Skip to main content

Ed Emshwiller papers

Identifier: CalArts-008

Scope and Contents

The Ed Emshwiller papers document Emshwiller’s work as an independent experimental visual, film, video, computer, multi-media performance, and installation artist. The bulk of the collection comprises Emshwiller’s personal work files related to the making of his film, video, and multimedia works as well as a substantial number of press releases, programs, fliers, and clippings documenting his participation in a large number of film, music, dance, and multimedia art events, festivals, and conferences. The collection also contains personal and professional correspondence, photographs, a small number of film stills, and professional work files including documents from Emshwiller’s work as a board member of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers and director of the Film Makers Cooperative as well as materials related to his 1973 and 1978 Guggenheim Fellows in film. Notably absent from the collection are documents from Emshwiller’s tenure at CalArts as dean of the School of Film/Video (1979-1981), provost (1981-1985), and faculty member (1985-1990). Also absent are documents related to Emshwiller’s work as a science fiction magazine illustrator as well as the original copies of his film, video, and multimedia works.


  • 1944-1990


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the institute archivist to make an appointment to view materials.

Biographical / Historical

Abstract expressionist painter, popular science fiction illustrator, experimental filmmaker, and California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) faculty member, dean, and provost, Edmund (Ed) Alexander Emshwiller was born February 16, 1925 in Lansing, Michigan. Art lessons and weekend classes at the Chicago Art Institute and Corcoran Gallery supplemented his elementary and high school education, fostering his artistic potential at a young age. After serving in the U.S. Army (1943-1946), Emshwiller studied painting and illustration at the University of Michigan, where he met Carol Fries, who he married. Upon graduating in 1949, Emshwiller went to Paris and studied graphics at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. A year later he moved to New York where he continued his graphic studies at the Art Students League. From 1951 to 1964, Emshwiller worked as a painter and freelance illustrator for science fiction magazines in New York alongside raising three children with Carol. The couple became members of Cinema 16, a film society that supported and screened the works of experimental filmmakers. Inspired to try his hand at film, Emshwiller made a series of shorts documenting the progress of his paintings and illustrations. He received an award for best artistic achievement from the Creative Film Foundation for his first public film, "Dance Chromatic," in 1960. The use of live dancers superimposed with images of animated paint and color became a recurring aesthetic in his personal works. During the 1960s and early 1970s Emshwiller was active in the New American Cinema Group in New York, making experimental films such as "Thanatopsis" (1962), "Relativity"(1966), and "Image, Flesh and Voice"(1969); cine-dance, which includes the films "Totem" (1963), "Fusion" (1967), and "Film with Three Dancers" (1970), the latter of which was made in collaboration with some of the dancers of the troop Pilobulus; documentaries such as "George Dumpson’s Place" (1964), "Art Scene U.S.A." (1966), and "Project Apollo" (1968); low-budget features including "Time of the Heathen" (1962); and, multimedia performance pieces such as "Bodyworks" (1965). In 1971 Emshwiller made his first videotape. For most of the 1970s Emshwiller was an artist-in-residence at the Television Lab, WNET/13 in New York City, where he produced a number of unconventional videotapes such as "Scapemates" (1972), "Crossings and Meetings" (1974), and "Dubs" (1978). In 1979 Emshwiller made "Sunstone," his first digital computer animation videotape at New York Institute of Technology. Shortly after that Emshwiller moved to California and joined the faculty of CalArts where he served as dean of the School of Film/Video (1979-1981). Throughout the 1980s, Emshwilller continued to work in film, video, and computer graphics, creating "Skin Matrix" (1984), and the multimedia work, "Hungers" (1988). With the aid of distributors in New York, Canada, and Europe, and his membership and administrative positions in film cooperatives, Emshwiller’s works were disseminated throughout the world to libraries, institutions, and individuals. He traveled extensively to conferences, festivals, and institutions to lecture, serve as a panel moderator, and screen his films. Emshwiller received grants from the Ford, Guggenheim, and Rockefeller Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and from the New York State Council of the Arts. He also served as the provost of CalArts (1981-1985) as well as a faculty member in the School of Film/Video (1985-1989). Emshwiller died from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, July 27, 1990.


“Emshwiller biographies and film descriptions,” Series 5, Box 28, Folder 2

Ortiz, Luis. Emshwiller Infinity x Two. New York: Nonstop Press, 2007.


24 Linear Feet (28 archival boxes; 5 flat file boxes)

Language of Materials



Wherever possible, original order and folder titles have been preserved. Otherwise, an assumed order was imposed based on observed groupings and/or chronology. Oversized items were removed from original folders and placed in oversize boxes for preservation and access purposes.

The collection is arranged in the following series: Series 1: Work files, 1955-1990 Subseries 1.1: Projects, 1955-1986 Subseries 1.2: Research Material, 1958-1990 Series 2: Printed Matter (1960-1989) Subseries 2.1: Books, Guides, and Serials (1966-1988) Subseries 2.2: Clippings (1960-1987) Subseries 2.3: Exhibition Catalogs (1974-1989) Subseries 2.4: Screening, Exhibition, and Performance Programs (1962-1989) Subseries 2.5 Fliers and Posters (1961-1989) Subseries 2.6 Press Releases (1963-1989) Series 3: Photographs (1944-1989) Series 4: Correspondence (1958 -1990) Subseries 4.1: Personal (1959 -1990) Subseries 4.2: Film and Video Distributors (1958-1989) Series 5: Professional Files (1960-1990) Series 6: Preservation Photocopy Originals and Negatives (1961-1987)

Kathy Carbone and Kelly Furniss
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the CalArts Institute Archives Repository

California Institute of the Arts
24700 McBean Parkway
Valencia CA 91355 United States