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Lela Powers Briggs papers

Identifier: IWA0043

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Scope and Contents

The Lela Powers Briggs papers date from 1892 to 1992 and measure 5.5 linear feet. The papers are arranged in eleven series: Biographical information, Education, Correspondence: personal, Diaries and notebooks, Account books, Exhibits, Photographs, Ephemera, Sketches, Scrapbooks, and Artifacts. The collection focuses on the activities of a regional woman artist of the mid-twentieth century and her role as a rural homemaker. The papers form a rich personal recollection of the Briggs family, through Briggs' correspondence with her husband and sons, her parents, and her two sisters, Pearl and Delcia.

Boxes 1-7 are on loan to the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries. Boxes 8-15 are housed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Housed at the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries:

The Biographical information series contains official documents; papers relating to the Powers and Briggs families; a twenty-five page recollection of her grandparents, "Powersville Days," written in 1951; and miscellaneous materials concerning Lela Briggs' life.

The Education series (1902-1942) includes elementary school papers and essays, report cards, class notes, and the high school yearbooks for which Lela Briggs was the art editor. Information from the years after her high school graduation includes papers relating to the Art Institute of Chicago, Iowa State Teachers College, a correspondence course at the Federal School of Commercial Design in Minneapolis, and an interior design workshop at the Agricultural Extension Service at Iowa State College in 1942.

The Correspondence: personal series (1892-1953) contains hundreds of family letters and postcards, primarily those written by Briggs to her husband, children, and sisters.

In the Diaries and notebooks series (1935-1953) are two abbreviated diaries from the mid-1930s and four travel accounts of automobile trips, three of them to the West with her family and one to Georgia in 1951 to visit her son Roderick. An inveterate record-keeper and list-maker, Briggs' notebooks include plans for household tasks and self-improvement.

The Account books (1921-1968) detail household expenses.

The Exhibits series (1935-1992) includes catalogs for the shows in which Briggs displayed her paintings, correspondence relating specifically to these exhibits and to her paintings in general, and newspaper clippings about the exhibits. The series also includes correspondence between Wilbur Briggs and the GroutHistorical Museum about their holdings of Lela Briggs' paintings.

The Photographs (1906-1948, scattered) include portraits of Lela Briggs and snapshots of her family and friends.

Housed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art:

The Ephemera series includes miscellaneous items Briggs collected, some relating to the art world, both local and national; interior design; and some unrelated to art, including newspaper clippings.

Briggs sketched on the endpapers of her school books. Six of these books are included in the Sketches series. Many loose pastel, charcoal, pencil and watercolor sketches from the years before 1917 appear in this series, along with various undated sketchbooks and portfolios.

Of the four Scrapbooks, the one from 1908-1917 includes sketches and correspondence (some removed to the appropriate Correspondence folder); one concerns Briggs' exhibits; another contains miscellaneous newspaper clippings; and one consists of memorabilia dating from 1913-1917.

A box of Artifacts includes paint boxes, her smock, clay molds, and miscellany.


  • Creation: 1892-1992


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Biographical / Historical

Lela Powers Briggs, an artist, was born in Powersville, Iowa on March 17, 1896, the daughter of Leonard and Cora Powers. In 1902 the family moved to Waterloo. Powers graduated from East Waterloo High School, where she was art editor of the literary magazine and yearbook. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago School from 1916 to 1917 and Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) in Cedar Falls in 1917. In 1926 she enrolled in a correspondence course in commercial design at the Federal School in Minneapolis.

Lela Powers married Wilbur Briggs in 1918. For the next seventeen years they and their two sons lived in Waterloo. Until the early 1930s Lela Briggs devoted her time to family and community activities and spent little time painting. She was one of the founders of the Waterloo Art Association in 1932. In the summer of 1933 she attended the Stone City (Iowa) Colony and Art School, founded by Grant Wood.

In 1935 the Briggses moved to the family dairy farm northwest of La Porte City. Though actively involved in helping to manage the farm, Lela Briggs found time to paint, producing many studies of farm life and portraits of family and friends. She became known for her watercolors of rural landscapes and flowers and exhibited widely in the state, receiving many awards for her work. In the late 1940s and early 1950s she and her husband created ceramic doll heads, plates, bowls and jugs using a blue clay from their farm. Briggs lived on the farm until she died of cancer in 1953. She was survived by her husband and their two sons, Roderick, an artist, and Donald, who operated the family farm. In 1992 Roderick and Donald Briggs donated their mother's papers and paintings to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.


5.50 Linear Feet

Photographs in Box 7 boxes

Language of Materials



An artist who farmed with her husband near La Porte, Iowa.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor #98) were donated by Roderick and Donald Briggs toThe Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in 1992. Boxes 1-7 are on long-term loan toThe Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries.

Natalie S. Brody , 1994.
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)