Boris Blai Personal Papers

Collection ID: 
Record Group
1915 - 1989
7.75 linear feet (18 boxes)


Boris Blai, born in Russia in 1894, took after his father who was a famous artist and architect.  As Blai showed great artistic ability, he was sent to study under Auguste Rodin.  In 1918, after serving in World War I in the French army, he came to the United States and quickly made a name for himself.  Though he arrived in New York, he did not like it and he left for Philadelphia soon after.  Due to his work with Rodin, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, asked Blai “to repair some Rodin sculpture.”[1]  Through his friendship with R. Tait McKenzie, who he met while in the army, and his emerging work, Blai started getting invited to Philadelphia social parties.  He became friendly with wealthy families such as the Widnener’s, the Wassermans’, the Gimbels, etc.  Through these contacts, he later taught private lessons out of his home.  The Oak Lane Country Day School hired him as their director and faculty member in 1927.  His work there inspired him to attempt to start a school where art was an integrated part of the curriculum, not just another class.  One of his wealthy pupils, Stella Elkins Tyler, knew of his ambition, and donated her estate in Melrose Park, to be used for this purpose.  In 1935, Blai founded and became the dean of the Stella Elkins Tyler School of Art, a campus of Temple University. Blai always believed that everyone should use their hands as a creative outlet.  In 1943, Blai started giving art classes to soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J.  He believed before most how important the creative outlet is, and used this technique to help heal soldiers who were having various mental disorders from being at war.  He had great success with these students and the classes grew by the soldiers’ request.  In addition to being a faculty member and dean of Tyler and showing his own work internationally, in 1948, Blai founded the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences.  This non-profit organization offers art classes and workshops for both children and adults in addition to exhibits of local and national artists.  It is still open today with the same mission.  Blai received many honors in his lifetime, according to him, the most important one was the honorary degree (Doctor of Fine Arts) Florida Southern College bestowed upon him in 1950 along with Frank L. Wright.  It was at this time that he and Wright became friends.  In 1966, Blai founded the first graduate art school in New Jersey, The Boris Blai College of Contemporary Arts. Unfortunately, the college, located in Forked River, was not in existence long. Blai continued to teach and sculpt and show his work until he passed away in 1985.


This collection, having been donated by Mrs. Bertha Blai (Blai’s second wife) in 1985, is a collection of Boris Blai’s personal papers later in life.  There is a significant amount of newspaper clippings detailing Blai’s life as a sculptor and educator.  It includes much of his personal correspondence, including a letter from Frank Lloyd Wright, who he recruited to design Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, PA.  Also, included are several scrapbooks consisting of newspaper clippings, letters and other miscellaneous printed material. Photographs also make up a considerable portion of this collection.


The collection was donated by Mrs. Bertha Blai in 1985.  The material is housed in 17 Hollinger document cases and one extra large box (11 ¼ ln. ft.)  Processing and inventorying of the collection was done by Holly Beth Wilson.    


I.                   Correspondence

II.                Publicity

III.             Organization: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences

IV.             Publications

V.                Colleges/Schools

VI.             Blai’s Papers

VII.          Photographs

VIII.       Photo Albums

IX.             Scrapbooks

X.                Books

XI.             Oversize Materials


Series I: Correspondence

This includes correspondence from 1933-1983. 

1.      Correspondence: 1933-1950
2.      Correspondence: 1951-1952
3.      Correspondence: 1953-1954
4.      Correspondence: 1955-1956
5.      Correspondence: 1957-1958
6.      Correspondence: 1959-1962
7.      Correspondence: 1963-1966
8.      Correspondence: Boris Blai College: 1966
9.      Correspondence: 1967-1970
10.  Correspondence: 1971-1983

Series II: Publicity

This series includes publicity for Blai’s gallery openings, accomplishments, appointments, etc.

1.      Publicity: 1920-1929
2.      Publicity: 1930-1939
3.      Publicity: 1940-1949
4.      Publicity: 1950-1959
5.      Publicity: 1960-1969
6.      Publicity: 1970-1979
7.      Publicity: 1980-1989
8.      Publicity: Undated
9.      Publicity: Miscellaneous Clippings

Series III: Organizations:

This includes material chronicling the founding of the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences including publicity and considerable amount of photographs.

1.      Organizations: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences: Founding
2.      Organizations: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences: Correspondence
3.      Organizations: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences: Foundation Minutes
4.      Organizations: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences: Publications
5.      Organizations: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences: Marine Biology Laboratory Plans
6.      Organizations: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences: Publicity
7.      Organizations: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences: Photographs


Series IV: Publications

This includes Blai’s publications from Tyler, his own exhibitions, and art catalogs.

1.      Publications: Exhibitions (Blai’s own art exhibitions and some he sponsored)
2.      Publications: Art Catalogs
3.      Publications: College Catalogs
4.      Publications: Stella Elkins Tyler School of Art
5.      Publications: Miscellaneous


Series V: Colleges/Schools

This consists of the colleges and schools that Blai either founded or was a part of in some way.  Each of the folders includes publications, correspondence, publicity, and photographs related to that school.

1.      Colleges/Schools: Boris Blai College of Contemporary Arts
2.      Colleges/Schools: Stella Elkins Tyler School of Art
3.      Colleges/Schools: New University of Palm Beach
4.      Colleges/Schools: Florida Southern College (includes his honorary diploma – Doctor of Fine Arts)
5.      Colleges/Schools: Glassboro State College
6.      Colleges/Schools: Ocean County College


Series VI: Blai’s Papers

This includes Blai’s personal papers from the years 1920- 1966.

1.      Blai’s Papers: Philadelphia 1920-1930
2.      Blai’s Papers: 1940-1949
3.      Blai’s Papers: 1950-1959
4.      Blai’s Papers: 1960-1969
5.      Blai’s Papers: Florida 1962-1964
6.      Blai’s Papers: Barnegat Lighthouse Centennial: May 1957
7.      Blai’s Papers: Wilmington Show: March 1966: Blai & Wyeth
8.      Blai’s Papers: Dean Blai’s Class Papers (term papers from his students)
9.      Blai’s Papers: Fort Dix
10.    Blai’s Papers: Miscellaneous printed material


Series VII: Photographs

These boxes include a significant amount of photographs of Blai’s sculptures and also Blai at various social events.  Of interest, there is a photograph and letter from Frank Lloyd Wright in folder 3. 

1.      Photographs: Stella Elkins Tyler School of Art: Activities
2.      Photographs: L.B.I. Foundation of the Arts & Sciences
3.      Photographs: Frank Lloyd Wright, Dr. Ludd Spivey, Lakeland (sic) Southern College [i.e. Florida Southern College] (this folder includes the letter    
         from Frank Lloyd Wright)
4.      Photographs: “Organic Dancer” and Mr. & Mrs. Rodale
5.      Photographs: Johnny Ring, Conwell and Beury bust (this material was taken from “The Joy of Effort: A Biography of R. Tate McKenzie”
6.      Photographs: “Russian Dancers”, President Chamberlain, Dean Uorce

1.      Photographs: Pavlowa, La Fontayne, Bala Laika
2.      Photographs: Manfred Krauskopf
3.      Photographs: Blai Head Shots
4.      Photographs: Unlabeled (includes photos of Blai as a youth)
5.      Photographs: Unlabeled (includes photos of Stella Elkins Tyler)
6.      Photographs: Unlabeled

1.      Photographs: Sculptures 1 (see additional oversize photographs in Box 18-1)
2.      Photographs: Sculptures 2
3.      Photographs: Graduation, etc.
4.      Photographs: Stella Elkins Tyler School of Art – Fort Dix, NJ
5.      Photographs: Blai and Friends & Colleagues
6.      Photographs: Portraits of Blai
7.      Photographs: Negatives
8.      Photographs: Miscellaneous (includes a pencil drawing of a woman)


Series VIII: Photo Albums

Photo Albums of LBI Foundation of the Arts & Sciences and Tyler School of Art functions.

BOX 10
1.      Photo Albums: Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences 1963
2.      Photo Albums: Stella Elkins Tyler School of Fine Arts Annual Dean’s Ball 1951
3.      Photo Albums: Stella Elkins Tyler School of Fine Arts Testimonial Dinner in Honor of Blai 1953


Series IX: Scrapbooks

There are 10 scrapbooks made up of photographs and newspaper clippings.

BOX 11
1.      Scrapbooks: Fort Dix
2.      Scrapbooks: 1915-1933

BOX 12
1.      Scrapbooks: Oak Lane Country Day School 1928-1935
2.      Scrapbooks: Unlabeled: various dates

BOX 13
1.      Scrapbooks: 1934-1947
2.      Scrapbooks: 1950-1959
3.      Scrapbooks: 1949-1960: Lakeland: Frank Lloyd Wright

BOX 14
1.      Scrapbooks: 1965-1967
2.      Scrapbooks: Boris Blai Dean’s Ball 1960: On His Retirement

BOX 15
1.      Scrapbooks: 1969


Series X: Books

This includes an assortment of books owned by Blai.

BOX 16
1.      Books: Art Catalogues: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (3 catalogues – 1925, 1926, 1931)
2.      Books: Art Catalogues: Du Cret School of the Fine Arts (1971-1974)
3.      Books: Annual Report: Museum of Science & Industry 1930
4.      Books: КАЛЕНДАР (this book is in Russian.  Translates as “Calendar”)
5.      Books: “The Joy of Effort: A Biography of R. Tait McKenzie”
6.      Books: The Legend of Johnny Ring
7.      Books: Painting at Lynnewood Hall

BOX 17
1.      Books: Stella Elkins Tyler School of Fine Arts (a bound book of the schools catalogs)
2.      Books: 1950 Interlachen (Florida Southern College yearbook)


Series XI: Oversize Materials

EXTRA LARGE FLAT BOX 18 (this box also includes large items from the collection “Additional Blai Personal and Family Papers” - see that collection for list)

1.      Photographs: Sculptures (see additional photographs in Box 9-1)
2.      Photographs: Photos taken out of picture frames (includes 2 photo’s of Stella Elkins Tyler when she was a young girl and a picture of the
         graduating class from Florida Southern College in 1950 – located on top of box due to size)
3.      Photo Album: Album of Blai’s sculptures (taken out of album and into portfolio due to poor condition)
4.      Large fabric poster of the saying “Losing Our Brains By Not Using Our Hands” written in black ink
5.      2 copies of a large rolled poster of the Johnny Ring story
6.      Scrapbooks: Large Photograph Scrapbook of Blai’s sculptures


Boris Blai Sculptures located on
 Temple University Main Campus

Object             Description                                                                             Home Location

Sculpture         Bronze Portrait Bust “Carroll S. Wright 1895-1967”             Kresge Science Hall

                        20”h x 9”w x 9”deep.                                                             Room 300


Sculpture         Bronze Portrait Bust With Black Marble Base                       Kresge Science Hall

                        “W. Wayne Babcock 1872-1963”                                          Room 300

                        20”h x 8”w x 9”deep.


Sculpture         Carved wood bust of a woman. 22”h x 17”w x 11”deep.     Tyler Admin.


Sculpture         Bronze Sculpture. Portrait Charles E. Beury. 30 x 30 x18     Beury Hall Lobby

                        In Base. 36 x 25 x 45                   

Sculpture         Bronze Sculpture. Portrait Russell Conwell. 21 x 15 x15      Mitten Hall Court


Sculpture         Bronze Sculpture. Portrait Bust Robert Livingston Johnson  Traylor Building

                        28”h x 24”w x 13”d.                                                               Storage

Sculpture         2 Bronze Sculpture. Portrait Busts (1) Millard Gladfelter      Traylor Building

                        4th TU President (1953) (25x21x12) and (2) Dr. Paul A.       Storage

                        Anderson 5th TU President (26x20x10) Approx. 3’tall.

Sculpture         Bronze Sculpture. Portrait Head Russell Conwell.                 Founders Garden off

                        3’6 x 2’3 (1953) Granite Base. Placed in Spring of 1968       Berks Mall between

                                                                                                                        Park Ave. & 13th St.


Sculpture         Bronze Sculpture. Johnny Ring 5x3x2. 6 feet Granite           Mitten Hall Garden

                        Base. Placed in Mitten Hall Garden (north of Mitten

                        Hall) in Fall of 1964. Dedicated April 30, 1965. Originally

                        Acquired as a gift to Tyler School of Art by the Class

                        Of ’58, then moved to Main Campus in 1964.

Sculptures of Boris Blai by Other Artists
Located on Temple University Main Campus


Object             Description                                                                             Home Location

Painting           Oil/Canvas. Dr. Boris Blai, Founder Tyler School of Art.     Paley Library

                        36”h x 30” w. Ground floor Lobby.

                        Artist: Constance Yaros in 1978.

Painting           Oil/Canvas. Scene in Tyler Hall. 16.5”h x 20.5”w. 1938       Tyler Admin.

                        Artist: William A. Hildebrandt. Historically important

                        Scene in Tyler Hall depicting Dean Boris Blai, Mrs. Tyler

                        And identifiable students.


Painting           Oil/Canvas. Portrait of Boris Blai. 36”h x 24”w.                   Tyler Admin.

                        Artist: A student.


Painting           Oil/Canvas. Dean Boris Blai - Himself.  Circa 1940.             Tyler Admin.

                        Located in Dean’s Reception Room by the window with

                        An overhead light. 15.75” x 14.5”. Donated gift to Temple

                        Artist: Morris Shatzkin.


Sculpture         Bronze on Marble Base. Portrait bust of Boris Blai. 1979.    Tyler Admin.

                        Artist: Constance G. Yaros. Boris Blai was the founder of

                        Tyler School of Art and its Dean from 1935-1960.

                        12”h x 7”w x 10”d.       

Processed by Holly Beth Wilson

July 2010

[1] Perry, Erma. Your Happiness Is In Your Hands: The biography of a sculptor-teacher. Undated. Print.