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E. A. Burbank papers

Identifier: VAULT-Ayer-MS-120

Scope and Content of the Collection

About 350 letters (1897-1914) written by Burbank from various Indian villages, trading posts, and towns to his uncle Edward E. Ayer and two scrapbooks (1945-1949) of incoming correspondence.

The outgoing correspondence includes Burbank’s reports on his painting progress, his travels and experiences in the West, his acquisition of Indian crafts such as rugs and pottery, and mention of his painting exhibitions.

The letters were written predominately from Oklahoma Territory, the Southwest, and the Dakotas. In his first letters, dated March 1897, Burbank relates his experience painting the Apache chief Geronimo at Fort Sill, OK. In later letters he describes painting other famous chiefs including Red Cloud and Joseph. Many letters were written from John Lorenzo Hubbell’s trading post in Ganado, Ariz. where Burbank established a temporary studio.

The scrapbooks include incoming correspondence to Burbank at the Hotel Manx in San Francisco. They also contain miscellaneous clippings including reviews of his newly-published reminiscences and a few reproductions of his later sketches.

The two scrapbooks, kept in rough chronology, 1945-1949, contain incoming correspondence to Burbank at the Manx Hotel in San Francisco, as well as miscellaneous material. Correspondence consists primarily of fan letters, postcards, thank you notes and requests for artwork, and miscellany consists of clippings, a few reproductions of Burbank's later pictures and some memorabilia. Also added to the collection are a few items relating to Burbank's death and his friendship with Herbert Hamlin, publisher of the Pony Express Courier in San Mateo, California.


  • Creation: 1897-1949



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The E. A. Burbank papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The E. A. Burbank papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of E. A. Burbank

American painter and illustrator.

Elbridge Ayer Burbank was born in 1858 in Harvard, Illinois. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and in Germany, where he developed his technique in life drawing and portraiture. At first specializing in Negro subjects, in 1897 Burbank was commissioned by his uncle Edward E. Ayer, to do a series of portraits of prominent Indian chiefs in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Accepting the commission, Burbank began his career as an Indian portrait authority. He painted Apache Chief Geronimo five times, the only artist to paint the old warrior from life. This began his most productive and successful period as a painter of American Indians.

By 1902, Burbank was roaming the west and southwest, seeking out the native peoples, painting and drawing. He depicted not only the great chiefs but also ordinary individuals, groups and ceremonies of more and 125 tribes. Burbank made friends wherever he traveled, among them was Juan Lorenzo Hubbell of the famed Hubbell Trading Post, a hub for artists, ethnologists and tourists. There he did red chalk drawings of Navajos and many of the patterns for their rugs.

During the Depression, Burbank supported himself by drawing and selling scenes for postcards and greeting cards, pictures of famous Americans, and copies of his Indian studies. His reproductions were inexpensive, and were widely distributed and collected. His last years were spent at the Manx Hotel in San Francisco, where he died in 1949, after having been struck by a cable car.


1.5 Linear Feet (4 boxes)


About 350 letters written mainly from the Oklahoma Territory, the Southwest, and the Dakotas by Elbridge Ayer Burbank to his uncle Edward E. Ayer, together with two scrapbooks containing incoming correspondence and miscellaneous clippings. Burbank, a painter and illustrator who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, was commissioned by Edward E. Ayer in 1897 to produce a series of portraits of prominent Indian Chiefs.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Outgoing correspondence, 1897-1914
Boxes 1-2
Series 2: Incoming correspondence and scrapbooks, 1945-1949
Boxes 3-4
Series 3: Hamlin/Burbank Material, 1940-1949
Box 4

Collection Stack Location

VAULT 25 1


Gift, Edward E. Ayer

Processed by

Virginia Hay Smith, 2011

Inventory of the E. A. Burbank papers, 1897-1949
Virginia Hay Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States