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University of Texas at Austin

Edward Ruscha:

An Inventory of His Papers and Art Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Ruscha, Edward, 1937- .
Title: Edward Ruscha Papers and Art Collection
Dates: 1962-2015
Extent: 22 boxes, 25 oversize boxes (osb) (35.74 linear feet), 13 oversize folders (osf), 5 flat file drawers (FF)
Abstract: The collection consists of materials which document artist Edward Ruscha's creative process, from concept through final production, of select book, commissioned, and print projects dating between 1962 and 2015. The materials include: sketchbooks; mock-ups; photographic prints, negatives and transparencies; published portfolios; correspondence and invoices; publicity and reviews; and posters.
Call Number: Art Collection AR-342
Language: English, French, and Italian
Access: Open for research; some materials redacted. Please note that a minimum of 24 hours advance notice is required to page Art Collection materials to the Ransom Center's Reading and Viewing Room. An appointment is required to view oversized and/or fragile works, and some materials may be restricted from viewing. To make an appointment or to reserve materials, please contact the Center's staff at

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gift and purchases, 2013-2016 (13-09-005-GP, 13-12-005-P, 14-01-007-P, 14-02-002-P, 15-05-024-G, 15-10-015 P, 16-07-016-G)
Processed by: Anne Kofmehl, 2016

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Edward "Ed" Joseph Ruscha IV was born December 16, 1937, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Edward Joseph Ruscha III, an insurance auditor, and Dorothy Driscoll Ruscha. His family, including an older sister, Shelby, and a younger brother, Paul, moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1941.
Growing up in Oklahoma City, Ruscha's favorite pastimes included his paper route and drawing cartoons. He took his first painting class in 1948 from a local portrait painter, Richard Goetz, and among his childhood friends were Mason Williams, Joe Goode, and Jerry McMillan, who also went on to become prominent artists. After graduating high school in August 1956, Ruscha traveled to California with Mason Williams to attend Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in Los Angeles.
When he first enrolled at Chouinard, Ruscha planned to work as a sign painter or in advertising, and focused his studies on commercial arts, taking classes in graphic design, advertising, and photography. Increasingly influenced by the Dadaists and the contemporary works of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Ruscha eventually gravitated toward painting, training under Robert Irwin, Emerson Woelffer, and other art instructors. Outside of the classroom, Ruscha apprenticed with Saul Marks at Plantin Press where he developed an interest in book printing, layout, and typography.
In 1960, following his graduation from Chouinard, Ruscha found employment at the Los Angeles-based Carson/Roberts advertising agency where he worked as a layout artist. The following year, he traveled to Europe with his mother and brother and toured twelve countries over a six-month period. Throughout the trip, Ruscha photographed street life with his Yashica twin-lens reflex camera and created collages out of paper. On his way back to California after the trip, Ruscha spent time in New York City where he met prominent art dealer Leo Castelli and was first exposed to Pop Art. Castelli would later represent Ruscha through his gallery in New York.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Ruscha dedicated himself to painting full-time and moved into his first studio in the Glassell Park district. In 1962, his paintings were included in the first museum exhibition dedicated to Pop Art, New Paintings of Common Objects, curated by Walter Hopps, at the Pasadena Art Museum. The exhibition featured works by soon-to-be famous Pop artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Joe Goode, and Wayne Thiebaud. In 1963, Ruscha had his first solo show at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, which featured some of his early word paintings, including Smash (1963) and OOF (1963), and the billboard-shaped Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (1962). That same year, Ruscha published his first book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations, and over the next ten years published 15 books and executed more than 500 word images in various media, including his famous liquid word paintings.
Starting in the late 1960s, Ruscha began to experiment with different media, using organic substances, rather than traditional paints or inks, to create works like Stains (1969) and News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews, & Dues (1970). During this period, Ruscha made two films, Premium (1971) and Miracle (1975). In 1972, a major survey of Ruscha's drawings, prints, and books was exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
The 1980s and 1990s brought Ruscha increasing status as an internationally-known and respected artist. In 1980, Ruscha created a signature font, "Boy Scout Utility Modern," using it almost exclusively in his works since. His first retrospective, The Works of Ed Ruscha, organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, opened in March of 1982. That show traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and three other museums in the United States and Canada. He completed two public art commissions, one for the Miami-Dade Public Library (1985-1989) and the other for the Denver Public Library (1994-1995), among other commissions and design projects.
In 2009, the Hayward Gallery in London organized a major survey of Ruscha's paintings, Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting. His drawings, paintings, photographs, and prints are found in museums all over the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. He is represented by Gagosian Gallery.
As of 2016, Ruscha lives and works in Los Angeles with his wife Danna. He has two children, Edward Joseph "Eddie" Ruscha V, born in 1968, and Sonny Bjornson, born in 1988.


Dean, Robert, and Lisa Turvey. Edward Ruscha: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Five: 1993-1997. New York: Gagosian Gallery; Germany: Steidl, 2012.
Richards, Mary. Ed Ruscha. London: Tate Publishing, 2008.
Rowell, Margit, ed. Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2004.
Ruscha, Edward. Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages. Edited by Alexandra Schwartz. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2002.

Scope and Contents

Select works of artist Edward Ruscha, from 1962 to 2015, are represented by: research material and notes; sketchbooks and drawings; mock-ups and dummies; photographic material; audio-visual material; invoices and correspondence; publicity, reviews, and exhibition material; print portfolios and suites; posters; and published works. The bulk of the material focuses on Ruscha's artists' books, specifically On the Road (2009), and his commissioned works, including his paintings for the Miami-Dade Public Library (1985-1989) and the Denver Central Public Library (1994-1995). A smaller amount of material is available for his films, other commissioned projects, and print portfolios and suites. The collection does not include personal material or much material concerning his paintings or other works on paper. The collection is divided into the following four series which are arranged by size and/or importance: I. Works, 1962-2012; II. Studio Notebooks, 1967-1995; III. Exhibitions, 1969-2013; and IV. Career-Related, 1963-2015. The first three series are arranged chronologically, and the final series is arranged alphabetically. While most of the materials are in English, some are in other languages, including French and Italian.
Series I. Works documents Ruscha's artistic activities from 1962 to 2012 and is divided into six subseries: A. Artists' Books; B. Commissioned Works; C. Films; D. Paintings; E. Print Portfolios and Suites; and F. Other Projects. Within each subseries works are arranged chronologically.
Between 1963 and 2010, Ruscha published and/or collaborated on 25 books. The first subseries, Artists' Books, includes materials that documents the creation, publication, and post-publication processes for 20 of those books beginning with Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and ending with Dirty Baby (2010). The majority of the books were published in the 1960s and 1970s, and they include titles such as Various Small Fires (1964), Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), and Stains (1969). Some projects, like On the Road (2009), are more heavily-documented than others. Items of note include snapshots of the gasoline stations for Twentysix Gasoline Stations (including some not selected for the final publication), a complete set of annotated production prints for Royal Road Test (1967), correspondence for Dutch Details (1971) highlighting the complications in publishing the rare work (much of the print run was inadvertently destroyed), as well as an extensive collection of research notes, photographic material, and annotated dummies for On the Road, Ruscha's photo-annotated version of Jack Kerouac's classic novel. In addition to material documenting the publication process, the Ransom Center also received final published copies of Royal Road Test, Business Cards (1968), Babycakes (1970), Stains, Real Estate Opportunities (1970), Dutch Details, On the Road, and Dirty Baby. The following titles are only represented by the published work: Guacamole Airlines (1980), They Called Her Styrene (2000), S books (2001), ME AND THE (2002), Then & Now: Hollywood Blvd 1973-2004 (2005), and OH/NO (2005).
The second subseries, Commissioned Works, includes material that documents the conception, production, and post-production activities for a variety of commissions Ruscha completed between 1968 and 2012. The bulk of the material documents the commissioned paintings for the Miami-Dade and Denver public libraries. Words Without Thoughts Never to Heaven Go is a set of murals and lunettes Ruscha completed for the Miami-Dade Public Library between 1985 and 1989. Photographic material documents the complete process, beginning with the paintings' creation in Ruscha's Los Angeles studio, their trip across the country, and their eventual installation in Miami. Also included are contract negotiations and correspondence with the city of Miami, and Ruscha's original proposal and sketches for the project. Similar materials document the series of painted panels he created for the Denver public library (Denver Central Library Public Art Project) between 1994 and 1995. Other items of note in this subseries include: photographs, negatives and transparencies for the billboard, The Back of Hollywood (Hollywood Rear-View Mirror) (1975-1977); correspondence, sketches and photographs for Words In Their Best Order (2001), a series of paintings Ruscha completed for Gannett Company, Inc.'s building in Tysons Corner, Virginia; and a signed and dated original ink drawing for the art magazine Point d'ironie. The following commissions are only represented by the final work: Billy Book, exhibition catalog (1968); Hollywood Collects, poster (1970); Life, Time Inc., poster (1978); Stay Safe, Change Inc., poster (1978); 200 Years Old, L.A. Bicentennial, poster (1980); Cheech and Chong, Amsterdam Film Festival, poster (1982); Untitled, Chicago Art Expo, poster (1983); America Needs Hart, Hart Presidential Campaign, poster (1983); Care, World Hunger Crusade, poster (1995); and MOCA NEW 30th Anniversary Gala, book (2009).
Films, the third subseries, includes material that documents the conception and production for Premium (1971) and Miracle (1975). Materials for the first film, an adaptation of Ruscha's book Crackers (1969), include snapshots from the shoot and handwritten scene descriptions. Similar materials document the production of Ruscha's second film and include typewritten drafts of the story and script, as well as Polaroids of production stills. The 16mm composite release prints for both films were transferred to the Ransom Center's Moving Image collection. The film, The Books of Ed Ruscha (1968-69/2012), which was never released, is represented only by a signed artists' proof of a DVD-R of the film in a specially designed package. It was published, but never distributed, by Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2012. The film features Mason Williams, a friend and collaborator of Ruscha, looking through several of Ruscha's artists' books. A voice-over of Williams reading the text plays over the film.
The fourth subseries, Paintings, is one of the smallest subseries and consists of test proofs on cloth used to make a reproduction of Brave Men Run in the Family (1983) and color Polaroids documenting Woman on Fire (1990).
Ruscha created numerous works on paper, and the fifth subseries, Print Portfolios and Suites, represents a fraction of that body of work. Present are lithographs, screen prints, etchings, and photographic prints, created between 1970 and 2007. Depending on the project, individual works are loose, cased, or bound as a volume. The works represent the range of Ruscha's interests in subject and technique. Notable among them is News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews, & Dues (1970), a portfolio of screen prints made with organic substances which include coffee, jam, and salmon roe. One subject that Ruscha frequently returns to is that of literature and words, as exampled by Sayings (1995), a portfolio of ten lithographs based on Mark Twain’s novel Pudd’nhead Wilson: A Tale (1894). Ruscha's predilection for landscapes, both urban and natural, is evident in series like Vacant Lots (1970/2003) and Country Cityscapes (2001). Ruscha revisited the subjects of previous projects by creating series based on past artists' books. The series The Sunset Strip (1995), Pools (1997), and Parking Lots (1999) were made from the original negatives used to create their respective artists' books. Included are both numbered editions and signed artists' proofs. Ruscha collaborated with a variety of printmakers and publishers, including Patrick Painter Editions (Vancouver and Hong Kong) and Graphicstudio (University of South Florida, Tampa). Item-level information, including title, medium and dimensions, is available for all works in this subseries with the exception of those in Then & Now: Hollywood Blvd, 1973-2004 (2004).
The sixth and final subseries is the smallest and is comprised of just two photographs representing two obscure works. The first, a black and white Polaroid, documents an early stage of Rocky II(1976/1979?), which is an artificial rock that Ruscha constructed and placed in the Mojave Desert in the mid-1970s. The second photograph shows Ruscha standing with a partially constructed billboard which may have been a collaborative project with the artist Ron Cooper in New Mexico in the 1980s (Untitled New Mexico Project, 1986). Little documentation of either work exists.
Series II. Studio Notebooks is the smallest series and is comprised of six notebooks, dating from 1967 to 1995 (bulk 1980s). Each notebook contains sketches, notes, plans, ideas, quotes and observations for a variety of works. The notebook from 1967 to 1969 contains sketches and notes related to works found elsewhere within this collection: Business Cards (1968), A Few Palm Trees (1971), and Stains (1969). There are two notebooks dedicated to Ruscha's commissioned projects for the Miami and Denver libraries. The notebook for Miami ('Miami Project') includes sketches and notes for the rotunda and lunettes and detailed descriptions of each panel. The Denver notebook contains sketches related to the Denver Central Library Public Art Project as well as other works made around that time. A more extensive collection of material related to the Miami-Dade Public Library and Denver Central Library projects can be found in Series I. Subseries B. For preservation purposes, notebooks cannot be opened beyond 90 degrees. Book cradles are provided in the Ransom Center's Reading and Viewing Room to support the notebooks when being viewed.
The third series, Exhibitions, is arranged chronologically and consists primarily of posters for sixty of Ruscha's solo and group exhibitions from 1969 to 2013. The posters are from exhibitions spanning the globe, from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi, demonstrating Ruscha's international appeal and reputation. Thirty-eight of the posters feature works by Ruscha. All exhibition information (title, location, and date) is included in the container list as is detailed information on the title, medium, and dimensions for each poster. In addition to the posters, there is material related to two exhibitions: Words Without Thoughts Never to Heaven Go: Works Related to the Miami-Dade Public Library Commission for Metro-Dade Art in Public Places, Lannan Museum, Lake Worth, Florida, 1985-1988, and Ed Ruscha: The End, Denver Art Museum, 1995. These materials include correspondence, invitations, exhibition checklists, reviews, photographs, and slides.
Series IV. Career-Related is the second smallest series and is arranged alphabetically. Included are a small amount of correspondence, samples of Ruscha's letterhead, invoices, and photographs of Ruscha and the interior of his studio, all of which date from 1963 to 2015. Also present is a record book containing an inventory of Ruscha's early artists' books and a brochure related to his publication company, Heavy Industry Publications, which produced many of them. The artists' books recorded begin with Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and end with Hard Light (1978). Additional materials include a copy of the film LA Suggested by the Art of Ed Ruscha by Gary Conklin Films, 11 posters illustrated with works by Ruscha, reviews for some of his early artists' books and paintings, and two art magazines that feature work by Ruscha.
Notes on Arrangement and Description:
Arrangement and description of manuscripts: The collection arrived grouped by work and project and was organized chronologically. This order was maintained for the most part, but in some cases order was imposed for clarification and consistency. Original folder titles were used when available. Typically, Ruscha filed his material in folders and/or envelopes labeled with the title of the work or project. Abbreviated titles were often used, but in order to maintain consistency, full titles are used throughout the finding aid. The original folders were not retained during processing, but where they bore writing other than the expected title, photocopies of the original folder and/or envelope were added to the folder's contents. Documents which contained personal information were replaced with redacted copies to protect individuals' privacy. Examples of personal information include Social Security, account, and credit card numbers. The original documents were retained but are not available to researchers.
Preservation: During Ruscha's editing process, self-adhesive sticky notes were frequently affixed to documents and photographs. For preservation purposes, photographs bearing these notes were photocopied in order to preserve the document's original layout. Depending on the nature of the note and document, sticky notes were either removed or retained and separately housed in protective sleeves. Other potentially harmful or damaging materials such as paperclips, metal brads, and clasps were removed during physical processing.
Negatives, transparencies, and slides have been separated by format for preservation storage.
Special notes for select works
Stains (1969): This work is considered by some to be a print series, but according to the catalogue raisonné this portfolio of mix-media stains on paper is considered a book.
On the Road (2009): Ruscha organized the photographic material by page number. Materials not originally found with their page number were reintegrated for consistency.
Miami-Dade Public Library project: The photographic material is divided into the two different parts of this commission. The first part, the rotunda mural, was completed in 1985. The second part, the lunettes, was completed in 1989. The material was for the most part grouped in this way by Ruscha, but during processing materials which were found together at random were reintegrated with their respective stages of the commission. Rafael Salazar was the professional photographer of the Miami project.
Denver Central Library project: The photographic material follows chronological order from the creation of the panels in Ruscha's Los Angeles studio (1993-1994), to their installation in June 1995. After installation, professional photographs were taken by Gary Regester and Paul Ruscha. The final photographs are divided into three different views: one showing the detail of the panels, another showing the arrangement of the panels laid out as a "bird's eye view", and a final complete view of the panels in the library.
Arrangement by format
  • Photographs, contact sheets, and manuscript material: Boxes 1-19, 47
  • Oversize material: Boxes 20-40, 45-46, osf 1-13, and FF 45.1-2, 4-6
  • Negatives: Box 41
  • Transparencies: Boxes 41-44
Abbreviations and terms
  • The term "black and white" to describe photographs has been abbreviated to b&w.
  • Unless otherwise noted, "photographs" is used to describe photographic prints.
Index of Correspondents: All of the correspondence in the Edward Ruscha Papers and Art Collection is listed in an Index of Correspondents at the end of this finding aid. It includes correspondence located through Series I, III and IV for Ed Ruscha, his studio assistants and manager (Mary Dean, Susan Haller, Pat Poncy, and Paul Ruscha), and some correspondence between third-parties.

Related Material

In addition to the Edward Ruscha Papers and Art Collection, the Ransom Center holds publications by and about Ruscha that can be found by searching the Library catalog.

Separated Material

A variety of published works which accompanied the collection were transferred to the Ransom Center's Library. These items include: 69 exhibition catalogs and books about Ruscha; 15 books, four audiobooks, and one DVD used as research for On the Road (2009); one book about modern swimming pools used as reference for the Berlin Swimming Pool project (1995-1996); a compact disc produced by David Breskin, co-author of Dirty Baby (2010); and 36 issues of the art magazine Point d'ironie (1997-2009).
An unpublished audio cassette tape of Jack Kerouac poetry related to the research for On the Road (2009) was transferred to the Center's Sound Recordings Collection.
Twenty-six compact discs of photographs and documents related to the production of On the Road (2009), four compact discs of photographs and poem drafts related to the production of Dirty Baby (2010), and one DVD-R were transferred to the Center's Electronic Records Collection.
One VHS and two mini DV cassettes related to the Miami-Dade Public Library public art project, one VHS and two hi-8 tapes related to the Denver Library public art project, one DVD-R of the film The Books of Ed Ruscha 1969 (1968-1969/2012), one DVD-R copy of the film LA Suggested by the Art of Ed Ruscha (1981) by Gary Conklin Films, and 16mm composite release prints of the films Premium (1971) and Miracle (1975) were transferred to the Center's Moving Image Collection.
A DVD containing a video of Ruscha’s collection of books about other artists in his Culver City studio was also transferred to the Center's Electronic Records Collection.

Index Terms


Art--California--Los Angeles.
Artists, American--20th century.
Artists, American--21st century.
Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969--On the Road.
Photography--California--Los Angeles.
Pop art--California--Los Angeles.
Service stations--United States--Pictorial works.
Urban landscapes--United States--Pictorial works.
Natural landscapes--United States--Pictorial works.
Literature--Pictorial works.


Denver (Co.).
Los Angeles (Calif.).
Miami (Fla.).

Document Types

Artists' books.
Book dummies.
Letter pictures.

Container List