Your Pal, Cliff: Selections from the H. C. Westermann Study Collection

April 2 – September 6, 2009

Installation view of Your Pal, Cliff with Burning House (1958) in the foreground.

Installation view of Your Pal, Cliff with Burning House (1958) in the foreground.

Horace Clifford (H. C.) Westermann (1922–1981) created a meticulously crafted and highly personal body of work that defies easy categorization.

He blended imagery born of profound personal experiences—especially apparent in the Death Ship and other motifs related to his searing experiences in World War II—with bawdy, absurd, or unsettling elements from contemporary American material culture. This comprehensive and revealing new exhibition offers fresh insight into the work and life of this singular American artist.

Drawing largely on material that has never been exhibited before, Your Pal, Cliff brought to light for the first time the full scope of the H. C. Westermann Study Collection. The collection—established at the Smart Museum through donations by the estate of the artist’s wife, Joanna Beall Westermann, and enhanced by gifts from the artist’s family and others—includes correspondence, sketchbooks, print blocks, gift objects, photographic documentation, tools, and unfinished projects in addition to rich holdings of finished sculptures, drawings, and prints.

Your Pal, Cliff mixed art with objects of a more archival nature in order to detail Westermann’s signature themes, legendary sense of craft, and the convergence of his life and art.

About the H. C. Westermann Study Collection

The H. C. Westermann Study Collection at the Smart Museum of Art is one of the most significant public collections of artwork and archival material related to Westermann's life and work.

The collection was established in 2002 with the first of two major gifts from the estate of Westermann's wife, the artist Joanna Beall Westermann, and has been enhanced over the past decade by donations from the artist's sister, Martha Renner, and other individuals closely associated—either personally or professionally—with the artist, as well as several prominent collectors of Westermann's work. The collection continues to grow in both breadth and depth.

All together, the study collection includes nearly fifty sculptures and objects (both large gallery pieces and smaller, more personal objects given as gifts to Westermann's wife and others), many drawings and letter-drawings by the artist, all but two of the artist's known prints, forty-five printing blocks, seventeen sketchbooks (dating from between 1952 and 1981), as well as an extraordinary mix of personal and professional correspondence (numbering over one thousand items), records, photographs, books and magazines, art making tools, unfinished sculptures, and other objects related to Westermann's life and art.

The study collection has a dedicated home in the Smart Museum's contemporary galleries, where a rotating selection of Westermann material is permanently on view. The unique richness of the collection makes it a vital resource for students, scholars, and the public alike.


Robert Storr offers his take on Westermann in Cliff Notes (PDF).


Listen as family, friends, and scholars share personal stories and reflect on Westermann's life and work. Links open iTunes.

Related programs

Opening Reception
April 2, 2009

Lunch-hour Talk: "Artistic Evidence: Data or Dust?"
April 30, 2009

Yours Truly Letter Writing Workshop
May 2, 2009

Family Day: Art Pals Across Town! 
May 10, 2009

Sketching at the Smart
May 14, 2009

Lecture: Robert Storr
May 21, 2009

Smart Focus: Curator Tour 
June 6, 2009

Artist Talk: Cliff's Connections 
June 14, 2009

Lunch-hour Talk: "Chicago Made"
July 24, 2009