Athena Tacha papers

Collection 3518

(3.4 Linear feet 3.4 linear feet, 12 boxes, 2 volumes )

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Tacha, Athena, 1936-.
Athena Tacha papers
Date [inclusive]
3.4 Linear feet 3.4 linear feet, 12 boxes, 2 volumes
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Newhouse
This collection was processed during the Digital Center for Americana Project Phase II, which was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.
Greek, Modern (1453-)
Mixed materials (00003074) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003075) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003076) [Volume]
Mixed materials (00003070) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003071) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003072) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003073) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003066) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003067) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003068) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003069) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003077) [Volume]
Mixed materials (00003064) [Box]
Mixed materials (00003065) [Box]
Athena Tacha (1936-) is a Greek American sculptor, photographer, and conceptual artist who received degrees from the National Academy of Fine Arts (Athens, Greece), Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio), and the University of Paris (Sorbonne). In the 1960s she settled in the United States and became a professor of sculpture at Oberlin College. Her commissioned pieces are installed as public art across the United States and in several other countries as well. This collection contains mostly early correspondence, education materials, publications, and artwork from 1950 through the 1980s, although it spans from 1950 to 2000.

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Biographical/Historical note

Athena Tacha (1936- ) was born in Larissa, Greece, the daughter of Constantine Tacha and Helen Malaki. Her family also included her adopted sister, Marianthe Karalaiou. Tacha grew up in Greece during World War II and the Greek Civil War, both of which had a direct impact on her family and her childhood. From 1947 to 1951, her father, a neurologist, was a political prisoner of the Greek government due to suspected collaboration with Germany. Despite the political upheaval in Greece, Tacha had a busy and creative childhood, studying art, French, and music, and showing a real talent for art by the age of ten.

From 1954 until 1961 she was a student at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Athens, Greece, eventually earning a master of fine arts degree. Afterward she won a Fullbright Scholarship, which allowed her to enroll in Oberlin College in 1960. At Oberlin she studied art history under art critic and scholar Ellen H. Johnson (1910-1982) and earned a master's degree in 1961. She then began her PhD at the Sorbonne in Paris, studying aesthetics and art history under Etienne Souriau (1892-1979). In 1963 she finished her PhD, completing a thesis on "The Role of Light in Modern Sculpture." She then returned to the United States and Oberlin College as an assistant curator at the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Tacha became the curator of modern art at the museum in 1967, a position she held until 1973. In 1965 she married Richard Spear (1940-), a scholar of Italian Baroque art and art history professor at Oberlin College.

In the late 1960s she began to exhibit her art and publish her scholarship on art history and theory, starting with her first book, Rodin Sculpture at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1967. Her first outdoor sculpture – for the Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, Blossom Music Center, Peninsula, Ohio – was installed in 1971, marking the beginning of a steady production of large outdoor pieces. In 1973 she began to teach sculpture classes at Oberlin College and withdrew from the world of museums and art scholarship. From 1973 to the present, Tacha has produced a steady stream of commissioned and non-commissioned sculptures and exhibited many shows of her own work. Her gallery shows vary in their medium from sculpture to photographs to other forms of conceptual art. Notable installations include Connections in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1981-1992), Green Acres in Trenton, New Jersey (1986), several pieces at Wisconsin Place in Bethesda, Maryland (2002-2009), and several pieces at the Muhammad Ali Center Plaza in Louisville, Kentucky (2002-2009). For a complete list, please see Tacha's website:

Tacha has been affiliated with the University of Maryland since 1998. A 40-year retrospective of her work was exhibited in 2010 at the Center of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece.

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Scope and Contents note

Series I: Correspondence is arranged chronologically and dates from 1950 through 2000, although the bulk of the correspondence is from 1950 through the 1980s. Researchers should note that most letters from the 1950s are written to Tacha from friends and family, rather than by her. The letters are mostly in Greek, although a few are in French in English. The correspondence is mostly between Tacha and her mother, but there are some letters written to and from her adopted sister, Marianthe, as well as to and from friends both in and outside of the art world. Most of the correspondence was written during Tacha's education in Greece, Paris, and at Oberlin College in the United States, and includes many details about her life, covering both mundane and very personal events. She discusses her education, social life, travels, medical issues, art, the aging and care of her parents, and her take on American and Greek politics. Letters from the early 1950s include some from pen pals that Tacha obtained through a children's magazine, for which she wrote under the pseudonym, "the Red Arrow." Her correspondence from her time at Oberlin and afterwards frequently mentions her mentor and friend, Ellen H. Johnson (1910-1982), and describes the progression of Johnson's cancer and the challenges of dealing with parts of her estate after her death (including the Frank Lloyd Wright house that Johnson owned).

Tacha's correspondence will be of interest to researchers looking for information on her works of art, as she discusses them at length, including details of commissions and their receptions. They also provide an intimate picture of Greek family structure and relationships, and document a turbulent period of modern Greek history, including the Greek Civil War and the junta of 1967-1974. Of particular note is the letter from a thirteen-year old Tacha to the queen of Greece asking her to pardon her father, who had been held as a political prisoner for five years as a suspected German collaborator (Box 1, Folder 1). Letters are written by or mention several friends and acquaintances influential in the fields of art, design, and politics: Robert Morris (1931-), sculptor; Jim Dine (1935-), painter, sculptor, and pop artist; Ionas Vorres, Greek art collector and curator; Chrysanthos Christou, Greek art historian; Pandelis Prevelakis (1909-1986), Greek writer; Alan Spear (1937-2008), United States senator and brother of Tacha's husband, Richard Spear; Gerasimos Sklavos, Greek sculptor; Georges Boskoff, French composer; Etienne Souriau (1892-1979), philosopher and Tacha's PhD advisor; and Panagiotis Michelis (1903-1969), architect.

Materials originally sent with the correspondence have been left in their original order, so this series also includes some ephemera and other related materials, like the script of Tacha and Richard Spear's wedding service (Box 1, Folder 2) and her mother's autograph book, signed by her childhood friends (Box 3, Folder 7).

Series II: Education contains notes, papers, research, and other documents related to Tacha's education in Greece, Paris, and at Oberlin College in the United States. This series is arranged chronologically. Most of the materials in this series are notes from classes on art or art history although there are a few items from unrelated classes, like computer programming and Latin. Notes are in Greek, French, and English. This series also includes information Tacha compiled about jobs, fellowships, and scholarships.

Series III: Miscellaneous is a small series arranged alphabetically by subject. It contains some of Tacha's early drawings of human models and architecture, done for her classes at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Athens. Her artwork also contains her drawings of Constantin Brancusi's  Bird sculptures, which would be the subject of her second book, published in 1969. Additionally, this series contains her lectures and publications, some in draft form.

Series IV: Photographs contains only two folders of materials. Most of the photographs are pictures of architecture and art in Greece, although there are some unidentified images which may be pictures of her early work. This series also contains photographs of her father, Constantine Tacha.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania March 6, 2012

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Revision Description

 Revised to include information taken from translations of correspondence completed by archives intern, Kyriakoula Micha. May 15, 2012

Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open for research.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Brancusi's Birds by Athena Tacha, 1969 (NB933.B7 S63)

At other institutions:

Athena Tacha collection at Oberlin College in Pennsylvania.

Athena Tacha papers at the Archives of American Art.

Oral history interview with Athena Tacha, 2009 December 4-6 at the Archives of American Art.

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Photographs.

Personal Name(s)

  • Boskoff, Georges.
  • Brancusi, Constantin, 1876-1957.
  • Dine, Jim, 1935-.
  • Duchamp, Marcel, 1887-1968.
  • Morris, Robert, 1931-.
  • Sklavos, Gerasimos, 1927-1967.
  • Souriau, Etienne, 1892-1979.
  • Spear, Richard E., 1940-.


  • Greece--History--Civil War, 1944-1949.
  • Greece--History--Coup d'état, 1967 (December 13).
  • Greece--History--Coup d'état, 1967 (April 21).
  • Greece--History--Coup d'état, 1973 (May 22-23).
  • Greece--History--Coup d'état, 1973 (November 24-25).
  • Greek American art.
  • Greek American women.
  • Outdoor sculpture--United States.
  • Sculptors--Greece.
  • Women sculptors.

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General note

Project themes: ethnic / NEH2010; Balch collection

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Collection Inventory


Box Folder


1 1


1 2


1 3-7


2 1-2


2 3-6


2 7


3 1-2

 1965-1966, 1971 

3 3


3 4


3 5


3 6

 1971, 1975 

3 7

 1973, 1975 

3 8


4 1


4 2


4 3


4 4-7


5 1


5 2


5 3

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Box Folder

Fellowships and scholarships: Paris 1957, 1961, undated 

5 4

Fellowships and scholarships: United States Information Service and the Greek National Scholarships Foundation 1960-1963 

5 5

Immigration: Visa file 1965 

6 1

Jobs: "Letters from Paris seeking jobs for returning to U.S.A." 1962-1963 

6 2

Letters of recommendation and diplomas (duplicates) 1958-1963 


Notes and papers: Aesthetics and art history notebooks from Paris 1961-1963 

Box Folder

Notes and papers: Aesthetics and art history notebooks from Paris: Loose items removed from notebooks 1961-1963 

6 4

Notes and papers: Architecture notebook 1959 

6 5

Notes and papers: Art history 1955-1961, undated 

6 6

Notes and papers: Art history courses at Oberlin College notebook 1960-1961 

Box Folder

Notes and papers: Draft of PhD thesis, "L'Art du Relief" 1961 June 10 

6 7

Notes and papers: Bronze casting workshop notebooks 1957 

Box Folder

Notes and papers: Computer programming 1969 

6 8

Notes and papers: Contemporary art seminar with E. Johnson 1961 

6 9

Notes and papers: Egyptian and Babylonian art and history undated 

6 10

Notes and papers: "French syntax and idioms" notebook 1953 

6 11

Notes and papers: Gothic architecture 1965 

6 12

Notes and papers: Latin grammar 1950s 

6 13

Notes and papers: Medieval art undated 

6 14

Notes and papers: Michelangelo senior seminar notecards, Oberlin College 

6 15

Notes and papers: Michelangelo senior seminar notes, Oberlin College 1960 

6 16

Notes and papers: Michelangelo senior seminar papers, Oberlin College 1960 

6 17

Notes and papers: Modern art undated 

6 18

Notes and papers: Musicology notebooks 1962-1963 

Box Folder

Notes and papers: Summer school at the Alliance Française, Paris 1956 

7 1

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Box Folder

Certificates and awards 1949 

7 2

Clippings about Athena Tacha from newspapers and magazines 1970s-1980s 

7 3-4

Drawings 1942-1946 

7 5

Drawings 1943-1952 

7 6

Drawings: Brancusi's "Birds" undated 


Drawings: Figures, sculpture, and architecture 1956-1958 

Box Folder

Lectures and publications 1957-1958, 1961-1962 

7 7

Lectures and publications: Early writings 1943-1952 

7 8

Lectures and publications: "Waterfronts as Site Sculpture" draft 1985 

7 9

Manuscripts 1957-1958 

7 10

Musical scores undated 

7 11

Photocopy of Constantine Tacha biography 1956 

7 11A

Notebooks: Lists of books read and various notes 1950s 


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Box Folder

Photographs 1957-1960 

7 12

Photographs and postcards 1956-1960, undated 

7 13

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