¬tural drawings in celebration of that congregation’s sesquicentennial. Hoffman also served as advisor for several major architectural renova¬tions at Ebenezer. It was there too, at age eighty-three, that George Hoffman gave the final solo performance of his recital career. From 1974 to 1993 he sang with the Columbia Choral Society and throughout his years in Columbia was frequently called upon to sing in area churches.

Though Hoffman was primarily a portraitist, he also specialized in still life, floral, and landscape paintings. In 1996 the Waterloo Museum of Art, in Iowa, held a retrospective exhibit that honored and showcased Hoffman’s entire career. His artwork was also exhibited in major shows in Clinton, Iowa; Morgantown, North Carolina; and Charlottesville, Virginia. Major museum exhibitions include the Arthur U. Newton Gallery, the Hammer Gallery, the IBM Gallery, and Gallerie St. Etienne.

Hoffman possessed a lifelong philanthropic spirit, and there is evidence that he contributed up to a quarter of his earnings to charitable causes. In the 1980s he began his relationship with SCETV. His love for nature made him a fitting patron for the popular wildlife television program "NatureScene" hosted by naturalist Rudy Mancke. Hoffman’s major donation to the ETV Endowment in 1987 made possible the establishment of the NatureScene Award.

The George Daniel Hoffman papers consist of some sixteen and a quarter linear feet plus five oversize flat file boxes spanning much of the twentieth century. The collection is arranged in thirteen major series: original artwork, general/ephemera, art career, biographical, correspon¬dence, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Grandma Moses, music career, original artwork (by other artists), original writings, published materi¬als, SCETV/NatureScene, and visual materials.

Of primary significance among the series are the original works of art, including Hoffman’s sketch books, loose drawings, studies, and full scale paintings embracing the entire span of his career. There is a series of placard studies and a full scale post production cartoon drawing of Hoffman’s portrait of Grandma Moses; portrait studies of South Carolina politicos George Bell Timmer¬man and John C. West; multiple examples of Hoffman’s annual Christmas card art; and a pastel self portrait executed by the artist in his early twenties.

Other materials relating to his art career are inventories, registers, exhibition programs, and price listings of Hoffman’s collected paintings and major exhibitions, from his earliest published drawing (in a 1928 edition of the Buffalo Times) to his mature period in Columbia, South Carolina.

Correspondence includes postcards, greeting cards, and letters dating from 1931 until Hoffman’s death in 1999. The artist maintained a vigorous epistolary existence, and his correspondents included Lady Beatrice Graham, John C. West, the Spyros Skouras family, Faye Wattleton, Sal Cilella (director, Columbia Museum of Art), Jeffrey Day (art critic, The State newspaper), Bob Jones, and Hyman Rubin as well as family members and lesser known friends. Letters between Hoffman and Grandma Moses, other members of the Moses family, and Otto Kallir, the prominent Austrian art collector who owned Gallerie St. Etienne in New York City and also functioned as Grandma Moses’ agent, are also present. Throughout much of his life, Hoffman collected items relating to the career of Grandma Moses - books, press clippings, postage stamps, and the like—and these are also among the collection materials.

Works of art by other artists include original drawings and prints by Kathleen O'Brien and Miné Okubo, a prominent Japanese American artist (and author of Citizen 13660) who corresponded frequently with Hoffman and included many prints and original drawings in her letters.

Visual materials - among them thousands of photographs, negatives, and slides - correlate with Hoffman’s personal life and art career and include images of many of his portraits and other paintings. They are augmented by photograph albums containing news clippings and photos relating to Hoffman’s visual arts career.

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