Descriptive inventory for the Elmer Ray Pearson papers and visual materials, 1929-1986, bulk 1939-1984

Elmer Ray Pearson papers and visual materials

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Descriptive inventory for the Elmer Ray Pearson papers and visual materials, 1929-1986, bulk 1939-1984

Prepared by Mary Ellen Kissling, 1992, ed. by Laura Herlocher, 2016.
Please address questions to:
Chicago History Museum, Research Center
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614-6038
Instructions for accessing this collection

Collection Overview +/-

Title: Elmer Ray Pearson papers and visual materials, 1929-1986 (inclusive), 1939-1984 (bulk)
Creator: Elmer Ray Pearson
Dates: 1929-1986 (inclusive), 1939-1984 (bulk)
Accession number: 1991.0205
Bib number: 00004866
Call numbers: MSS Lot P
MSS Oversize P
1991.0205 PPL
1991.0205 PCLF
1991.0205 PPN0229-0230
1991.0205 F
1991.0205 PFL
Size:35 linear feet, including approxiately 2,500 images (46 boxes)
9 oversize folders
3 bound volumes
4 cassette tapes
34 16 mm. film reels
Language of material:Collection is written in English, German, French, and Japanese.

Provenance statement:

Materials were a gift of Per and Lars Pearson, 1991 (accession #: 1991.0205).


Advance appointment required to view color material in cold storage or negatives in cool storage; please email

Please cite this collection as:

Elmer Ray Pearson papers and visual materials (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and series/box/folder of a specific item.

Additional Materials +/-

Related material:

Related collections at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include the Ray Pearson collection of visual materials (1985.0818); visual materials from the Institute of Design, part 1 (1995.0221); the Illinois state signs collection (1986.0205); and a publication cataloged separately: The Shaker Image.

Collection Summary +/-

The Elmer Ray Pearson papers and visual materials were acquired by the Chicago Historical Society in 1991, from Elmer Ray Pearson’s sons, Per and Lars. The collection was accumulated by Ray Pearson through the years he was associated with the New Bauhaus, School of Design, and Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology from about 1950 to the early 1980s. The collection is estimated to contain 2,000 photoprints and 75 contact sheets, 300 negatives, 120 color slides, and 34 16 mm. film reels. It consists of paper ephemera such as announcements of art exhibitions, exhibition panels, pamphlets relating to the Institute of Design, and correspondence and papers from the Institute of Design and its faculty. The photographs include student photographs of building designed by Louis Sullivan; photographs of the Institute's campus, staff, and students; photographs by faculty and students; photographs of student and faculty work; documentary films showing student exhibition and faculty and student interviews; experimental films by faculty and students; periodicals and other printed material; portfolios of prints and photographs by faculty and students of the Institute of Design.

Biographical/Historical Note +/-

Elmer Ray Pearson (1921-1986), known professionally as Ray Pearson, was a professor at the Institute of Design from 1950 until the early 1980s. Born in January of 1921 in Michigan, Pearson moved to Chicago early in his life. He graduated from Lane Technical High School in Chicago and received his Bachelors of Science in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology studying under Mies Van Der Rohe and Ludwig Hilberseimer. Pearson also served four years in the United States Army, and worked as an architect for multiple firms in Chicago.

Pearson was a photographer, designer, and craftsmen. After working for architectural firms in Chicago, Pearson changed careers and became an Associate Professor at the Institute of Design. Pearson began teaching in 1950, and he taught courses at the Institute of Design on both two-dimensional and three-dimensional design. He also taught and organized the Basic Workshop in Art Education and Design for the majority of his time at the school. Pearson was a faculty member of the Institute of Design for over three decades, and had a lot of connections and influence through his many years there. Connections include Moholy-Nagy, Walter Gropius, Cosmo Campoli, and countless others who were key players in Chicago Design. He was also a Lecturer in Art at what is now known as the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Institute of Design, formerly known as both “The New Bauhaus” and The School of Design, was founded in Chicago in 1937 by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Being a former member of the Bauhaus, the German school or architecture and design, Moholy-Nagy brought many of the Bauhaus’ ideals to the Institute of Design creating a program that provided a “total education”. This meant that students worked with a variety of subjects and mediums rather than specializing in just one area. Students would first take the Foundation Course at the institute, which generally took up the first two semesters of their study. Foundations were crucial to Bauhaus thought, so the Basic Workshop, taught by Pearson, was very important as the first step towards further education. The school was officially renamed the Institute of Design in 1944 and officially became part of the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1949, where it remains today.

Catalog Subject Headings +/-

Design - Study and Teaching - Illinois - Chicago
Pearson, Elmer R.
Illinois Institute of Technology. Institute of Design
Institute of Design (Chicago, Ill.)
Film Transparencies
Gelatin Silver Prints
Chicago (Ill.) - Buildings, structures, etc. -1930-1979

Organization and Arrangement of Collection +/-

The collection is arranged in ten series, which mainly correspond to the visual material formats found in the collection.

Click on heading to view series description.

Series I. Photoprints, contact sheets (8x10 in. or smaller) (19 boxes)
Series II. Oversize photographs (16x20 in. or smaller) (2 boxes)
Series III. Photonegatives (2 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.) (N0229) (1 box)
Series IV. Photonegatives (4x5 in.) (N0230) (1 box)
Series V. Color slides (T0136) (1 box)
Series VI. Institute of Design printed materials (17 boxes and 3 OS folders)
Series VII. Published materials (3 boxes)
Series VIII. Portfolios, bound albums, and exhibition posters (1 box, 3 volumes, and 6 OS folders)
Series IX. Audio cassettes (1 box)
Series X. Film reels (16 mm.) (box 1-34)

About This Finding Aid +/-

Creation: Finding aid encoded by Laura Herlocher using Oxygen XML editor, 2016.
Language: Finding aid is written in .
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