Thelma Lehmann papers and oral history interview, 1951-1985  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Lehmann, Thelma
Thelma Lehmann papers and oral history interview
1951-1985 (inclusive)
0.43 cubic feet (1 box) plus 1 sound tape reel and transcript
Collection Number
Oral history interview and textual materials documenting Thelma Lehmann's life as artist, art critic, patron and hostess.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-543-1929
Fax: 206-543-1931
Access Restrictions

Open to all users


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Thelma Lehmann, nee Gerstman, was born in Georgia in 1916 and moved to Seattle with her family as a child. She studied art at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, the Art League in New York, and under Mark Tobey at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Her first one person exhibition was in 1939 at the Seattle Art Museum, and in 1951she won the SAM's prestigious Northwest Annual purchase prize. In the 1950s and 60s she was a permanent artist in the Zoe Dusanne Gallery and the Otoo Seligman gallery. She served on many juries and was a personal friend of many Northwest artists. She was an art critic for the Seattle times for one year and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for three years between 1957-1964.

In 1942, she married Seattle physician Hans Lehmann and they eventually adopted two sons, Spencer and Mark. From 1969-1982, Thelma directed a gallery of tribal African Art called Gallery Nimba. Her husband has started collecting African Art in 1963 when he served on the hospital ship Hope in Guinea, West Africa. The three pieces he brought home started Thelma's interest in the art. In 1965, they returned as a couple to West Africa on a collecting tour. The Lehmanns were active travellers, making prolonged sojourns to Afghanistan and Africa, among other destinations. In 1969, Thelma opened Gallery Nimba, showing art she had collected from Sierra Leone, Ghana, the Volta River region and Mali. She was active in promoting an interest in African art through articles, lectures, and tours of the gallery. One of the goals of the gallery was to acquaint black school children in Seattle with their cultural heritage. Docents were trained to work with groups of school children, and cultural tours and education were of greater concern than sales. Part of the Hans and Thelma Lehmann collection of African Art is on permanent display at Pacific Lutheran University. An exhibit of 100 pieces from their collection was on display in the Henry Gallery in 1982.

As a couple, Hans and Thelma Lehmann were very involved as patrons, board members, and fund raisers with the Seattle Symphony, the Youth Symphony, Seattle Opera Association, the Seattle Art Museum, the Henry Gallery, ACT Theater, and Repertory Theater. The Lehmanns frequently hosted meetings, parties, and receptions for art organizations in their home, which was also open as lodging to prominent performing artists with the Seattle Symphony. Hans died in 1996, and Thelma died in her Lake Union apartment in 2007 at the age of 91.


Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Oral history interview and textual materials documenting Thelma Lehmann's life as artist, art critic, patron and hostess.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Creator's literary rights transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top


Accession No. 2554-001: Thelma Lehmann oral history interview, 1976 Nov. 19Return to Top

1 sound tape reel plus 1 transcript (38 p.)

Scope and Content: Tape-recorded interview, covering 1900-1975, and conducted by Sally Swenson.

This tape concerns Mrs. Lehmann's work as a painter, women as artists, the art milieu in Seattle and the Northwest, and Mrs. Lehmann's activities as a collector and dealer in African Art, including much discussion of social-artistic aspects of the art itself.

Digital Content/Other Formats:View the transcript of this interview on the Libraries Digital Collections site.

Restrictions on Access: Open to all users

Acquisition Info: Donated by Sally Swenson, 11/19/1976.

Accession No. 2554-002: Thelma Lehmann papers, 1951-1985Return to Top

0.43 cubic feet (1 box)

Scope and Content: Correspondence, gallery notices, clippings.

Documents Thelma Lehmann's life as artist, art critic, patron and hostess. Letters from prominent musical performers and northwest artists are included. Documents her gallery, Gallery Nimba (1969-1982), the first in Seattle devoted to African art, and the Hans and Thelma Lehmann collection of African art.

Restrictions on Access: Open to all users

Acquisition Info: Donated by Thelma Lehmann, 10/3/1985.

Container(s) Description Dates
Series 1: Personal Papers
Box/Folder Accession
1/1 2554-002
Incoming Letters: A-C, Misc.
Scope and Content: Includes five letters from Kenneth Callahan, 1963-1962, undated
1/2 2554-002
Incoming Letters: D-G, Misc.
Scope and Content: Includes five letters from Daniel Evans, 1966-1983; three letters from Nancy Evans, 1965-1967; eight letters from Rudolf and Taheme Firkusny, 1963-1975; and three letters from Jakob Gimpel, 1953-1960
1947, 1953-1985
1/3 2554-002
Incoming Letters: H-J, Misc.
Scope and Content: Includes two letters from Alex Haley, 1972; three letters from Anne Hauberg, 1963-1969, and three letters from Helen Jackson, 1981-1983
1/4 2554-002
Incoming Letters: K-L, Misc.
Scope and Content: Includes six letters from Milton Katims, 1952-1976; three letters from Vera Katims, 1955, undated; three letters from Ivy Korner, 1954-1959; and three letters from Eugene Linden, 1971, undated
1/5 2554-002
Incoming Letters: M-R, Misc.
Scope and Content: Includes three letters from Rainier Miedel, 1978-1982
1/6 2554-002
Incoming Letters: S, Misc.
Scope and Content: Includes six letters from Alexander Schneider, 1952-1981, undated; five letters from Harold Schonberg, 1962-1974; three letters from the Seattle Art Museum, 1961-1967; three letters from Rudof Serkin, 1966-1967, undated; five letters from Isaac Stern, 1954-1980; and four letters from Vera Stern, 1954-1959(?)
1/7 2554-002
Incoming Letters: T-Z, Misc.
1/8 2554-002
Incoming Letters: Unidentified Correspondents
Scope and Content: Includes 11 letters
1/9 2554-002
Outgoing Letters
Scope and Content: Includes three letters
1/10 2554-002
1/11 2554-002
Speeches and Writings
1/12 2554-002
1/13 2554-002
1/14 2554-002
Gallery Notices
Series 2: Gallery Nimba
Box/Folder Accession
1/15 2554-002
General Correspondence
1/16 2554-002
1/17 2554-002

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Art dealers--Washington (State)
  • Art, African--Exhibitions
  • Artists--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Personal Papers/Corporate Records (University of Washington)
  • Women art dealers--Washington (State)
  • Women painters--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Personal Names :
  • Lehmann, J. H. (J. Hans), 1911-
  • Lehmann, Thelma--Archives
  • Corporate Names :
  • Seattle Symphony Orchestra
  • Other Creators :
    • Personal Names :
    • Callahan, Kenneth, 1905-1986 (creator)
    • Firkušný, Rudolf, 1912-1994 (creator)
    • Firkušny, Taheme (creator)
    • Katims, Milton, 1909-2006 (creator)
    • Schneider, Alexander, 1908-1993 (creator)
    • Stern, Isaac, 1920-2001 (creator)
    • Corporate Names :
    • Gallery Nimba (Seattle, Wash.)