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Mark Turbyfill Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Turbyfill

Scope and Content of the Collection

Mainly Mark Turbyfill’s writings, together with a few letters, photographs, dance programs, reviews and a voice recording.

There are three copies of his unpublished autobiography and two copies of a collection of his poetry entitled A Marriage With Space, published in 1974. Since Turbyfill was famously active in Chicago artistic and creative circles in the early part of the twentieth century, the autobiography / memoir is particularly interesting. Besides many poems, some in manuscript form and some in issues of Poetry and The Little Review, there is an adaptation of material from The Words Beneath Us, set to music by Lionel Sayers, a few articles and letters, a short play Turbyfill wrote with Sam Putnam entitled “See Life First,” and an article by Putnam on Turbyfill’s work, a tape of him reading “Chicago Alive,” reproductions of several of his paintings, dance programs and a collection of photographs. Also, articles and reviews about him and his work. Included is a list of the correspondence to Turbyfill which is located at Southern Illinois University and a file box of cards with quotations from each letter.


  • Creation: 1911-1985



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Mark Turbyfill Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Conditions Governing Audiovisual Access

Audiovisual recordings in this collection have not been digitized and are unavailable for use at this time.

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Mark Turbyfill 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.

Biography of Mark Turbyfill

Chicago dancer, poet and painter.

Mark Turbyfill, born in 1896, came to Chicago in 1911 with his parents from Oklahoma City. A published poet while still in his teens, Turbyfill’s professional dance career began in 1919 when he was invited to join the Pavley-Oukrainsky corps de ballet with the Chicago Grand Opera Company. He later became principal dancer under Adolph Bolm with the Chicago Allied Arts and partnered Chicago dancer and choreographer Ruth Page, continuing to dance through the 1920s and 1930s. He was the first teacher of Katherine Dunham, unsuccessfully trying to establish her in an all “Negro” ballet company.

Turbyfill first gained renown as a poet in the 1920s, mainly for his contributions to the worlds of avant-garde verse. His poems appeared in Margaret Anderson’s The Little Review and Harriet Monroe’s Poetry and other magazines. The May, 1926, issue of Poetry was devoted entirely to his long poem, A Marriage With Space, which was later reprinted with other poems in 1974. A collection of his verse, entitled The Words Beneath Us, appeared in 1951.

Beginning in the 1940s, Turbyfill concentrated on his third artistic interest – painting. His initial paintings and collages showed a strong surrealist influence, but he moved on to a style of abstract expressionism, which he practiced until the 1970s. Turbyfill’s first solo exhibit was in 1948, and in the 1950s and 1960s he had a number of one-man gallery shows. Seeing continuity in all his creative endeavors, at times he utilized texts lifted from his own poetry in both figurative and abstract paintings and drawings.

Mark Turbyfill had three active and successful careers as dancer, artist and poet, which he recorded in his unpublished autobiography, Whistling in the Windy City: Memoirs of a Poet-Dancer-Painter. Among the many persons he writes about are Margaret Anderson, Adolph Bolm, Katherine Dunham, Henry B. Fuller, Amy Lowell, Maurice Maeterlinck, Harriet Monroe, Samuel Putnam, Eunice Tietjens and Mark Tobey. Among the topics are the Chicago Allied Arts, G.I. Gurdjieff and his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, and the Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet Company.

Turbyfill died in 1990.


2.6 Linear Feet (3 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Material relating to the life and career of dancer, poet and painter Mark Turbyfill, including three copies of his unpublished autobiography and many copies of published and unpublished poems. Also, articles and reviews by and about Turbyfill, a few pieces of correspondence, clippings, dance programs, photographs, a cassette tape of him reading, and a published genealogy of the Turbyfill family.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Works, 1917-1984
Boxes 1-3
Series 2: Correspondence, Photographs, Reviews, etc., 1911-1985
Box 3

Collection Stack Location

1 35 7


Gift, Mark Turbyfill, 1982, 1988.

Processed by

Virginia Hay Smith, 2006.

Inventory of the Mark Turbyfill Papers, 1911-1985
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