Guide to the Papers of Erna Weill (1904-1996)

AR 1417 / MF 776

Processed by Michael Aldinger and LBI Staff

Leo Baeck Institute

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 744-6400

Fax: (212) 988-1305



© 2007 Leo Baeck Institute. All rights reserved.
Center for Jewish History, Publisher.
Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Dianne Ritchey Oummia in October 2007: Description is in English.
February 2008 Series V description revised. September 2010 Links to digital objects added in Container List. 2010-09-28  encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl October 10, 2012 Links to digital objects for Series V, Folders 2 and 5 added in Container List.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Weill, Erna, 1904-1996
Title: Erna Weill Collection
Abstract: The bulk of the collection covers Erna Weill’s professional career as sculptor and art teacher. In addition there is some personal information about the time before her immigration to the USA in 1937.
Languages: The collection is in English and German.
Quantity: 3.5 linear feet + 0.5 linear foot of audiovisual material.
Identification: AR 1417
Repository: Leo Baeck Institute
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Biographical Note

Erna Weill née Helft was born in 1904 in Frankfurt am Main. She studied sculpture with Helene von Beckerath, a student of August Rodin, at the University of Frankfurt. She married the chemist Ernst Weill, and the couple had two children: Peter Weill, born in 1926, followed two years later by Ruth Weill. The family fled Germany in 1936 for Switzerland, and immigrated to the United States in 1937. Erna Weill stayed in the New York City area, where she worked as a sculptor and art teacher. Next to busts of various famous people, her sculptures were connected to the American Civil Rights Movement and the world of Judaism. In addition to working as an art teacher in public schools, she also had her own art school where she applied progressive teaching methods. Erna Weill died in 1996.

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Scope and Content Note

The collection contains documents from Erna Weill's personal and professional life. The bulk of the material deals with her professional life, starting with her arrival in the United States in 1937 and ending in the early 1970s. It is reflected in the correspondence with various buyers of her sculptures (Series II, Subseries 1); documents from her art school and teaching career (Series II, Subseries 2); information about her various exhibitions (Series II, Subseries 3); and newspaper clippings that she collected (Series III).

Little information is given about her personal life during this time period. Most of the personal documents cover her time in Germany (Series I). Personal information can be found in the form of correspondence (Series I, Subseries 1) and other personal papers, such as a household account book. (Series I, Subseries 2). Additional personal information is reflected in several travel documents that Erna Weill collected (Series IV). Most of these travel documents are from the time before her immigration. Prominent in this section are two travel diaries from a cruise she took to Spain in 1930.

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The collection is arranged in five series in the following manner:

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Collection is digitized.

Access Information

Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Request" button.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:
Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Related Material

A small collection of materials related to Erna Weill is available at the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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Separated Material

Photographs removed to the LBI Photograph Collection

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The collection is on eleven reels of microfilm (MF 776):

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); Erna Weill Collection; AR 1417; box number; folder number; Leo Baeck Institute.

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Container List


Series I: Personal, 1834-1968

Series I is in German and English.
0.4 linear foot.

Divided into two subseries:

Scope and Content:

Series I contains personal material of Erna Weill. Most of the material in this series reflects her life before her immigration to the USA.

Subseries 1: Correspondence, 1910-1968

0.3 linear foot.


Scope and Content:

Subseries 1 features the personal correspondence of Erna Weill. The bulk of it comes from the period before her immigration to the United States. Little personal correspondence can be found afterwards; the only exception is some correspondence with her children.

12Family Members1910-1939
13Silberstein, Leopold1920-1922
16Postcards to Peter Weill1926-1928
17Congratulation cards for the birth of Peter and Ruth1926, 1928
18Letters from Spain to various family members1930
19Weill, Ruth1939
110Weill, Peter1939
111Hinkel, Paula1947
112Kaufmann, Elisabeth1948
113Letters from Trip to Israel1963
114Letters from Caracas by Lisa1968

Subseries 2: Papers, 1834-1945

Subseries 2 is in German and English.
0.15 linear foot


Scope and Content:

Subseries 2 contains personal papers of Erna Weill. She kept some family memorabilia as well as her own documents. Most of the information dates to before her immigration to the United States.

115Old family letter and one bulletin1834, 1871
116Eulogy (published) of Hefel Weill1903
OS 381Freischwimmer certificate1915
117Program for a Gymnasium play1916
118Notebook from school1920-1921
119Book of household accounts1943-1945
120Cookbook of Rosa Halberstadt Helftundated
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Series II: Professional, 1937-1971

Series II is in English and German.
2.1 linear feet.

Divided into three subseries:

Scope and Content:

Series II is the bulk of the collection. The material in this series contains information concerning the professional life of Erna Weill as a sculptor and art teacher.

Subseries 1: Correspondence, 1941-1971

Subseries 1 is in English and German.
1.25 linear feet.


Scope and Content:

Subseries 1 holds the professional correspondence of Erna Weill. It includes business arrangements for new commissioned sculptures; the display of existing ones; purchasing material; and issues regarding public relations. Other correspondence in this section documents Erna Weill's profession as an art teacher.

121Office of the Mayor of New York1941
122Various media1941-1958
123Applications to become an art teacher1942-1944
124'Thank you' letters for Erna Weill's art teaching1942-1949
125Pride of Judeah Children’s Home, Brooklyn New York1944
126Parents' Magazine1945-1947
127Metropolitan Museum of Art1945, 1951
128Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library1945, 1955
129Jewish Education Committee1945
130Eleanor Roosevelt1945-1946
131Rowantrees Kiln, Blue Hill, Maine1947
132Mackenzie, Catherine (New York Times)1947-1948
133Press about Erna Weill's Art School1947-1949
134Queens Committee for the 50th anniversary of New York City1948
135Associated Merchandising Corporation1948
136Queens Borough Library1948-1950
137Various customers1948-1950
138American Art Clay Company1949
139Design Publishing1949-1950
140Scholarship for Forest Hills High School Student by Erna Weill1950
141Piper, Raymond (Syracuse University)1950
142New York Society of Ceramic Arts1950
143Hebrew Union College Cincinnati, Ohio1951
144Hill Business Service1951
145Disposition of Erna Weill's Art School1951-1952
146Forrest Hills Jewish Center1952
147M. Sheppard1952
148New York Society of Craftsman1952
149Young Men's Hebrew Association Hackensack, New Jersey1952
150Congress for Jewish Culture - Art Center1952, 1955
151Institute of Contemporary Art, London1952
152De Guft Family1953
153Bezalel Museum Jerusalem, Israel1953-1967
154Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts1954
155Jewish Community Center, Teaneck, New Jersey: Part 11954-1955
155Jewish Community Center, Teaneck, New Jersey: Part 21954-1955
156Schiff, John D.1954-1955
157The National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods1954-1958
158Selfhelp1954, 1964
159Jewish Community Center, Scranton, Pennsylvania1955
160Temple Sinai, New York, New York1955-1965
161Union of American Hebrew Congregations1955, 1962-1963
162Congregation Habonim New York, New York1956-1957
163Jewish Community Center, White Plains, New York1956-1957
OS 382Architect's (Fritz Nathan) plan for the Jewish Community Center, White Plains, New York1956
165The Newark Museum1957
166Markovitz, Harry H.1957
167Coates, Helen (Secretary of Leonard Bernstein)1958
168Newly Constructed Synagogues1958
169Lichtenfeld, I. E. (Landesrabbiner of Hesse)1958-1959
21World Union for Progressive Judaism1962-1964
22United Help1962-1965
23Jewish Museum, New York1963
24Emerging Arts1964
25Fairleigh Dickinson University1964
26Leo Baeck Institute Woman's Auxiliary (Bust of Leo Baeck)1964-1966
27Camp Moudin Canaan, Maine1965
28Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (Bust of Linus Pauling)1965-1966
29United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York1965-1966
210Fairleigh Dickinson University (Sculpture 'Brothers')1966
211Rutgers University1966
212Prinz, Joachim1966
213Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts1966-1967
214Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture (Application for a grant)1966-1971
215Block, Max1967
216Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (Bust of Scot Buchanan)1968
217Who's Who of American Women1968
218Sammartino, Peter1968
219Sichel, Andrea1968
220Leo Baeck Institute, New York and Jerusalem1968-1971
222Various (Notebook)1944-1948
222Various (Notebook): Part 11944-1948
223Various (Notebook): Part 21947

Subseries 2: Papers, 1937-1967

Subseries 2 is in English.
0.4 linear foot.


Scope and Content:

This subseries contains the professional papers of Erna Weill. They cover a wide range of topics. Prominent are lectures that Erna Weill held about her profession. The subseries also contains economic information about her art school in the form of account books. Also present is a published calendar with pictures of Erna Weill's sculptures.

225Class attendance books1943-1945
226Art School: Book of Account1946-1947
227Art School: Book of Account1947-1950
228Art School: Guest Bookundated
229Calendar with pictures of Erna Weill's sculptures1958-1959
230Lectures on art education1949
231Lecture at Teaneck High School1956
232Lecture at Baruch School New York, New Yorkundated
233Recommendation Letters1942-1944
234Notes on newly constructed synagogues1960
235Various notesundated
236Bills and receipts: Part 11937-1955
236Bills and receipts: Part 21937-1955
237Bills and receipts1956-1970
238Memberships1948-1949, 1967-1969
239Addresses of artists and acquaintancesundated

Subseries 3: Exhibitions, 1939-1967

Subseries 3 is in English and German.
0.5 linear foot.


Scope and Content:

Subseries 3 contains material related to Erna Weill's exhibitions, which consists of correspondence, insurance arrangements, catalogues and price lists. In addition there is a folder with catalogues of exhibitions in which she did not take part.

31Carlebach Gallery New York, New York1951
32Schoneman Gallery New York, New York1957
33New School New York, New York1957
34New Jersey State1957-1960
35Hanukah Festival of Jewish Art in Hackensack, New Jersey1958, 1967
36National Council of Jewish Women1959-1965
37Modern Artists Guild1962-1967
38Union of American Hebrew Congregations1963-1964
39Various Catalogues1955-1967
310Various catalogues of exhibitions without Erna Weill1939-1966
311Sign to one of Erna Weill's sculpturesundated
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Series III: Clippings, 1929-1960

Series III is in English and German.
0.8 linear foot.


Scope and Content:

Series III consists of clippings. The bulk of the clippings cover Erna Weill's work as artist and art teacher. The clipping in folder 12 is an article by Erna Weill, dealing with children working with clay. The folders labeled "Other Clippings" consist of items that she collected, but that do not have anything to do with her own professional work.

312Article by Erna Weill about teaching children how to work with clay1950
313Bust: Rudolph Stein1957
314Bust: Martin Buber1964
315Bust: Leo Baeck1966
316Bust: Martin Luther King Jr.: Part 11968-1969
316Bust: Martin Luther King Jr.: Part 21968-1969
317Bust: André Kostelanetz1968-1969
318Sculpture: Mothers of Birmingham1965-1969
319Sculpture: Brothers1966
320Sculpture: Religious themes1956-1969
321Exhibition: Carlebach Gallery, New York, New York1951
322Exhibition: Hackensack, New Jersey1955
323Exhibition: Various1943-1960
324Erna Weill's art classes1942-1949
325Collage made by Erna Weill with clippings covering her work1946
326Prizes for Erna Weill1946
OS 383Art School1964
327About Erna Weill and smaller works1957-1974
328Other clippings: Art1929-1951
329Other clippings: July 19471947
330Other clippings: Newly constructed synagogues1958-1961
331Newsletter: National Council on Art in Jewish Life1967
332Newsletter: Artists Equity Association1967, 1969
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Series IV: Travel, 1924-1973

Series IV is in English and German.
0.3 linear foot.


Scope and Content:

This series contains documents connected with Erna Weill's trips. It includes tickets, notes, menus from cruise ships, maps, etc. Prominent are two travel diaries from a cruise to Spain in 1930.

41Norway Cruise1924
42Nuremberg/ Bayreuth1930
43Spain Cruise1930
44Spain Cruise: Photo diary1930
45Spain Cruise: Travel diary1930
48Israel/ Rome1973
49Maps of Swiss ski resorts[1930s]
410Blank picture postcards[1910-1930]
411Memorabilia from her parents' house in Germanyundated
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Series V: Audiovisual Material, 1932-1974



Scope and Content:

Series V contains a cassette tape with an interview and ten film reels. These film reels have been reformatted onto four DVDs that are available to researchers.

The DVD in folder 2 consists of a family trip to Palestine in what appears to be the 1930s or early 1940s. The DVD contains images from the time period of Haifa, Mt. Carmel, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Mt. Tabor, the Jordan River, Tiberias, Jericho, and the Dead Sea. This portion is followed by visits to various Jewish settlements / kibbutzim. These settlements include Nahalal, Beth Alpha, Kinerteth (where they visit the painter Jakob Nussbaum) Gedera, Mikweh Israel, Herzlia, and Ramoth Hashawim. The film portrays panoramic views of these locations, combined with some images of the family during the trip.

The DVD in folder 3 contains images of the family in Germany in the 1930s. The images are largely of Erna Weill and her children, Peter and Ruth, engaged in various activities, including playing outdoors, swimming, flying kites, visiting a beach in northern Germany, children's birthday parties, children's performances, Easter egg hunting, and visiting extended family members.

The DVD in folder 4 dates from the family after arriving in the United States. The original film container dates the film as originating in 1934 and 1938. This DVD is largely focused on the children, Peter and Ruth. They are depicted playing with their friends, learning to play baseball, and spending time at Crystal Lake summer camp. Included are depictions of family members on vacation in what appears to be upstate New York, and family members playing musical instruments and singing together at home.

The DVD in folder 5 dates between 1932-1936. The film begins with the German soccer championship in Nuremberg in 1932, followed by a vacation in Switzerland that includes scenes of the family hiking, swimming, skiing, and mountain climbing.

AV 14171Audiocassette Tape - Interview1974
AV 14172Film Reels - Palestineundated
AV 14173Film Reels - Children1932-1934
AV 14174Film Reels - Children and U.S.A.1934, 1938
AV 14175Film Reels - Germany and Switzerland1932-1936
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