HomeBrowseAdvanced SearchAboutHelpContact

Rudolf Berliner and D. Graeme Keith records

Biographical Note

Rudolf Berliner, 1886-1967

Rudolf Paul Berliner served as Curator of Decorative Arts, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1946-1953. Born in Ohlau, Germany 1886 April 14, Berliner studied at the University of Heidelberg and received his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna in 1910 under Josef Strzygowski and Max Dvorak. He served as a Research Fellow, 1912-1919, and Chief Curator, 1920-1935, at the Bavarian National Museum, Munich except for military service during World War One. Arrested and sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp in 1933 July, Berliner was released after two weeks through the efforts of his professional colleagues. He retained his position in Munich until 1935 when he was purged because of his Jewish heritage. He and his wife Maria immigrated to the United States in 1939 July joining their two sons who had left Germany early for their education and safety. Records indicate that Berliner had traveled to the US in 1935, 1936, 1937, and 1938.

Berliner obtained, with the assistance of Paul J. Sachs, the position of Keeper of Prints and Drawings, Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, New York in 1939, the same year that D. Graeme Keith joined the staff as an Assistant in Exhibitions. He left in 1946 because of the return of Curator Calvin S. Hathaway from his service in Europe, to become the first Curator of Decorative Arts at the RISD Museum of Art. His primary function was to survey, study, inventory, and catalogue the extensive decorative arts works that had been collected during the previous fifty years. He created the Textile Study Room for faculty and students and collected works through his extensive relationships with dealers, galleries, and collectors in Europe. He returned to Europe in 1951 and 1952 to purchase works with the aid of RISD benefactors.

Berliner resigned taking a final leave of absence 1953 January-June and returned to Europe, living primarily in Rome and Germany and working on research projects. He returned to the US in 1955 joining the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University in 1956 to give seminars in decorative arts and the museum course. He worked at the Textile Museum, Washington, D.C, from 1962 until 1967 when he returned to Germany. He died 1967 August 26 in Bischofswiesen near his family's home in Berchtesgaden.

For a list of Berliner's writings see: Muller, Theodore. Rudolf Berliner: Bibliographie. Munich, 1966. (German/English)

D. Graeme Keith, 1912-2003

D. Graeme (David Alexander Graeme) Keith joined Berliner at RISD in 1948 as Assistant to the Curator after Director Gordon B. Washburn received a recommendation from Hathaway. Born in Toronto, Canada 1912 September 21, Keith received degrees from Western Reserve University, BA (1934) and MA (1935), attended Paul J. Sachs' Museum Course at Harvard, 1935-1937, and took courses toward a Ph. D at New York University, 1946-1952. His doctoral research concerned the history of 19th century American printed textiles. He worked for the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts as a curator, 1937-1939, before joining Cooper Union in 1939/1940 to work with exhibitions and publicity. He became Acting Curator of Decorative Arts in 1953 upon Berliner's resignation.

Keith served as Curator, 1955-1958, and taught Summer Sessions at the University of California, Berkeley in 1956. Keith left in 1958 to become Curator of Decorative Arts at the M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, where he served until his retirement in 1977. He died in Port Townsend, WA 2003 July 14.


The following materials from the Paul J. Sachs papers are used by permission of the Harvard Art Museums Archives:

  • Letter from Rudolf Berliner to Paul J. Sachs, December 22, 1939. Paul J. Sachs papers (HC 3), file 157. Harvard Art Museums Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Letter from Rudolf Berliner to Paul J. Sachs, January 29, 1946. Paul J. Sachs papers (HC 3), file 157. Harvard Art Museums Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
  • Letter from Gordon B. Washburn to Paul J. Sachs, July 23, 1948. Paul J. Sachs papers (HC 3), file 1049. Harvard Art Museums Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.