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Mary and Jay Hambidge Papers

Collection number: ahc.MSS962

Scope and Content

Through personal papers, subject files, and printed material and publications, the collection documents the life of Mary Crovatt Hambidge from her childhood in Brunswick, Georgia to the establishment of the Hambidge Center, formerly the Jay Hambidge Art Foundation, and the efforts of Mary and Jay Hambidge to develop and promote the concept of dynamic symmetry. See the scope and content note of each series for expanded information.


  • 1806-1994, bulk 1920-1970, undated


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. All requests to publish, quote, or reproduce must be submitted through the Kenan Research Center.

Administrative/Biographical History

Mary Lee Crovatt (1885-1973) was born the daughter of an affluent family in Brunswick, Georgia with familial ties to Jekyll Island. Mary left home at an early age to attend a finishing school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was educated in the classics. In her twenties, she lived in New York and had aspirations to become an actress. It was during this period that she supported herself as an artist’s model and professional whistler, and met Jay Hambidge (1867-1924), an artist, illustrator, and scholar who pioneered the theory of “dynamic symmetry,” a concept that linked the symmetry found in nature to that of art objects. In 1920, Yale University Press sponsored a trip to Greece for research involving dynamic symmetry and on-site measurements of the Parthenon. While Jay was engaged in his work, Mary, who had accompanied him, became intrigued with the village weavers and the process by which sheep wool was spun and woven into everyday garments. Mary was so taken, in fact, that she remained in Greece to perfect her weaving skills, after Jay had returned home to begin a lecture series to defend the theory of dynamic symmetry. After Jay’s sudden death in 1924, Mary eventually moved back to Georgia and became enamored with Rabun County and the American tradition of handweaving. With the financial backing of Eleanor Steele Reece (formerly Mrs. Hall Clovis), an acquaintance from New York, Mary set out to create a place where crafts and agriculture were practiced based on an expanded view of dynamic symmetry. By the mid 1930s, she established herself on an 800 acre tract of land along Betty’s Creek in the Rabun Gap area and recruited local women to spin and weave and men to work the farm. Building on the success of the weaving business, Mary, with support of Eleanor Steele Reece, opened Rabun Gap Studios at 810 Madison Avenue in New York City in 1937. For twenty years the shop promoted handwoven designs and weavings by the Weavers of Rabun. In 1944, the Jay Hambidge Art Foundation was officially incorporated. The institution’s philosophy was “Agriculture and the Handcrafts are the basis of a creative life.” From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, Mary continued to weave and envision new directions for the Foundation. After her death in 1973, Mary Creety Nikas, an interior designer and friend, saw to the continuation of the institution. The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences exists today as an artist colony that sponsors residency, workshops, and general intellectual and creative exchange, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a rural historic district.


32 linear ft.



System of Arrangement

This collection is arranged in three series. Series 1, Personal Papers, is arranged alphabetically according to the record type created by or related to (1) Mary Crovatt Hambidge, (2) Jay Hambidge, and, lastly, (3) other families related to Mary, and chronologically within each subheading. Series 2, Hambidge Center Subject Files, is arranged alphabetically and chronologically. The final series, Printed Material and Publications, is arranged first by type, and then alphabetically and chronologically. Considering the custodial history of the collection, it is unknown the degree to which the papers reflect an arrangement system maintained by the creators or imposed by other institutions. For some material, there was no arrangement. In the absence of a usable order, a scheme was created for Series 1 and 3. Series 2, the subject files, reflects the arrangement of the materials as they were acquisitioned.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Hambidge Center, 1995, 1996 (ML.1995.74; 1996.17)

Related Materials

Related materials of the same acquisition may be found in the following collections in this repository: Mary and Jay Hambidge Visual Collection, VIS 1. See also the holdings of the library and museum.

General Physical Description note

Extent: 32 linear ft. (59 document cases and 2 oversized boxes)

Description Control

The collection was processed in 2006

An Inventory of Their Papers at the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
Inventory prepared by Wesley Chenault
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center Repository

130 West Paces Ferry Road
Atlanta GA 30305