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Photographer Bill Cunningham's personal effects donated to the New-York Historical Society
Bicycle, used by Bill Cunningham, ca. 2002. Photo: Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society.

NEW YORK, NY.- The New-York Historical Society announced that the personal possessions of Bill Cunningham, celebrated New York Times photographer, have been donated to its permanent collection. Donated by John Kurdewan, Cunningham’s right-hand man, and Louise Doktor, longtime friend and muse, the objects include Cunningham’s personal library of more than 200 books―stuffed with clippings, notes, inscriptions from authors, marginal annotations, and photographs―as well as the Biria bicycle Cunningham rode around the streets of New York, the Nikon camera he used to snap photographs of fashionable New Yorkers on the street and at society events, and his trademark blue jacket, among other items. These objects join Facades—Cunningham’s collection of photographs in which he paired models in period fashion with historic settings—previously donated by Cunningham to the New-York Historical Society. The exhibition Facades went first on view at New-York Historical in 1976 and again in 2014.

“The New-York Historical Society enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Bill Cunningham, dating back to his first donation of 88 gelatin silver photographs representing his Facades series and continuing to the end of his life,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “In 2014, we were thrilled to host a very special surprise party for Bill’s 85th birthday, which coincided with a brand new Facades exhibition. His death was deeply felt by all of us who knew him and respected his work, so it is with great pride that the New-York Historical Society becomes the new home for his earthly belongings. We feel extremely privileged and grateful that Bill’s longtime friends John and Louise have chosen to share their bequests with us. These objects will join Facades in our permanent collection, allowing scholars and admirers the opportunity to remember Bill’s legacy for years to come.”

William John “Bill” Cunningham (1929–2016) was a longtime New York Times photographer and journalist known for his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” columns. As much a cultural anthropologist as he was a fashion photographer, Cunningham was known for his candid street and event photographs of New Yorkers that depicted up-to-the-minute fashion trends. To achieve his telling photographs, Bill Cunningham often circulated around the city on a bicycle. In temperate weather he wore a blue French work jacket. The Nikon camera is one of several owned by Cunningham and was probably used through the end of his career.

Cunningham’s personal library of more than 200 volumes, primarily focusing on fashion, will join New-York Historical’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library collection. The books reveal his deep dedication to his craft and passion; his collection includes histories of fashion, catalogs from designers, exhibition catalogs, advertising, and memoirs and biographies of noted designers, past and present. It also serves as the personal repository of his encyclopedic knowledge, replete with newspaper clippings, photographs, letters, and marginalia curated by Cunningham. His library offers a unique and intimate view into the care and methodical thought he put into his work.

Also among the personal effects being donated to New-York Historical’s permanent collection are a custom-made bicycle helmet, given to Cunningham in 2005 by Bergdorf Goodman in a hat box covered with colorful images from his New York Times column; his pewter Living Landmark presentation plate from 2009, made by Cartier; the Medal of Excellence, presented to Cunningham in 2012 by Carnegie Hall, his longtime residence; and his millinery supplies from his time as a designer, including two hats in the process of being styled, his tools, and a collection of feathers.

Selected items from Cunningham’s personal effects will be on display at the New-York Historical Society later this spring.

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