Material Witness

The Selected Letters of Fairfield Porter
Ted Leigh, Editor
The fascinating story of New York School Fairfield Porter, as revealed through his personal letters


Fairfield Porter (1907-75) has been called by poet John Ashbery "perhaps the major American artist of the century." He was also known as a gifted art critic.

Beyond shedding light on his personal views, this collection of Fairfield Porter's letters demonstrates his profound contribution to American art and literature and displays his acumen as a political critic. The letters tell the story of a reserved artist and intellectual, torn between the tensions and pressures he felt among politics, family life, and painting—a man who forged a painting style outside the politically correct artistic perceptions of both left and right.

The collection includes letters from Porter's early travels to the Soviet Union, including a description of an interview with Trotsky, as well as some of his later letters to close friends, including Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, Rod Padgett, Larry Rivers, and James Schuyler, among others. While the letters reveal many sides of the brilliant and independent-minded Porter, they also provide a cultural context for the time period and the circle of artists and poets with whom Porter associated. The letters not only tell a story of the artist himself but are also valuable documents of the political and artistic upheavals of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

This rich collection is introduced by poet and critic David Lehman and includes notes by Justin Spring, author of Porter's biography.

Ted Leigh is an artist, writer, and teacher in York, Pennsylvania.

Praise / Awards

  • "Fairfield Porter's lifetime of letters reveals the complexity and passion of a protagonist in a novel by Dostoevsky or Henry James."
    —Jane Freilicher

  • "Material Witness contains a wealth of material that enlarges our understanding of Porter's thoughts about art, politics, culture, and his own relationships with family, friends, and lovers. . . . Mr. Leigh has done his homework thoroughly. . . . I can't think of a more thankless and difficult editorial job than combing through and annotating thousands of letters, putting them in an order that makes narrative sense, and providing just enough explanation without getting in the way. Mr. Leigh managed to do all of these things, and Material Witness, besides being an important work for scholars of American art and letters, is a great pleasure to read."
    —Robert Long, Easthampton Star

  • "Material Witness makes Porter's manifesto clear: he celebrated the right not to have one. As opinionated as he was—and he was nothing if not opinionated—he had no tolerance for aesthetic prejudice or premeditated axe grinding. . . . Fairfield Porter can seem both stunningly avant-garde and almost quaintly old fashioned. While Material Witness won't resolve his legacy, it will do him the greater favor by keeping the debate alive."
    —Dorothy Gibson, Rain Taxi

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 368 pages.
  • 8 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02556-5

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