Fonds UBCA-ARC-1437 - Alan R. Sawyer fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Alan R. Sawyer fonds

General material designation

  • Multiple media

Parallel title

Other title information

Title statements of responsibility

Title notes

  • Source of title proper: The title is based on the contents of the fonds.

Level of description


Reference code


Edition area

Edition statement

Edition statement of responsibility

Class of material specific details area

Statement of scale (cartographic)

Statement of projection (cartographic)

Statement of coordinates (cartographic)

Statement of scale (architectural)

Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1913-2009, predominant [1950]-1998. (Creation)
    Sawyer, Alan R.

Physical description area

Physical description

12.14 m of textual records and other material.

Publisher's series area

Title proper of publisher's series

Parallel titles of publisher's series

Other title information of publisher's series

Statement of responsibility relating to publisher's series

Numbering within publisher's series

Note on publisher's series

Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Alan R. Sawyer was born on June 18, 1919, in Wakefield, Massachusetts. He completed his undergraduate degree at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 1941, majoring in Geology and minoring in Physics and Chemistry. After the United States joined the Second World War, Sawyer enlisted in the US Army as 1st Lieutenant in 1942. Once the war was over, he separated from the army in 1946. In that same year, Sawyer married Erika Heininger, and they later had five children together.

From 1946 to 1948, Sawyer completed his first graduate degree at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. While studying painting, drawing, and art history, Sawyer researched Mayan art. In addition, Sawyer took art history and anthropology courses at the Boston University College of Liberal Arts Graduate School during intersession and summer sessions. In 1948, Sawyer began his second graduate degree in art history at Harvard University. He graduated with his Master's in 1949, and although he was recommended as a Ph.D. candidate, he did not pursue a doctorate.

Upon graduating from Harvard, Sawyer was hired as an instructor for the Art Department at the Texas State College for Women in Denton, Texas. He taught courses in art history and studio art. It was there that Sawyer became interested in pre-Columbian art of the Americas, and he arranged an exhibit of that art from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Texas State College.

In 1952, Sawyer was hired as an Assistant to the Curator of Decorative Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago. He later rose to the rank of Curator of Primitive Art in 1956. That same year, Sawyer became the Director of the Park Forest Art Center, a small art museum located in Park Forest, a small town outside Chicago. In addition to his roles at the Art Institute and at the Art Center, Sawyer taught courses in primitive art at the University of Chicago and Notre Dame University from 1954-1959.

In 1959, Sawyer became the Director at the Textile Museum in Washington DC, where he stayed until 1971. While there, Sawyer made significant additions to the pre-Columbian textiles collection. In addition to his director role, Sawyer also made several trips to Peru to carry out fieldwork assignments, including several aerial surveys and a stratigraphic excavation in the Inca Valley. In 1975, Sawyer became a professor of Indigenous American Art at the University of British Columbia, where he remained until 1985.

In addition to his official roles, Sawyer also participated in several additional professional activities. In 1964, he served as a guide for the Brooklyn Museum Members Tour of Archaeological Sites in Peru. From 1964-1968, Sawyer served as the Curator of the Master Craftsmen of Ancient Peru Exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. He made several trips to Peru, where he selected and negotiated loans for the Ancient Peru Exhibit with the Peruvian government. In 1968-1969, Sawyer taught as an adjunct professor at Columbia University, teaching courses in art and archaeology.

Although his main area of interest lay in Pre-Columbian art, Sawyer became interested in the artifacts and the art of Indigenous communities of British Columbia and Alaska, specifically communities living on the Northwest Coast. In the late 1970s early 1980s, Sawyer received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to discern the provenance of and determine the approximate dates of undocumented Northwest Coast masks and other artifacts housed in museums in North America and Europe. Sawyer also travelled to several Indigenous villages throughout the Northwest, where he photographed objects such as totem poles and cabins. Although he never published his findings as intended, Sawyer used his extensive slide collection to aid his art classes.

In 1969, in recognition of Sawyer's achievements, his alma mater, Bates College, awarded Sawyer an honorary doctorate. He died in Vancouver, BC, on January 31, 2002.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds includes correspondence, notes, publications, maps, drawings, photographs, and presentation aids pertaining to Alan Sawyer’s academic research, writing, curatorial and appraisal work. Includes provenance information and research regarding Sawyer's private collection of art and artefacts including sales records, photographs, inventories, catalogues and correspondence.
Box 63 includes 3 rolls of unprocessed or unused film.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Material was donated to the archives by his daughter Carol Sawyer in 2015. Items in the audiovisual series were donated by Ms. Sawyer in 2018.


An earlier version of this document featured an arrangement with an undivided visual materials series. Those files (boxes 25-28) have been included in the Americas sub-series of that series.

Language of material

Script of material

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Restrictions on access

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Finding aids

Online finding aid
Please see the finding aid for an inventory of files.

Uploaded finding aid

Associated materials

Related materials


General note

Photographic material from other institutions, such as items belonging to the Textile Museum or Guggenheim Museum, was removed from the files. Published material was retained only if authored by Sawyer, annotated, inscribed or otherwise personalized. Copies of journal articles or other publications without archival value to the fonds were removed.
The terms "Peruvian" and "Andean" are both used to refer to the Sawyer fonds' South American portion. Each instance correlates to the term used in that particular case. "Northwest Coast" (or variations thereof) may refer to the northwest coast of either Peru or North America. Photographic materials and publications are included in the extent of textual records due to the intermingled nature of the materials.

Physical description

Includes ca. 45,007 photographs, ca. 72 maps, ca. 100 drawings, 14 audiovisual recordings (reel-to-reel) and 5 Super 8mm films.

Alternative identifier(s)

Standard number area

Standard number

Access points

Place access points

Control area

Description record identifier

Rules or conventions


Level of detail

Dates of creation, revision and deletion

Language of description

Script of description


Accession area