The Philip I. and Muriel M. Berman Papers: Collection I
Held by Special Collections, Linderman Library
Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18015
Call No.: SC MS 095
Philip Isaac Berman and Muriel Mallin Berman, husband and wife – the "amazing Bermans" as they were often called – worked together as a team throughout the fifty-five years of their marriage, in raising their family, managing their businesses, making frequent trips abroad, collecting art, and planning philanthropy. This biographical sketch is therefore an account, not of one person alone, but of two together, who devoted a great deal of their astonishing energy and considerable fortune to philanthropy and public service, in their home city of Allentown, their home state of Pennsylvania, and around the world, especially in Israel.
Philip Berman was born on June 28, 1915, in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, son of Joseph and Dora (Feingold) Berman. In 1932 he enrolled at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, but in 1933 returned home to join the family trucking business, from which he built his fortune. On September 23, 1942, he married Muriel Mallin. In the same week, however, he also joined the U.S. Marine Corps, with which he served in the South Pacific during World War II.
Muriel Mallin Berman was born on June 21 1914, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, daughter of Solomon and Dora (Cooperman) Mallin. From The Pennsylvania State College of Optometry in Philadelphia she earned her doctorate in 1938 and maintained her license in optometry until 1984. In 1945 Philip Berman was relieved of active duty with the Marine Corps. In the same year their daughter Nancy Mallin Berman was born. In 1947 the family moved to Allentown. Their daughter Nina was born in 1948, and their son Steven in 1951. The family joined Congregation Keneseth Israel, in which they were active for many years, with Philip Berman serving at times as a member of the Board and as President.
On November 8, 1948, the Bermans made their first art purchase, buying two paintings by Anthony Thieme from a New York City gallery. Their first large-scale purchase came in November 1956, when they bought from the family of artist Walter Baum some three hundred paintings by Albert Jean Adolphe. This collection was the basis for a retrospective exhibition of work by Adolphe at the Allentown Art Museum in 1958 and for another in 1959 at the Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery. So began a pattern of collecting and showing art, sometimes through lending the art for exhibition, sometimes by donating it. Among the collections assembled by the Bermans were those of pre-World War II American art, of twentieth century European and American sculpture, of African art, of Eastern European art, of South American art, of Japanese prints, and of works by Israeli artists.
The Bermans' love of travel created opportunities for collecting. From December 12, 1957, to February 12, 1958, for example, they made a tour of Africa, collecting art. This was the first of many such trips to many parts of the world, trips recorded by Philip Berman in the travelogues which he came to call Odysseys (Series I.B). Travel made possible not only the collecting but also friendships with artists whose work the Bermans admired, including Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, Alexander Calder, and Francoise Gilot, among many others.
The first outright gift of art for public display may have been the gift of a painting, "Drifting Fog" by George M. Harding, to Lehigh University in 1959. Major gifts of art followed to Ursinus College and Lehigh University as well as to several other colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Philip Berman became Chairman of the Board of Trustees in 1989. At Ursinus College, to house their gifts of art, the Bermans established in 1984 the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art.
Art indeed became a strong passion for the Bermans. Equally strong was their energetic support of Jewish causes. Sometimes the passions converged, as when the Bermans gave to the city of Jerusalem Alexander Calder's Jerusalem Stabile in 1977 (the last monumental public sculpture Calder created in his lifetime), or Alexander Liberman's Faith in 1987. But long before the Bermans began collecting art, they were supporters of Jewish causes. In particular, Muriel Berman was active in Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, at least since 1950, and served as president of the Eastern Pennsylvania Region of Hadassah 1959-1962. Since the principal mission of Hadassah was medical relief, the Bermans provided major gifts to establish the Hadassah Nurses' Residence at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1971) and the National Medical Library Building for the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School (1973), among other projects in Israel, including establishment of the masters program in clinical nursing at the Medical School-Nursing School. The Bermans worked also to encourage better Israeli-Arab relations and better Jewish-Catholic relations. One aspect of the latter effort was their presenting to Pope John Paul II on December 19, 1984, a portrait bust of him which they had commissioned from the Roman sculptor Celestino Giampaoli.
Both Philip and Muriel Berman were for many years active members of the Jewish Publication Society, founded in 1888 in Philadelphia to provide high quality books of Jewish interest for the English-speaking world. From 1981 to 1984 Muriel Berman served as the Society's first woman president. During the same period, the Bermans developed plans for a Jewish Studies Center at Lehigh University and formally established the Center in 1984. Renamed in 1989 the Philip and Muriel Berman Center for Jewish Studies, the Center became, under the direction of Laurence I. Silberstein, an energizing catalyst throughout the Lehigh Valley for the understanding of Jewish history, religion, and culture. In 1993-1994 the Bermans established contacts with the Gregorian University in Rome and arranged for exchanges of scholars and students between the Gregorian and the Berman Center at Lehigh University.
How the Bermans could find time for other interests may already be hard to see, yet their other interests were numerous. Some were business pursuits, such as the Fleetways trucking business (Series II.A) which Philip Berman managed from 1965 to 1990, and Hess's department store (Series II.B) which the Bermans bought in 1968. Hess's was an old Allentown institution and throve mightily under the Bermans, expanding from a single downtown store to a chain of seventeen stores in two states by the time the Bermans sold it in 1979. In 1975 Muriel Berman opened Hess's Fine Arts Gallery, where she exhibited and sold the work of first rate artists.
But much of the Bermans' energy was devoted to civic affairs. Philip Berman served as chair of the Allentown Redevelopment Authority, beginning in 1960. In 1964 he was elected a trustee of Cedar Crest College. In 1965 the Bermans established with Nancy Kefauver an arrangement by which they would lend art works to the Art in the Embassies program, for display in U.S. embassies around the world. In 1966 Muriel Berman was elected a founding trustee of Lehigh Community College and later served as chair of the board. Also in 1966, Muriel Berman represented the World Jewish Congress at a UNICEF Board meeting in Ethiopia. In 1967 Philip Berman was a member of the U.S. delegation to the UN Economic and Social Council, 43rd session, in Geneva. In 1968 Philip Berman was appointed Chair of the Pennsylvania Public Television Network, a post he held until 1995. In 1971, Muriel Berman was appointed to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. But let these examples suffice to suggest how extraordinarily long a comprehensive list would be. Small wonder, then, that the Bermans received many awards and honors (Series III.A). Already in 1968, for example, Philip Berman received an award as a National Outstanding Civic Leader of America. In 1982 the Bermans received the Hazlett Memorial Award for Excellence in the Arts. In 1993 they received the Sheepskin Award of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities. Furthermore, because of their tireless philanthropy to educational institutions, the Bermans received several honorary degrees, notably from Ursinus College (Philip Berman in 1967, Muriel Berman in 1987), Lehigh University (Philip Berman in 1969, Muriel Berman in 1991), and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Philip Berman in 1979, Muriel Berman in 1982).
Active in so many enterprises, and generous to so many individuals and institutions, the Bermans made many good friends, among artists, educators, politicians, clergy, librarians, doctors, and many others. Among those not already mentioned were Jonas Salk, Teddy Kollek (mayor of Jerusalem), Senator Henry Jackson, Tenzing Norgay (Sherpa guide on Mount Everest), James Michener, Anne d'Harnoncourt (Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Many also were the notable people whom the Bermans met, including Lady Bird Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, King Hussein of Jordan, David Ben-Gurion of Israel, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Armand Hammer, Ronald Reagan. The photographic prints in Series VI.A record some of the Bermans' meetings with such notable people, as do the files of correspondence in Series I.D.
The loss therefore was great to many when Philip Berman died on November 26, 1997, and when Muriel Berman died on April 13, 2004. Nevertheless, their generous gifts will keep their memory alive for many years to come.
Scope and Content Note
The Philip I. and Muriel M. Berman Papers: Collection I contains records ranging in date from 1915 to 1999, the earliest dated item being apparently a letter from the painter Walter Elmer Schofield (Box 76 Folder 3). Most of the records belong to the period 1960-1997. Comprising a variety of formats, such as handwritten and typed correspondence, photographic prints, slide transparencies, books, posters, and miscellaneous printed ephemera, the Collection occupies some 132 linear feet. The Collection is organized into nine series, of which all but one are further subdivided into a total of 37 subseries. For each subseries, a detailed introduction is provided in this guide.
Format has determined the contents of some of the series, as for instance Series VI contains some 4,313 photographic prints, some 4,388 slide transparencies, and an assortment of motion picture films, video cassettes, and audio tapes. Series VII contains newspaper clippings and other miscellaneous printed items; Series VIII contains books, Series IX various oversize items. Other series are determined largely by subject, as for instance Series II contains the business records of Fleetways and of Hess's, Series III includes several files on areas of civic involvement, Series IV focuses on philanthropy, and Series V contains family memorabilia. Series I contains correspondence and manuscripts, subdivided by subject.
Pervading all the files, however, are two major themes: the passion for art, and the tireless support for Jewish causes, especially those sponsored by Hadassah. Thus in Series I, by far the largest component is Subseries F, the Art Correspondence, filling nearly 60 boxes. A staggering range of artists is represented here, and not only by letters but also by photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, catalogs of shows, invitations, and so on. Even so, this file is only a fraction of the material relating to art found throughout the Collection. Similarly there is in Series IV a subseries on Special Projects in Israel, another on the Jewish Studies Center, and yet another on the American Jewish Committee, yet records of support for Jewish causes are to be found throughout the entire Collection.
Highlights of the Collection are far too numerous to list here or even to suggest through a representative sample, but mention might be made of such items as the photographs of the Bermans presenting to Pope John Paul II the portrait bust by Celestino Giampaoli, the correspondence with Francoise Gilot, the letters from Sir Edmund Hilary, the photograph of Golda Meir inscribed to Philip Berman, the framed reproduction of Paul Gauguin's painting of which the original once hung in the Bermans' living room.
For researchers seeking the most basic facts, however, beyond this guide a good starting point may be Folder 15 of Box 195 containing the obituaries of Philip Berman.
Note on Provenance and Access
Following the death of Philip Berman in November 1997, Muriel Berman decided to offer his papers to Lehigh University. The Department of Special Collections in Linderman Library arranged for the archival processing. The papers themselves came to Lehigh in several installments during 1999, some from the Bermans' office at 1150 South Cedar Crest Boulevard in Allentown, and some from their house at 2000 Nottingham Road, Allentown. Processing was largely completed by the spring of 2000. After Muriel Berman's death in April 2004, Nancy Berman formalized the transfer of the papers to Lehigh University by deed of gift signed December 26, 2005.
Lehigh University maintains the collection now known as The Philip I. and Muriel M. Berman Papers: Collection I primarily for the purpose of making it available for scholarly research. Restrictions on access are therefore kept to a minimum. Nevertheless access to some parts of the collection will be restricted until January 1, 2030, for reasons of privacy. The parts so restricted are, as of May 15, 2006:
Series I.A; Series I.D; Series III; Series IV.A-F; Series IV.H; Series V; Series IX
As work continues on the Collection, the scope of the restrictions will be narrowed, and this list will be revised. Researchers seeking access to restricted parts of the Collection should submit a request for special permission to the Department of Special Collections.
Some documents have been removed for safekeeping from their locations as shown in this finding aid and have been replaced with photocopies, which are marked to show that they are replacements. Researchers requiring to see the original of such a photocopy should ask Special Collections staff for assistance.
Unrestricted parts of the Collection are accessible subject to the general policies of Special Collections; photocopying and publishing from the collection are permitted subject to the policies of the repository and the laws of copyright.
The archival arrangement of The Philip I. and Muriel M. Berman Papers: Collection I, and the production of this finding aid, owe much to the efforts and generosity of several people. Muriel Berman and Nancy Berman made the decisions which led to their transferring this valuable Collection to Lehigh University. Furthermore they supported the work of processing through gifts of funds and by supplying essential information. In particular, Muriel Berman undertook to provide, from memory, identification of several hundred photographs, thereby greatly increasing their value to researchers.
Janet Heffner, longtime secretary and administrative assistant to both Philip and Muriel Berman, generously shared her wealth of knowledge and experience, whenever there were questions. And like Muriel Berman, she too helped identify hundreds of photographs.
Philip Metzger, Curator of Special Collections at Lehigh University, superintended the project from the start, beginning with negotiation of the transfer and the hiring of a project archivist (the undersigned) and continuing with welcome encouragement and logistical problem-solving.
Ilhan Citak, Archives and Special Collections Librarian, has generously supplied technical expertise and logistical support, especially since Philip Metzger's retirement at the end of 2005, as has also Christine Roysdon, Director, Library Collections and Systems.
Marie Boltz, Special Collections Assistant until her retirement in 2000, provided much practical help and advice drawn from her experience in cataloging several manuscript collections. Joe Cackowski, undergraduate student assistant, patiently and thoroughly sorted and arranged the more than four thousand slides in the Collection. Yelena Shirakova did much of the careful chronological arrangement of files, and last but not least, with her clear civil engineer's lettering, provided legible labeling for the file folders and boxes.
To all these people I gratefully offer this token of appreciation, knowing that not only did they make my work easier and more enjoyable but also they will have the gratitude of future researchers who come to Lehigh University to use this fine Collection in years to come.
Series I. Correspondence and Manuscripts
A. Letters by Philip I. Berman (Boxes 1-4)
B. Odysseys (Boxes 4-5)
C. Manuscripts (Box 5)
D. General Correspondence (Boxes 6-30)
E. Jewish-Christian Relations (Box 30)
F. Art Correspondence (Boxes 31-90)
G. Wenz (Boxes 90-91)
H. Get Well Cards and Condolences (Boxes 92-97)
Series II. Business Records
A. Fleetways (Boxes 98-106)
B. Hess's (Boxes 107-109)
C. Lloyd's of London (Boxes 110-118)
Series III. Civic Involvement
A. Awards (Boxes 119-124)
B. Pennsylvania Public Television Network Commission (PPTN) and WLVT-TV
C. Philadelphia Museum of Art (Boxes 130-136)
D. College Speak-In (Box 136)
E. Lehigh County Community College (Boxes 137-138)
F. Jewish Publication Society (Boxes 138-151)
G. Women's Organizations (Boxes 151-155)
Series IV. Special Projects and Philanthropy
A. Ursinus College (Boxes 155-164)
B. Lehigh University (Box 164)
C. Jewish Studies Center (Boxes 165-168)
D. Gregorian University (Box 168)
E. Special Projects in Israel (Boxes 169-174)
F. Allentown Hospital (Boxes 174-175)
G. American Jewish Committee (Box 175)
H. Art Gifts (Boxes 176-185)
Series V. Memorabilia
A. Travel (Boxes 185-190)
B. Personal and Family (Boxes 191-193)
Series VI. Photographs
A. Photographic Prints (Binders 1-27)
B. Slides (Binders 28-34 and Boxes 207-209)
C. Various Audio-Visual Materials (Boxes 210-214)
Series VII. Miscellaneous Printed Items
Series VIII. Books
A. Exhibition Catalogs Listing Berman Art Works (Boxes 199-200)
B. Catalogs from the Art in the Embassies Program (Box 200)
C. Various Books
Series IX. Oversize and Irregular
A. Oversize, Vertical (Boxes 201-203)
B. Oversize, Flat (Boxes 204-206)
C. Oversize, Map Case (Drawer A)