PAPERS, 1892-1992

(bulk 1908-1953)

5.5 linear feet and artifacts

ACQUISITION: The papers (donor #98) were donated by Roderick and Donald Briggs to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in 1992. Boxes 1-7 are on long-term loan to the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries.

ACCESS: The papers are open for research.


PROCESSED BY: Natalie S. Brody (staff, Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries), 1994.



         Lela Powers Briggs, an artist, was born in Powersville, Iowa on March 17, 1896, the daughter of Leonard and Cora Powers. In 1902 the family moved to Waterloo. Powers graduated from East Waterloo High School, where she was art editor of the literary magazine and yearbook. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago School from 1916 to 1917 and Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) in Cedar Falls in 1917. In 1926 she enrolled in a correspondence course in commercial design at the Federal School in Minneapolis.

         Lela Powers married Wilbur Briggs in 1918. For the next seventeen years they and their two sons lived in Waterloo. Until the early 1930s Lela Briggs devoted her time to family and community activities and spent little time painting. She was one of the founders of the Waterloo Art Association in 1932. In the summer of 1933 she attended the Stone City (Iowa) Colony and Art School, founded by Grant Wood.

         In 1935 the Briggses moved to the family dairy farm northwest of La Porte City. Though actively involved in helping to manage the farm, Lela Briggs found time to paint, producing many studies of farm life and portraits of family and friends. She became known for her watercolors of rural landscapes and flowers and exhibited widely in the state, receiving many awards for her work. In the late 1940s and early 1950s she and her husband created ceramic doll heads, plates, bowls and jugs using a blue clay from their farm.

         Briggs lived on the farm until she died of cancer in 1953. She was survived by her husband and their two sons, Roderick, an artist, and Donald, who operated the family farm.

         In 1992 Roderick and Donald Briggs donated their mother's papers and paintings to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.


Scope and Content Note

         The Lela Powers Briggs papers date from 1892 to 1992 and measure 5.5 linear feet. The papers are arranged in eleven series: Biographical information, Education, Correspondence: personal, Diaries and notebooks, Account books, Exhibits, Photographs, Ephemera, Sketches, Scrapbooks, and Artifacts. The collection focuses on the activities of a regional woman artist of the mid-twentieth century and her role as a rural homemaker. The papers form a rich personal recollection of the Briggs family, through Briggs' correspondence with her husband and sons, her parents, and her two sisters, Pearl and Delcia.

         Boxes 1-7 are on loan to the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries. Boxes 8-15 are housed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.


Housed at the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries:

         The Biographical information series contains official documents; papers relating to the Powers and Briggs families; a twenty-five page recollection of her grandparents, "Powersville Days," written in 1951; and miscellaneous materials concerning Lela Briggs' life.

         The Education series (1902-1942) includes elementary school papers and essays, report cards, class notes, and the high school yearbooks for which Lela Briggs was the art editor. Information from the years after her high school graduation includes papers relating to the Art Institute of Chicago, Iowa State Teachers College, a correspondence course at the Federal School of Commercial Design in Minneapolis, and an interior design workshop at the Agricultural Extension Service at Iowa State College in 1942.

         The Correspondence: personal series (1892-1953) contains hundreds of family letters and postcards, primarily those written by Briggs to her husband, children, and sisters.

         In the Diaries and notebooks series (1935-1953) are two abbreviated diaries from the mid-1930s and four travel accounts of automobile trips, three of them to the West with her family and one to Georgia in 1951 to visit her son Roderick. An inveterate record-keeper and list-maker, Briggs' notebooks include plans for household tasks and self-improvement.

         The Account books (1921-1968) detail household expenses.

         The Exhibits series (1935-1992) includes catalogs for the shows in which Briggs displayed her paintings, correspondence relating specifically to these exhibits and to her paintings in general, and newspaper clippings about the exhibits. The series also includes correspondence between Wilbur Briggs and the GroutHistorical Museum about their holdings of Lela Briggs' paintings.

         The Photographs (1906-1948, scattered) include portraits of Lela Briggs and snapshots of her family and friends.


Housed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art:

         The Ephemera series includes miscellaneous items Briggs collected, some relating to the art world, both local and national; interior design; and some unrelated to art, including newspaper clippings.

         Briggs sketched on the endpapers of her school books. Six of these books are included in the Sketches series. Many loose pastel, charcoal, pencil and watercolor sketches from the years before 1917 appear in this series, along with various undated sketchbooks and portfolios.

         Of the four Scrapbooks, the one from 1908-1917 includes sketches and correspondence (some removed to the appropriate Correspondence folder); one concerns Briggs' exhibits; another contains miscellaneous newspaper clippings; and one consists of memorabilia dating from 1913-1917.

         A box of Artifacts includes paint boxes, her smock, clay molds, and miscellany.


Box no. Description

Housed at the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries:

Box 1
                       Biographical information
                               Personal documents and certificates [includes list of artworks at Cedar Rapids
                                     Museum of Art], 1896-1953
                               Briggs family: Wilbur, Roderick, Donald, 1919-1952
                               Clubs and organizations [including Waterloo Art Association], 1932-1953
                               International Health Resort [Bernarr McFadden Healthatorium], 1918
                               Memorabilia, 1913-1953 (scattered)
                               Powers, Cora and Leonard, 1920, 1949
                               "Powersville Days," 1951
                               Wedding, 1918
                               School papers and report cards, 1902-1917
                               Class notes
                                     Ornithology and Taxonomy, 1910
                                     Taxonomy, 1912
                                     Chemistry, 1913
Box 2
                                     Physics I, 1914
                                     Design book, Iowa State Teachers College, 1917
                                     Ariel [Santa Ana (California) High School], 1913
                                     Orange and Black [East Waterloo High School]
                                           1914 (2 folders)
Box 3
                               Art Institute of Chicago School, 1916-1917
                               Iowa State Teachers College, 1917
                               Federal School of Commercial Design, 1926
                               Agricultural Extension Service, Iowa State College, 1942
                       Correspondence: personal
                               1892-1916 (scattered)
                               1917 (3 folders)
                               1918 (3 folders)
Box 4
Box 5
                               1952 (3 folders)
                               1953 (2 folders)
                       Diaries and notebooks
                               Diary, 1935, 1937
                               Travel diaries
                                     1934 (Western United States)
                                     1936 (Utah, Montana)
Box 6
                                     1948 (West Coast United States)
                                     1951 (Savannah, Georgia)
                               Journal, April-May 1952
                               Notebooks (2 folders)
                       Account books
                               1921, 1936-1939
                               1946-1970 (scattered)
Box 7,
                       Exhibits [see also Exhibits scrapbook in Box 14]
                                     1940-1952 and undated
                               Memoranda books, 1941, 1945
                                     1955-1992 (scattered)
                                     Grout Historical Museum with Wilbur Briggs, 1959-1970
                               Newspaper clippings
                       Photographs, 1906-1948 (scattered)
                               Lela Briggs
                               Lela Briggs, family and friends (2 folders)

Housed at Cedar Rapids Museum of Art:

Box 8
                                     National (3 folders),
                               Interior design
                               Non-art (3 folders) [includes Agricultural Extension Service]
                               Iowa newspaper clippings
                               Books with Briggs sketches on endpapers
                                     Good Luck Story Book
                                     Steps in English
                                     Educational Music Course - Third Reader
                                     Lights to Literature - Book One
                                     Mechanical Drawing for High School - Book One
                                     The Mother Tongue, Book 1
Box 9
                               Pastels/charcoal/pencil (childhood to 1917) [loose]
Box 10
                               Watercolors/ink (childhood to 1917) [loose]
                               Iowa State Teachers College, 1916-1917
Box 11
                               Powers Manufacturing Company
                               Federal School, 1926
                               Watercolor class, undated
                               Design sketchbook, undated
Box 12
                               Writing portfolio, undated
                               Sketch books, undated (2)
Box 13
                               Sketches and correspondence, 1908-1917
Box 14
                               School Girl Days: A Memory Book, 1913-1917
                               Newspaper clippings
Box 15
                               Clay molds
                               Paint boxes