Biography | Scope | Donor Information | Box List
Scope and Content Note
The James W. Fitzgibbon Papers include a diverse collection of information in many different media. The collection provides insight into industrial, commercial, and residential architectural design from the 1940s through the 1970s, with emphasis on geodesic dome structures. As an architecture professor across five decades, Fitzgibbon’s academic files illuminate the evolving field of architectural education from the 1940s to the 1980s. Through Fitzgibbon’s association with R. Buckminster Fuller, the collection also includes a large body of primary and secondary material on Fuller, his various projects, and philosophies. Of particular depth and breadth is material related to ephemeral architecture. Additionally, the collection features two major Fitzgibbon projects: a paper punch-out model of the Globe Theatre for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. (where his brother-in-law was the director) and the proposed Old Man River Project in East St. Louis, Illinois.
The Fitzgibbon Papers have been divided into ten major series: personal and family documents; academic materials; artistic interests; the Old Man River Project; business interests; ephemeral architecture; the Globe Theatre model; the Buckminster Fuller Collection; publications; and sketchbooks. Each major category has a series of subcategories, and within the subcategory folders, the documents are arranged chronologically as best can be determined. Items without dates are filed at the back of the folder.
The collection of personal and family documents contains biographical and genealogical information, as well as early correspondence between Margaret and her father, between Margaret’s father and James, and some love letters between Margaret and James. Additionally, letters from Fuller and his wife, Anne, to the Fitzgibbons are filed separately within the series. Various diplomas, certificates, and awards as well as information regarding public presentations made by Fitzgibbon are also included. The miscellaneous folder [Box 1, f.11] contains a handwritten eulogy for Colin Dollimore, which was most likely written by Margaret Fitzgibbon. Dollimore was a visiting architecture professor from England who died in August 1993, just before returning to Washington University. The series also contains transcripts, programs, and an audiocassette recording from James Fitzgibbon’s 1985 memorial service as well as copies of his obituaries. The series is organized alphabetically by subject.
The academic materials series is organized sequentially by institution, starting with Fitzgibbon’s student years at Syracuse University and the University of Pennsylvania, followed by his teaching career at the University of Oklahoma, North Carolina State, and Washington University in St. Louis. The overwhelming majority of papers in this series are from Fitzgibbon’s tenure as an architecture professor at Washington University (1968–1985). Included are course notes, assignments, and reading lists. Additionally, there are a number of early photographic images that pertain to Fitzgibbon’s academic interests, including a series of kinetic geometric structure models that were influential in the development of geodesic domes and similar structures.
The artistic interests series focuses on the artistic, rather than architectural, pursuits of both James and Margaret Fitzgibbon. It is not always possible to distinguish the work of one from the other, as both pursued painting and drawing as mediums. James appears to have been interested in woodcuts and printmaking, while Margaret focused on fabric and textile arts. This series includes published information about various shows and exhibitions of their work, a guest book from an exhibition at Shaw University (1965), and a large number of slides illustrating their artwork, as well as a sizeable collection of original works.
In the early 1970s, Fitzgibbon worked with R. Buckminster Fuller on an imaginative plan to create a mile-wide domed city in East St. Louis, Illinois, opposite St. Louis’s downtown riverfront. When famed African American dancer Katherine Dunham wanted to increase the economic opportunities and housing situation in her hometown of East St. Louis, she asked her friend, Buckminster Fuller, to create a visionary proposal. This he did with assistance from Fitzgibbon and fellow faculty and students at Washington University. The Old Man River Project was proposed to house upward of 50,000 people with an estimated construction cost $800 million. The project never came to fruition. The Old Man River Project series includes a significant number of documents, plans, and photographs related to this intriguing urban renewal project.
Fitzgibbon alternated between architecture and academia. When he wasn’t teaching, he ran several companies for R. Buckminster Fuller that focused on industrial and commercial application of Fuller’s geodesic dome structures. The business interests series contains the documentation of Fitzgibbon’s commercial projects. Throughout his business and academic careers, Fitzgibbon created residential architecture plans. Those documents and plans, and photographs and articles about them, are also located within the business interests series.
Throughout his life, Fitzgibbon pursued a research interest in ephemeral architecture. He collected hundreds of documents related to the temporary structures of the world’s earliest inhabitants to structures of today. Additionally, he amassed a large set of illustrations in both photocopy and photographic formats. Fitzgibbon’s ephemeral architecture research files are arranged alphabetically. From this research sprang several projects, including self-published books on Henry VIII’s temporary diplomatic palaces at Calais (1520), the Field of Cloth of Gold (1520), and a paper model of the Field of Cloth of Gold.
Fitzgibbon’s expertise in early Tudor architecture and his familial relationships led to a project in the late 1970s and early 1980s to produce a paper punch-out model of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for the Folger Shakespeare Library of Washington, D.C. The Folger Library director, O. B. Hardison, was married to James’s sister, Marifrancis. The Globe Theatre model series includes correspondence between Fitzgibbon and Hardison as well as various sketches, plans, and photographs of the multiple stages of the project. Also included are proofs and final copies of the printed and perforated pages that were required to assemble the final model.
Fitzgibbon collected a substantial amount of published information about his friend and business partner, R. Buckminster Fuller. Fitzgibbon’s files on Fuller constitute the Buckminster Fuller Collection series spanning 1932 to 1985, including multiple copies of Fuller’s multipage biography and booklists, information about Fuller’s Dymaxion House and Map, his geodesic dome projects, and Fuller’s World Resources Inventory and World Game. The object of the World Game was to save the world’s environment and raise the standard of living of all world inhabitants by more efficient utilization of the world’s limited resources.
Fitzgibbon’s publications are organized chronologically in their own series with references in related series boxes to the specific publication. This series includes newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and a few bound journals or publications that reference Fitzgibbon, his teaching projects, or his business interests.
The Fitzgibbon Papers also include a collection of sketchbooks that consist of notes, drawings, and sketches produced by James and Margaret at various points in their lives. They are mostly undated and are organized by type and size to facilitate storage.
The photographic images from the collection have been organized by categories as outlined above and transferred to the Photographs and Prints department. Most of the images are positive slides of various sizes. Hundreds of 120-mm slides were cut down by Fitzgibbon and mounted in glass holders for 35-mm slide projectors. The glass-and-metal slide holders have been removed and the slide film has been sleeved with the mounted 35-mm slides. Some of the 120-mm slides were mounted full-frame and have been sleeved accordingly. The image collection also includes a number of 4x5 negatives and slides. References to the images will be found in the appropriate series and folder within the collection.The audio-visual material, which has been transferred to the Moving Image and Sound Collections, is also referenced in the appropriate series. For an overview of the material, a VHS videotape [Media Box 1, i.8] is available that contains clips of most of the 8-mm and 16-mm film footage.