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Van Day Truex photograph albums and scrapbooks

Identifier: KA-0160-01


The collection consists of five photograph albums and three scrapbooks compiled by the designer, style arbiter, and Parsons School of Design administrator and president Van Day Truex (1904-1979). Truex's travels and social interactions are documented in the albums' captioned photographs, while scrapbooks chronicle his design and artistic successes. One scrapbook, annotated by Parsons faculty member Stanley Barrows, documents Truex's apartments and the home of his predecessor as president of Parsons, William Odom, while another is devoted to singer and actress Grace Moore.


  • 1910-1969
  • Majority of material found within 1926-1969



2.2 Cubic Feet (4 boxes)

Language of Materials



Scope and Contents

The collection consists of five photograph albums and two scrapbooks compiled by the designer, artist, style arbiter, and Parsons School of Design faculty member, administrator and president Van Day Truex. A third scrapbook, annotated by Parsons faculty member Stanley Barrows, documents Truex's and Parsons School of Design president William Odom's Parisian apartments in the 1930s, but it is unclear if Truex was a compiler or the sole compiler of the scrapbook, which was donated to The New School Archives, along with the other seven albums, by the Estate of Adam Lewis, a design historian.

The chronological photograph albums document Truex's travels in Europe (predominantly France and Italy), Mexico, Tunisia, Morocco, and the United States, and depict many friends and acquaintances, leisure activities, and social gatherings in upscale settings. Places, dates and names of individuals in photographs are usually identified in handwritten captions. As Truex emphasizes in his 1971 Smithsonian Archives of American Art interview with Paul Cummings, he "grew up in Paris," residing there from the age of 21 until his mid-30s; the predominance of Europe in the two pre-1940s albums reflects this. Truex left Paris, along with the rest of the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (now, Parsons School of Design) administration and students in 1939. He later returned to France, where he renovated a house in the village of Gordes, documented in the post-World War Two albums.

Truex is mainly known for his interior design work and his design work for Tiffany & Company in his later years. This collection documents Truex's facility as a photographer, as well. While the photograph albums document his travels and friendships, these are not ordinary snapshots by an amateur photographer; rather, they demonstrate an understanding and feel for composition and lighting, and many of the shots would not look out of place in a magazine. New School Archives staff believe either Truex developed the film himself or had it developed by someone with access to photograph developing equipment and a darkroom. The photographs do not appear to have been developed through traditional commercial photographic processing. It is unknown when Truex assembled the albums and scrapbooks.

The albums document international celebrities with whom Truex associated, such as Noel Coward, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and Elsa Schiaparelli; socialites, philanthropists, and designers, many with connections to Parsons School of Design, such as alumnus Joseph B. Platt, and Parsons School of Design trustees, such as Eleanor Brown. Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl) is well represented, depicted at gatherings at her home, Villa Trianon. While Truex and many other members of his pre-Stone Wall generation did not publicly identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, the albums document an upper class, trans-Atlantic social milieu in which queer people seem well-represented. Additionally, the scrapbooks contain numerous photographs of classically attractive men in bathing attire.

Appraiser Stuart Lutz observes, "I find it remarkable that the [albums and] scrapbooks survived. Surely many photographs of Twentieth Century gay life (even if there was a mere undercurrent of gay life) were destroyed by family and friends after the photographer died to save people from embarrassment . . . The albums are a reflection of a mid-Twentieth Century gay life that either was not widely photographed because it was verboten, or the scrapbooks were later demolished by family, so no record survives."

Notably absent from the albums are successive New York School of Fine and Applied Art presidents Frank Alvah Parsons (represented in one photograph, reclining in a robe at the Lido in Venice) and William Odom (represented in one set of photographs). This may indicate that Parsons and Odom socialized with a different set of people from Truex.

The scrapbooks are divided topically rather than strictly chronologically. A general scrapbook predominantly documents Truex's career as an artist and illustrator, an often overlooked aspect of his life and career. During his lifetime, Truex's artwork was exhibited in several New York galleries. Scrapbook contents include reproductions of his ink wash drawings, newspaper clippings of reviews, exhibition programs, and photographs of his gallery shows. This scrapbook also contains portraits of Truex, photographs and clippings about his homes, and other print media in which he appears.

A second scrapbook is devoted to the Tennessee-born singer and actress Grace Moore, a client and friend of Truex.

A third scrapbook documents residences of Van Day Truex, as well as Parsons School of Design president and design historian William Odom in Paris, and other residential interiors, as well as clippings demonstrating specific European architectural and interior design styles. The compilation by students of clippings depicting furnishings and interior architecture was a standard pedagogical activity at Parsons School of Design until the late 1960s. This scrapbook bears annotations by Parsons alumnus and faculty member Stanley Barrows (1914-1995), as the handwriting, underlining, and style of annotation identically matches the same occurences in the Stanley Barrows papers (KA.0002.01). Inscriptions in the scrapbook indicate Barrows purchased the scrapbook in April 1967 from a Parsons School of Design library book sale at a time of curricular upheaval, and the architectural styles and furnishings documented in the scrapbook, as well as the act of maintaining such a scrapbook as a visual tool, would have been considered outdated by college leadership and many faculty members. According to the donor, Barrows returned this salvaged scrapbook to Truex soon after purchasing it at the book sale. Barrows left Parsons School of Design in 1968.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical note

Van Day Truex (1904-1979) was an American designer and former president of Parsons School of Design, as well as an alumnus of the school. Born in Kansas, Truex came to New York City in 1922 or 1923 to attend the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (later, Parsons School of Design) from which he graduated in 1926. Frank Alvah Parsons and William Odom hired Truex as a faculty member and he became director of the school's Paris Ateliers in either 1933 or 1934. Truex served as president of Parsons School of Design following Odom's death from 1942 until a disagreement with the Parsons School of Design Board of Trustees led to his demotion from president in 1952. He is perhaps best remembered for his design consulting and direction for Tiffany & Company, following his career in academic administration.

While he worked as a designer and design director, Truex was also an adept artist who taught advertising illustration and served as head of the Department of Costume and Stage Design as well as head of Advertising Illustration for the Paris Ateliers. Student work collections in the New School Archives indicate that Truex took students on sketching excursions, and Adam Lewis, in his biography of Truex, provides numerous examples of Truex's artistic works. During his lifetime, the New York-based Carstairs and Wildenstein galleries exhibited his paintings and drawings.

Truex was gay and never married.

For a comprehensive overview of Van Day Truex's life and career, consult Adam Lewis's biography Van Day Truex: The Man Who Defined Twentieth Century Taste and Style (New York: Viking Press, 2001).


Arranged chronologically in 2 series: 1. Photograph albums; 2. Scrapbooks.

Custodial History

According to the donor, Van Day Truex, who died in 1979, left these albums and scrapbooks to fellow Parsons School of Design alumnus and interior designer Albert Hadley (1920-2012). Hadley gave them to design historian and author Adam Lewis (1937-2020) and his husband, Thomas Chu, as a gift in the 1990s. Lewis then published a biography of Truex, Van Day Truex: The Man Who Defined Twentieth Century Taste and Style, in 2001, using these materials.

One of the scrapbooks in the collection was purchased by Stanley Barrows in 1967 at a Parsons School of Design library book sale. Barrows then gave the scrapbook to Truex. New School Archives staff do not know for how long this scrapbook was part of the library collection before it was deaccessioned and sold to Barrows.

The provenance of the collection is notable in that this visual record of a gay man's life in the twentieth century survived in part due to its custodianship being transferred through a series of gay men who knew and admired Truex, thereby safeguarding the albums from destruction.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to The New School Archives and Special Collections by Thomas Chu, Adam Lewis's husband, in July 2022.

Related Materials

Although The New School Archives does not hold the records of the Parsons School of Design Office of the President during Van Day Truex's presidency (1940-1952), a number of student work collections contain traces of documentation of Truex's role as an administrator. The Albert Hadley papers (KA.0017) and the Melvin Dwork papers (KA.0034) are two such examples. Additionally, the Parsons School of Design Alumni Association newsletter, which began publication in 1940, covers the entirety of Truex's presidency and is a source of information about the institution under his leadership.

Truex is referenced in oral history interviews with Parsons School of Design alumni Jane Bannerman, Stanley Barrows, Melvin Dwork, and Alison Hannan, all included in the Parsons School of Design oral history program (PC.07.01.02).

A large drawing of a male nude by Truex (KA.0120) is also present in The New School Archives.

The Stanley Barrows papers (KA.0002) contain further annotations by Barrows on interiors. Additionally, Barrows's career teaching at Parsons began during Truex's administration.

The Smithsonian Archives of American Art holds an oral history recording of an interview with Truex, conducted in 1971. This interview will be helpful to researchers seeking to understand Truex's life in his own words:

Processing Information

New School Archives staff removed adhesive notes and plastic interior file folders from the Van Day Truex Apartment scrapbook. The adhesive notes, which entered the consumer marketplace in the 1980s, were presumably added by Adam Lewis, and not by Van Day Truex, who died in 1979. New School Archives staff observed that the images to which the adhesive notes were affixed match images of rooms reproduced in Adam Lewis's book about Truex.

New School archivists retained the titles Truex affixed to the albums and scrapbooks. When no inscribed title is present, archivists supplied one. The source of the title is indicated in the description of each album and scrapbook within this finding aid.

The New School Archives gratefully acknowledges Stuart Lutz's assistance in contextualizing the cultural significance of this collection. Lutz has granted permission—along with donor Thomas Chu, Esq.—to quote from his appraisal. All quotations attributed to Lutz in the finding aid are taken from his appraisal, dated October 13, 2023, stored in The New School Archives' accession file for the collection.

Guide to the Van Day Truex photograph albums and scrapbooks
Jason Adamo and Jenny Swadosh
May 11, 2024
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