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Bernadine Custer Papers

Identifier: mss-098

Scope and Content Note

The Bernadine Custer collection is notable as a record of the career of an artist during the New Deal era and beyond, and as a compendium of the life of a remarkably independent and intellectually energetic woman of the twentieth century.

Correspondence includes copies of the hundreds of letters Custer sent to friends, family, colleagues in the art world, business people, editors, and clients, arranged chronologically, and ends with the first part of her received correspondence from business and art community associates. Correspondence received from family and friends is also present.

Notes and lists written by Custer on a variety of subjects, including business matters, artwork sold, loaned, and exhibited, and addresses and phone numbers of her associates are followed by exhibition catalogues from Bernadine's own solo shows as well as group shows of friends, associates, and prominent artists. A number of programs from the Festival of Arts held at Southern Vermont Art Center between 1979 and 1985 are also present.

Custer's artwork, including sketches and magazines with examples of her published graphic art, and a series on art guilds, galleries, exhibitions, and competitions in which she participated or for which she was solicited follows. The Art series also contains the most complete record available of the sale of her work. Various business papers and drafts of articles which were submitted for publication are stored together.

The collection includes a large collection of photographs of Custer, her family and associates, and studies for paintings. Also found here are a number of newspaper clippings Custer saved over the years, from notices of her own exhibits, to information on Vermont, Thomas Hart Benton, her family, and matters of political interest.

Of special interest to students of art will be the series of Government Art Projects, which contain the bulletins, publications, Competition Notices, and general paperwork of the various federal art project organizations with which she was involved.

Diaries, sketchbooks, notebooks, and photo albums that Custer collected follow.

The collection concludes with the series of Arthur Sharp's personal effects, including examples of his artwork, his diaries, and a number of the publications of his children's book press, Shoestring.


  • 1917-1990



Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights:

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

The life of Bernadine Custer is marked by a long and prolific career in the American arts community. Born in Normal, Illinois at the turn of the twentieth century to a decidedly normal, large catholic family, she left home at an early age to begin a life as an artist. After graduating from Illinois State University at Normal in 1920 she moved to Chicago to attend the Chicago Art Institute. Upon completing four years of instruction there she became an art teacher in 1924. This profession was to sustain her financially throughout her life as she worked on her mural, oil, watercolor painting, and sketching.

Around this time she met her husband, Arthur "Jimmy" Sharp, who was also an artist and a native of Great Britain. They married in 1928 and spent a year living in England, then returned to New York City. Sometime in the mid-1930s the couple purchased a house in Landgrove, Vermont, which they used as a seasonal retreat. Later they sold that house and moved to Londonderry, continuing to split their time between painting and renovating the Vermont home and teaching and producing graphic art in New York.

In 1933 Bernadine was commissioned by the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture to paint a mural in the Summerville, S.C. post office as part of the newly created new Deal art projects. She remained affiliated with the Section, and its descendants the Federal Artist's project and the Public Works of Art Project, until they were dissolved in 1943, creating a post office mural for the town of Woodstock, Vermont as well.

During the 1930s she also began a career as a successful graphic artist and writer, publishing in the New Yorker, Common Ground, Scribner's, Today, Fiction Parade, and Vermont Life, among others. It was during this period that she began her association with a number of prominent American artists, many of whom spent off-seasons in Vermont. Among these were Paul Sample, Carl Ruggles, and Thomas Hart Benton. She began exhibiting her work in galleries around the country, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Addison Gallery in Andover, Massachusetts, the Chicago Art Institute, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In the 1950s she began teaching at New York's Pratt Institute, and stayed on the faculty there well into the 1980s. She also became an early member of the Southern Vermont Art Center, and for many years taught children's art classes there and in her home. When Jimmy died in the late '60s she began to spend more time in the Londonderry house, eventually considering herself enough of a Vermonter to begin corresponding regularly with Congressman James Jeffords.

Custer remained an avid traveler and letter-writer well into her eighties. In 1990 she moved from her Londonderry house to a nearby nursing home, where she died in 1991.


7 Linear Feet (6 cartons, 3 oversize folders)

Language of Materials



The Bernadine Custer collection is notable as a record of the career of an artist during the New Deal era and beyond, and as a compendium of the life of a remarkably independent and intellectually energetic woman of the twentieth century.

Physical Location

Library Research Annex; contact for access.

Guide to the Bernadine Custer Papers
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)