Stephen Longstreet: Harlem Sketch Books

February 4, 2008

The Stephen Longstreet Papers at the Beinecke Library have recently been cataloged and a new collection finding aid is now available: Stephen Longstreet Papers YCAL MSS 262.

Stephen Longstreet, a white author and artist from New Brunswick, NJ, donated the collection of his artwork to the Beinecke Library, including fifty sheets of his “Harlem sketch books.” These mostly watercolor paintings express Longstreet’s experience of the Jazz Age, with portraits of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and other works with more general titles like, “Death of a Jazz Man,” and “Lonely Blues.”

Though Longstreet called them “Harlem sketch books,” the images are non-specific as to place, although many could have been made in or of Harlem. Because his images and themes are fairly universal, Longstreet was apparently able to repurpose them with ease: the drawing “Uptown,” in the Harlem sketch book, has a label taped to the verso which indicates that it was used as an illustration in The Wilder Shore, his 1968 book about San Francisco that describes the city between the years 1849 and 1906. (JS)

A detailed record of the collection is online: Stephen Longstreet Papers. Related materials may be found by searching the Library’s Finding Aid Database.

Images: 1) Combo; 2) Louie Armstrong