Scope and arrangement
The Copy Berg Papers document the military service, artistic career, family background and personal history of the artist and gay rights activist. The papers date from the 1890s-1998 with the bulk of the material being from the period 1970-1998. Included are personal and professional correspondence; drawings, sketches and sketchbooks; photographs; records of Berg's military service and his legal battle against the Navy; editorial and administrative papers concerning the production of Get Off My Ship; notebooks and writings; audio and video recordings of Berg, his friends and his family; news clippings, printed material and ephemera. The Copy Berg Papers are an important resource for the study of gays in the American military, the New York art scene and the impact of the AIDS epidemic on gay culture.
The Copy Berg papers are arranged in eight series:
- 1911-19989.5 linear feet
Copy Berg's correspondence files contain incoming and outgoing letters, postcards, greeting cards, faxes and printed copies of e-mail messages which document his family background, his personal relationships, his service in the United States Navy and his career as an artist. The series is arranged chronologically, with some further sorting by correspondent of material from earlier years. During the late 1980s and 1990s Berg filed nearly all of his incoming and outgoing correspondence together in rough chronological order, though he sometimes separated printed e-mail messages and faxed letters from other items. Highlights of the series include letters written during the 1960s by the artist's father, Vernon Berg, Jr., while he served as a United States Navy Chaplain in Vietnam (Box 1, Folder 10 and Box 2, Folder 1). Copy Berg's education at the United States Naval Academy and his subsequent service with American forces based in the Mediterranean are documented by letters dating from the early 1970s. Also included is important correspondence concerning Berg's groundbreaking fight against his discharge from the Navy (Box 3, Folder 4 and Box 4, Folders 2-3). These letters are complemented by legal documents, news clippings and other records that pertain to the discharge case filed in Series V of the collection. Copy Berg's successful career as an artist is documented throughout the correspondence files dating from the 1980s and 1990s. Many outgoing letters from these years were sent by Berg via fax machine and are illustrated with cartoons and sketches done in the artist's characteristic late style. Researchers interested in this period of Berg's career should also examine several folders of "fax art" filed in Series II (Boxes 27-30). Many of Berg's faxed letters include poignant descriptions of his difficult struggle with HIV and AIDS. The series also contains hundreds of pages of printed e-mail messages concerning Berg's interest in sadomasochism and his participation in public performances of "S/M scenes".
- 1950s-199817 linear feet
The series includes artwork by Copy Berg in a wide variety of formats, including drawings, sketches and sketchbooks, collages, watercolor paintings and photocopies. In addition, some folders contain written documents, printed materials and loose photographs related to specific projects. The material is arranged in two subseries: IIa. Miscellaneous (folders arranged alphabetically by the title of the work, subject or theme); and IIb. Sketchbooks (volumes arranged chronologically). Series II includes a substantial representation of works from Berg's early years, including graphic design projects done for the Navy from 1970-1975 (Box 42, Folders 2-4). These include posters advertising Navy theatrical programs, printed pamphlets illustrated by Berg and yearbook page-spreads containing his photographs. These items are complemented by hundreds of original photographs of Navy life that are contained in Series III, many of which were used in these early projects. Also pertaining to Berg's military years are dozens of drawings and sketches produced to illustrate the book Get Off My Ship, an account of his Navy discharge case published in 1978 (Box 30, Folders 4-5, Box 31, Folder 1 and Box 35, Folders 3-4). Additional artwork from the late 1970s includes several folders and boxes of material produced by Berg while he studied at Pratt Institute (Boxes 36-38). There are also a few samples of graphic design projects undertaken in this period and during the early 1980s. From 1986 until the end of his life, Berg filled dozens of sketchbooks and notepads, and thousands of loose sheets of paper, with small, cartoon-like drawings that explored such themes as the social response to the AIDS epidemic, sexual politics and sadomasochism. Series II contains a great number of these works, which Berg referred to variously as "artoons," "fax-art" or "pages from my unfinished Surrealist novel." A small sketchbook in Box 60 contains several drawings which date from January 1998 and which may be the last works completed by the artist. With the exception of a few small watercolors on paper, this series does not include any original paintings by Copy Berg. This gap is partially filled by numerous documentation photographs of individual artworks and exhibitions from all periods of the artist's career, contained in Series III.
- 1930s-199815 linear feet
This series contains photoprints, contact sheets, transparencies, negatives, and photograph albums. The material is arranged in two subseries: IIIa. Miscellaneous (folders arranged alphabetically by the title of the work, subject or theme); and IIIb. Albums (volumes arranged chronologically). Most of the albums in Subseries IIIb. are three-ring binders containing 35 mm color transparencies mounted in plastic sleeves. Subjects of photographs in Series III include Copy Berg, his family and his friends; scenes from the United States Naval Academy; scenes from Berg's military service on U.S. Navy ships based in the Mediterranean; images of Berg's paintings, drawings and exhibitions; photographs made by Berg for use by the painter Charles Bell and images of Bell's finished artwork.
- 1969-19924 linear feet
The Copy Berg Papers include extensive documentation of the artist's military career and his controversial discharge by the U.S. Navy. There are classroom notes, essays, transcripts and other academic records from his years as a student at the United States Naval Academy (Box 103). Also included are files relating to Berg's work as a communications officer with the Sixth Fleet (Box 104). Most importantly, there are thousands of pages of records which pertain to Berg's discharge case, including legal documents, correspondence, hearing transcripts and notes, news clippings and research files (Boxes 105-112). This material is supplemented by editorial and administrative papers relating to the production of the book Get Off My Ship, an account of the discharge case written by E. Lawrence Gibson and illustrated by Berg (Box 113). Folders in this series are arranged in chronological order, as Berg himself maintained them.
- 1964-19985 linear feet
The writings of Copy Berg include essays, poems, student writings, travel observations and autobiographical notes in a variety of formats, including notebooks, notepads, manuscripts and typescripts. The material is arranged in two subseries: Va. Miscellaneous (folders arranged alphabetically by the title of the work, subject or theme); and Vb. Notepads (folders arranged chronologically). Some folders in Subseries Va. contain correspondence, news clippings and printed materials gathered by Berg in the course of his research for the project concerned. A few items of juvenilia (Box 114, Folders 16 and 19) provide insight into the artist's upbringing and early education. Berg's evolving thoughts about his military career are documented in several batches of autobiographical notes (Box 114, Folders 3, 10 and 13). There are also important examples of Berg's writing on the topics of gay rights, AIDS and cultural politics (Box 114, Folders 2, 4, 7). Subseries Vb. consists of several dozen unbound notepads that provide an informal, diary-like account of the artist's daily life during the 1980s and 1990s. The notepad pages are thickly covered with epigrammatic remarks on current events, fragments of poetry, small drawings, telephone messages, shopping lists and other bits of quotidian information.
- 1940s-19984 linear feet
Materials in this alphabetically arranged series document Copy Berg's personal and family history, his artistic career and his varied interests. Included are high school records, legal and medical documents, resumes and papers concerning several of Berg's relatives and close friends. There are promotional materials for exhibitions of Berg's art (Boxes 127-128), as well as papers concerning his representation by galleries and art dealers. Also filed here are printed materials, publications and fundraising appeals issued by various gay rights organizations supported by Berg. Finally, there are hundreds of news clippings on such topics as AIDS, gay culture and politics, and the arts. Among these are dozens of newspaper and magazine articles about Copy Berg himself, including biographical sketches, interviews, art reviews and coverage of his Navy discharge.
- 1954-19983.5 linear feet
The series contains audio and video recordings that provide insight into Berg's family background, his personal life and his artistic career. The material has been sorted into two subseries, VIIa. Audio Recordings and VIIb. Video Recordings, each arranged chronologically. Audio recordings include sermons delivered during the 1950s by Copy Berg's father, Vernon Berg, Jr., as well as spoken "letters" he mailed home to his family while he served as a Navy chaplain in Vietnam. Recordings from the 1980s-1990s include conversations among Copy Berg, his artistic colleagues, his friends and his family; press interviews of the artist including his 1995 appearance on the National Public Radio program All Things Considered; messages received by Berg and his partner Paul Nash on their home telephone answering machine; and a few installments of Berg's intermittently kept spoken "diary". Video recordings include several television interviews of Copy Berg and a two-part lecture on "Sexual Orientation, Society and the Law" issued by the American Bar Association Committee on Continuing Professional Education. The original audio and video tapes contained in Boxes 134-138 are unavailable for research use for preservation reasons. Service copy duplicates of the original tapes have been made and are available for research. Please request service copies of audio and video recordings by the control numbers given in the container list below.
- 1890s-19989 linear feet
Printed materials include yearbooks from Frank W. Cox High School and the United States Naval Academy, several of these annotated by Berg; miscellaneous U.S. Navy publications; magazines, newsletters, catalogs and other printed items relating to interests of Berg, including art galleries and artists, gay activism, the AIDS epidemic, erotica and sadomasochism. Ephemera includes Berg's childhood postage stamp collection (containing specimens from the 1890s-1970s), printed t-shirts designed by the artist, iron-on patches and items of clothing from Berg's years as a Boy Scout, Navy paraphernalia, miscellaneous buttons, badges and other artifacts of sentimental value to Berg. The original postage stamps contained in Box 158 are unavailable for research use for preservation reasons. Photocopy duplicates of the original postage stamps have been made and are contained in Box 159, which is open to research.