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Patricia DuBose Duncan papers

Call Number: RH MS 535


Papers of artist Patricia DuBose Duncan, dating mostly from 1970 to 1985, documenting her many years of advocacy for preservation of the nation's tallgrass prairies, during which she produced, exhibited, and published thousands of photographic images of the prairies to increase awareness of their endangerment and promote their protection. The collection contains large numbers of Duncan's photographic images, related to the tallgrass prairies and other projects she undertook, including more than 12,000 slides and more than 500 prints.


  • Creation: circa 1900-2021


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction of photographic material in this collection requires the written permission of the donor. Reproduction of the Ise family photographic material requires written permission from Frank Ise. Contact staff at or (785) 864-4334 for assistance.

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Patricia DuBose Duncan (1932-2021)

Patricia DuBose was born August 16, 1932 at Nashville, Tennessee to Robert and Edith DuBose. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri in 1954, and in that same year married Herbert Ewing Duncan, Jr. They lived in Japan from 1956 to 1957, where Duncan studied wood block printmaking and held her first one-person exhibition. Their sons David and Donald were born in the 1950s.

From 1968-1971, Duncan studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, where she later taught. In the early 1970s, inspired by environmentalist and University of Kansas Professor E. Raymond Hall, Duncan joined a citizens' movement to preserve the nation's tallgrass prairies and to establish a Tallgrass Prairie National Park in the Kansas Flint Hills. She became a founder and leader of various environmental bodies that championed this cause, including Save the Tallgrass Prairie, Inc. and the Grassland Heritage Foundation.

Throughout the 1970s, Duncan dedicated her artistry to tallgrass prairie preservation, capturing the beauty and ecology of the prairie in thousands of photographs. These reached a wide audience through Duncan's many exhibitions, photomurals, publications, and multi-media presentations. For the nation's Bicentennial events of 1976, Duncan produced a major exhibition, "The Tallgrass Prairie: An American Landscape," which traveled the nation for many years under sponsorship of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (S.I.T.E.S.). The exhibition's premier opening in Kansas City also featured Duncan's multi-media presentation titled "Tallgrass: The Inland Sea."

Duncan's book of prairie photographs, Tallgrass Prairie: The Inland Sea, was published in 1978. As a consultant to Life magazine in 1979, she accompanied artist Gordon Parks during his return to Kansas and his photography of the Flint Hills. Duncan was a trustee emeritus of the Nature Conservancy and earned many honors for her artistry and for her leadership in championing protection of the nation's tallgrass prairies.

Duncan's website at showcases her pieces and gives a detailed biography of her life and work from the early 1950s through the 2010s. Patricia DuBose Duncan passed away on September 17, 2021.


49.75 Linear Feet (60 document cases + 13 oversize boxes, 4 oversize folders, 67 audio cassettes, 10 reel-to-reel audio tapes) : Includes photographic prints, slides, negatives, and audiotapes.

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The Patricia DuBose Duncan collection represents Duncan's body of work chiefly from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, during years in which she was a leading advocate for preservation of the nation's tallgrass prairies and committed her work as a photographer to that cause. The majority of the collection consists of Duncan's photographic images in more than 12,000 color slides, over 500 prints, and many negatives.

Duncan's prairie images contain numerous images of the Kansas Flint Hills and the Konza Prairie in various seasons, including many aerial views. Predominating in these Kansas images are the prairies of Chase and Johnson Counties, Kansas. Duncan's images of prairies in other states include South Dakota's Samuel H. Ordway Memorial Prairie, Missouri's Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Nebraska's Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, Houston's Armand Bayou Nature Center, Oklahoma's Barnard Ranch, and prairies in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa.

Duncan's subjects include prairie flowers and grasses, birds, insects and reptiles, mammals (particularly bison and coyotes), early Kansas architecture, historic sites, Fort Leavenworth, Native Americans (Haskell University events, Chief White Cloud descendants, and reproductions of 19th century photographs of Native Americans), auctions, rodeos, cattle drives, parades, Kansas City architecture and events, the Kansas City Royals baseball team, activities of Save the Tallgrass Prairie, Inc., grain elevators and wheat harvests, the Agricultural Hall of Fame, prairie skies (clouds, sunrises, sunsets), reflections of human impact on the prairies, and Kansans (settlers, ranchers, townspeople), including many images of artist Gordon Parks during his 1979 photography tour of the Kansas Flint Hills. Kansas communities whose architecture, people, and events are prominently represented include White Cloud, Alma, Atchison, Cottonwood Falls, Strong City, Council Grove, Elmdale, Fort Scott, Leavenworth, Baldwin City, Wichita's "Cowtown," Greater Kansas City, and Shawnee.

The collection's paper files date chiefly from 1970 to 1985 and include biographical sketches of Duncan in newspapers and journals; her general correspondence files, including a small quantity of family correspondence; Duncan book and article manuscripts; Duncan's published articles in journals and books; other journal articles and works which feature her photographs; correspondence and publicity related to Duncan's exhibitions, photomurals, speeches, slide presentations, radio and television appearances, and awards; correspondence regarding her consulting; her grant applications and financial records of receipts; her subject files, including many travel files and notes; and correspondence and records from Duncan's organizational memberships (including substantial correspondence and activity records of Save the Tallgrass Prairies and other organizations which championed establishment of a Tallgrass Prairie National Park).

Duncan's papers are arranged in 13 series. Folder arrangement within each series is chiefly alphabetical (by book title, article title, exhibit title, name of organization, subject, etc.) Folder content is chronological. Several oversize items, such as book and exhibition posters and newspaper editions, have been physically separated from the rest of the collection and are located at RH MS R155. Photographic material is organized by format (slides, negatives, and prints) and further arranged topically within each format. Oversize photographic materials are located at RH MS-P 535(f) and RH MS-P 535(ff). Audiovisual materials, including both audio cassettes and reel to reel tapes, are located at RH Tape 30 and RH Cassette Tape 27.

Physical Location

RH MS 535

Physical Location

RH MS-P 535

Physical Location

RH MS-P 535(f)

Physical Location

RH MS-P 535(ff)

Physical Location

RH MS R155

Physical Location

RH Cassette Tape 27

Physical Location

RH Tape 30

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gifts, Patricia DuBose Duncan, 1987, 2003, 2015, 2016; Herbert Duncan, 2021.

Related Materials

Duncan, Patricia D. Tallgrass Prairie: The Inland Sea. Kansas City, Mo: Lowell Press, 1978. Available at Spencer Research Library at RH C6693 and at Anschutz Library at Qh105.K3 D85.

Duncan, Patricia D. Taking Root: The Art of Patricia DuBose Duncan. Manhattan, Ks: Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, 2001. Available at Spencer Research Library at RH Ck 343 and at the Art and Architecture Library at N6537.D8385 A4 2001.

Save the Tallgrass Prairie, Inc. records, RH MS 670, Kansas Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Save the Tallgrass Prairie collection, Kansas State University, Richard L. D. & Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections.

Separated Materials

Duncan, Patricia D. An Artist in Paris: A Feast of Days. Topsham, Me: Patricia DuBose Duncan, 2014. Located at Spencer Research Library at RH Bk170; additional copy within KU Libraries at N6537.D8385 A35 2014.

Guide to the Patricia DuBose Duncan Collection
Patricia DuBose Duncan papers
Finding aid prepared by mh, 2006. Finding aid encoded by mh, 2006. Finding aid revised by cl, 2010; bas, 2018; eje, 2022; mwh, 2023.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Patricia DuBose Duncan Collection, Kansas Collection, RH MS 535, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States