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Joseph Coletti Papers

Call Number: 2015.001

Scope and Contents

Joseph A. Coletti (1898-1973) was a sculptor active in Boston from the 1920s through the early 1970s. He was known for his religious sculpture, public monuments, portrait busts, and medals. Working first as an apprentice to sculptor John Evans and then as an assistant to painter John Singer Sargent, Coletti attended Harvard University (1919-1923) and studied sculpture at the American Academy in Rome. Coletti opened his studio in Boston in 1926 after traveling throughout Europe honing his craft. Much of his work was commissioned by public or private institutions, or by private individuals.

The Joseph A. Coletti Papers (1919-1973) consist of drawings, photographs, personal memorabilia, and correspondence. The bulk of the collection includes visual material: sketches drawings, and photographs of Coletti’s work. The collection charts the arc of Coletti’s career from his beginning as an assistant to Boston painter John Singer Sargent to his maturity as a sculptor, with particular richness in the period of his education at Harvard (1919-1923) and travel in Europe (1923-1926). The range of Coletti’s work is represented in his papers, from the fanciful to the utilitarian. The records of Coletti’s commission's document his continuing relationship with Harvard, as he designed panes for Memorial Chapel, a memorial plaque for the Countway Medical Library, as well as various other sculptural projects. Coletti’s methods and techniques are documented in the many sketches that make up the collection, in which he developed designs for medals, panels, and fountains, as well as other commissions. The extent of the photography throughout the collection points to Coletti’s use of the media as a supplementary format in his sculpture. Many of Coletti's commissions required close collaboration with architects; the many sketches of architectural designs with Coletti’s annotations on placement reveal his interest in achieving harmony between his design and its architectural surroundings. Finally, the assemblage of visual source material, apparently a lifelong collection, shows Coletti’s continuing interest in past and current works of art as sources of inspiration.

The collection is made up of 25 boxes separated into eight series: Personal Documents and Biographical Materials, Personal Correspondence, Professional Documents and Correspondence, Academic Notes and Reference Materials, Lectures and Writings, Photographic Materials, Artwork, and Oversized Materials.

Series 1: Personal Documents and Biographical Materials (1919-1973)

This Series is comprised of papers collected by Coletti and pertaining to his personal life. These files contain biographical materials, documents of will and estate, tax and financial records, investment records, social security records, medical receipts, credit cards, and club and society membership documents. Ephemera collected by Coletti has also been filed here and include postcards, articles, newspaper clippings, and event programs. The included biographical materials consist of an autobiographical sketch of Joseph Coletti written to aid in the authorship and publication of an article about Coletti’s career. This sketch is in both typed and handwritten drafts, and includes information beginning from Coletti's birth and extending to 1945. Subjects range from biographical milestones to an index of his work to date, with focus on information relevant to Coletti’s career. This series also contains a small amount of correspondence concerning the publication of the aforementioned article.

Series 2: Personal Correspondence (1923-1973)

This Series includes correspondence between Coletti and others pertaining to all subjects besides professional dealings. These files include communications between Coletti and family members, friends, and colleagues, on subjects including intimate family issues, casual socialization, award ceremonies, and the like. This series is mostly comprised of handwritten letters, typed letters, and postcards, but also contains various other papers relevant to the contained communications.

Series 3: Professional Documents and Correspondence (1926-1974)

This Series is comprised of communications and related papers concerning Joseph Coletti’s professional work. The majority of this series pertains to the commissioning of Coletti for sculpture, including both correspondence with commissioners, and other professionals needed for the casting and construction of Coletti’s artworks. Related receipts and contracts resulting from these interactions, professional contacts, papers from his time heading the Massachusetts Art Commission, and other professional ephemera have also been filed here.

Series 4: Academic Notes and Reference Materials (1922-1953)

This Series includes notes taken by Coletti on artworks and artists, notes taken by Coletti during art history lectures at Harvard University, books used in Colletti’s courses at Harvard, photographs of rubbings Coletti took of varying reliefs, and notes authored by others for Coletti’s benefit.

Series 5: Lectures and Writings (1961-1975)

This Series contains lectures, speeches, and articles authored by Coletti. Within these works Coletti discusses art history and theories of sculpture, gives context to his own works, reviews books, and authors encyclopedia articles.

Series 6: Photographic Materials (1920-1967):

This Series includes photographic prints and negatives sorted into subseries by these formats. The primary subject of these photographs is Coletti’s own work, including his medals, religious works, memorials and portraits, classical sculpture, and his sculptures at the St. George Chapel, Newport, RI, as well as at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Baltimore, MD. Photographs from these latter two locations have been filed together, as they were while stored by Coletti himself. Other photographic subjects encompass Joseph Coletti, his family and friends, references used during Coletti’s artistic work, unidentified photographs, and a group of slides collected by Coletti.

Series 7: Artwork (1921-1971):

This Series includes sketches and architectural drawings by Joseph Coletti in sketchbooks, and on drafting paper, as well as Joseph Coletti’s collection of medals. The subjects of Coletti’s drawings include medals and sculptures designed by Coletti, as well as sketches he drew while studying at the American Academy in Rome as a Sachs fellow (1924). The medals in this series were in most cases designed by Coletti. Some were sculpted by others. A small number of the medals in this collection were awarded to Coletti.

Series 8: Oversized materials:

This Series includes oversized photographic prints and architectural drawings. These prints and drawings are almost entirely of Coletti’s work. Items in this series have been arranged within other series, but stored separately from the rest of the collection in Room 430 in the Boston Public Library Arts Department.


  • 1919-1973
  • Other: Date acquired: 00/00/1973


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

Joseph Coletti (1898-1973) was born November 5, 1898 in Italy. At the age of two, his family emigrated to the United States, and settled in Quincy, MA, where he spent his youth. Throughout his primary education, Coletti exhibited an aptitude for art, eventually studying the subject at both the Massachusetts Art School, and Harvard University. In 1919 he began his formal education as a sculptor, entering Harvard College, and graduating with the class of 1923. Post-graduation, Coletti was awarded two defining fellowships which furthered his learning, the Travelling Fellowship in Fine Arts by the Fogg Art Museum in 1923, and the Sachs Fellowship in Fine Arts by Harvard University in 1924. As a Sachs fellow, Coletti studied sculpture at the American Academy in Rome until he returned to Massachusetts in 1925, where only a year later he was commissioned by John Nicholas Brown to sculpt a number of works for St. George’s Chapel, St. George's School, newport, RI. This commision proved to be the first of many prolific works by Coletti which have been represented in exhibitions worldwide, including at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA, 1930; the New York Museum of Modern Art, 1933; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1940; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1940; the New York World's Fair, 1940; and permanently at the National Gallery of Modern Art in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy, 1959. Throughout his career, Coletti demonstrated a keen understanding of both classical and medieval art, harkening back to these forms in subject and medium, while retaining originality within his work. It is this synergy of old and new that has defined his works.

Note written by Andrew Maloney


75.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Joseph Coletti Papers were donated to the library in 1973, and arranged in the original order in which they were received, and kept by Joseph Coletti. In 1984-85, the collection was inventoried, and described by Boston Public Library librarians Stanley Moss and Robert Brown. In years since, the Papers have been reorganized, possibly more than once, and by 2015 were found to be foldered throughly by subject, and arranged alphabetically by folder name. In late 2015, under the direction of Eve Griffin, Curator of Fine Arts, archival intern Andrew Maloney reorganized the collection once more into 25 boxes separated into eight series, itemized the photographic prints within the collection which had been left untouched since donation, and wrote a DACS-compliant finding aid for the Papers.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

The Coletti Papers include a number of architectural drawings and glass negatives. Some material may not be accessible due to condition.

Source of Acquisition

Donation, 1973.

Method of Acquisition

Collection donated to the Boston Public Library Fine Arts Archive after Coletti's death.

Processing Information

The Papers were processed minimally in 1984-85 by BPL librarians Stanley Moss and Robert Brown. The Collection was fully arranged in 2015 by Fine Arts Intern Andrew Maloney under the supervision of Eve Griffin, Curator of Fine Arts.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Statement on harmful description

Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.

Joseph Coletti Papers
Andrew Maloney, under the direction of Eve Griffin, Curator of Fine Arts, 2015; Unidentified Boston Public Library Librarian.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2015: The basic scope and content of the Joseph Coletti Papers was written sometime between 1984 and 2015. The author of this original abbrieviated finding aid is unclear. A full finding aid was written by archival intern Andrew Maloney in 2015 under the supervision of Eve Griffin, Curator of Fine Arts.

About this library

Part of the Boston Public Library Archives & Special Collections Repository

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