Skip to main content

Helen Gee / Limelight Gallery archive

Identifier: AG 74

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of two main components: personal papers documenting Helen Gee’s life, and the records of Limelight Gallery. The biographical materials include photographs and portraits of Gee and her family and friends. Included among the personal papers are photographic materials, negatives and color transparencies, created by Gee while she was a student of Lisette Model.

The family correspondence is largely between Gee and her husband and Gee and her daughter. Li-lan’s letters date from 1954 to 1981. The bulk of these letters are incoming letters from Li-lan in the 1960s and 1970s while she was living outside the United States. These letters describe her travels in Europe, Japan, and China; her early career and exhibitions as a painter; and her relationship with Japanese lithographer, Masuo Ikeda (1934-1997). While on a trip to Poland in 1967, Li-lan met Polish photographer Marek Piasecki.

Other personal correspondence includes letters from Gee's Vietnamese foster child, Nguyen Thi My Le. These letters were translated by the Foster Parents Plan and then sent to Gee. Other important correspondents include Helen Gee's friends Harry Lunn, Adelaide de Menil, Kay Spear, Jack Garmany, and her brother, Henry Wimmer.

The archive includes printed materials, 1965-1985, the bulk of which are catalogs and clippings concerning Gee, her gallery Limelight, her husband, Yun Gee, and daughter, Li-lan. Two of the four audiotapes, 1977 and 1982, document Helen Gee and Limelight Gallery. One contains an interview with photographer Roy DeCarava, and another an interview with Gee about the painting of Yun Gee. The bulk of the periodicals, 1954 to 1983, mentions or features Gee and Limelight. Some are photocopies or tearsheets of the original articles.

These personal papers do not contain much information about Gee’s childhood, early adulthood, or her marriage to Yun Gee.

The records of Limelight, 1954 to 1961, contain correspondence between Helen Gee and artists, museums, and others; gallery advertisements; announcements; balance sheets; ledgers; mailing lists; menus; and a scrapbook. Of special note are the installation views of exhibitions and the scale model of Frank Paulin’s 1957 exhibition.

The bulk of the Limelight correspondence is from over thirty photographers including Ansel Adams, Bill Brandt, Reva Brooks, Imogen Cunningham, Eliot Porter, and Minor White, discussing upcoming exhibitions at the gallery. The general correspondence from museums and collectors details requests for print prices, inquiries about exhibitions, and other daily matters. The outgoing correspondence includes payments to artists for photographs sold, requests for exhibitions, comments on criticism of exhibitions, and other routine business matters.

Limelight financial matters are documented in the balance sheets and ledgers. Print sale records do not include the names of buyers or the actual photographs sold. Several types of printed matter are housed here: advertisements, announcements, menus, press releases and exhibition statements. These provide additional documentation on the activities of the gallery. Of special interest is a scrapbook containing contemporary newspaper clippings from New York papers about events at the gallery.

Gee’s health and legal problems during the 1980s and 1990s are documented in medical files and papers related to her lawsuit against her landlord.


  • Creation: 1919-2004


Language of Materials

Material in English, Japanese, Vietnamese

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Some materials in the archive were previously closed to research until after the publication of Gee’s book, Limelight: A Greenwich Village Photography Gallery and Coffeehouse in the Fifties: A Memoir, published by the University of New Mexico Press in fall of 1997. Those materials are now open to research. However, documents pertaining to Gee’s estate and some documents pertaining to her students at Parsons School of Design remain closed to research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyrights to Gee’s writings and photographs are held by the executors of the estate. For more information, contact the archivist.

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission from the copyright owner (which could be the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates or literary executors) prior to any copyright-protected uses of the collection.

The user agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona, Center of Creative Photography, including its officers, employees, and agents, from and against all claims made relating to copyright or other intellectual property infringement

Biographical Note

Helen Gee (1919-2004) began studying art when she was fifteen. She met painter Yun Gee (1906-1963) in New York. They were married in 1942. Their daughter Li-lan Gee was born in 1943. Gee and her husband were divorced in 1947. She married Columbia University professor, Kevin Sullivan, in 1959. Their marriage ended in divorce, circa 1961.

Helen Gee studied photography with Lisette Model and Sid Grossman. In the late 1940s and 1950s she operated a photographic retouching business in New York. She opened Limelight Gallery in Greenwich Village in May 1954. The coffee house, seating 150 patrons, supported operations of the separate 20 by 25 foot gallery space with revenues from the sale of food and drink. Limelight was one of the few New York independent exhibition spaces exclusively devoted to fine photographic prints in the 1950s. By the time Limelight closed in 1961, Gee had curated and hung sixty-one exhibitions with work by such artists as Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith, Imogen Cunningham, Josef Breitenbach, Robert Frank, Paul Strand, and Minor White.

After closing the gallery, Gee remained in Greenwich Village and worked as an independent art agent. At one time she specialized in Japanese Shunga prints, but as a dealer for both United States and international clients, she dealt in a wide variety of prints, sculpture, and paintings.


28 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

  • License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Papers, 1919-2004, of Helen Gee, (1919-2004), photographer, writer, gallery owner, and independent art consultant; and records, 1953-1961, of her New York City coffee house and photography gallery, Limelight. The papers include correspondence, “daybooks,” printed materials, legal documents, photographs, and audiotapes related to the personal and business activities of Gee, her husband the painter Yun Gee (1906-1963), and their daughter the painter Li-lan Gee (b. 1943). The records of Limelight include correspondence and office files relating largely to exhibitions at the gallery. The collection also contains records of Gee’s activities as an independent art agent after the closing of Limelight. Her exhibition and book projects later in her life are documented through manuscripts, correspondence, and ephemera.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Series 1: Biographical materials
  2. Series 2: Correspondence
  3. Series 3: Limelight Gallery Records
  4. Series 4: Activity files
  5. Series 5: Limelight book project files, 1995-1997
  6. Series 6: Exhibitions and publications, 1977-1981
  7. Series 7: Helen Gee’s photographic materials
  8. Series 8: Miscellaneous publications

Custodial History

The collection was a gift to the Center from Helen Gee beginning in 1984 and concluding after her death with a final acquisition in 2005.

Processing Information

Processed October 1985 by Roger Myers. Revised April 1986; May 1997; February 2008 by Amy Rule and Janice Gould; and October 2011 by James Uhrig. The finding aid was updated in 2017 by Paloma Phelps.

Helen Gee / Limelight Gallery archive 1919-2004
Finding aid updated by Paloma Phelps
© 2017
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid encoded in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States