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Don Lambert collection of Elizabeth Layton papers

Call Number: RH MS 1538


This collection contains contemporary material pertaining to the art career of Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton, collected by her promoter and friend, Don Lambert. Lambert acted as Layton's administrator and arranged art exhibits across the country, wrote articles on her behalf, and assisted in art donations. During the late 1970s-early 1990s when Lambert assisted Layton, and even after her death in 1993, he collected and accumulated brochures, exhibit materials, correspondence, articles, and other papers regarding Layton and her artwork.


  • Creation: 1987-2016 (bulk 1987-1995)

Conditions Governing Access

Audio visual materials are stored in the KU Annex off-site storage area.

All researchers interested in reviewing this material must consult Spencer Research Library Public Services staff (785-864-4334 or, 9-5 M-F CST) before a planned visit; staff will respond within three days, though materials may not be available in that timeframe. Access to audio visual materials may require digitization first. Be advised that drop-in requests for this material cannot be accommodated.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Biography of Don Lambert

Don Lambert graduated from Concordia High School, Kansas in 1968. He spent two years at the Cloud County Community Junior College in Concordia, Kansas before receiving his journalism degree from Kansas State University in 1972. Lambert worked as a journalist before eventually making a career of promoting the arts and artists in Kansas.

After Lambert met the artist Elizabeth Layton and saw her artwork, he believed that Layton's talent was extraordinary and should be appreciated by a wide audience. Since Elizabeth Layton did not want to leave her hometown of Wellsville, Kansas, Lambert acted as her agent and arranged for exhibits of her work all over the United States. Lambert promoted her art by writing articles and arranging interviews. He coordinated donations of Layton's artwork to various Kansas art museums and institutions, as well as across the country.

Besides promoting Elizabeth Layton and her artwork, Lambert also worked with other contemporary Kansas artists through his work at the Topeka Arts Council. In addition, he championed John Steuart Curry, the Kansas artist who painted the murals at the Kansas Statehouse rotunda in Topeka in the early 1940s.

[Biographical information has been taken from the collection.]

Biography of Elizabeth Layton (1909-1993)

Elizabeth Hope Converse was a native of Wellsville, Kansas. Her father, Asa Finch Converse, was the publisher of the Wellsville Globe newspaper. Her mother, May Frink Converse, wrote weekly articles for the paper. Elizabeth married in 1929 to Clyde Nichols, but returned home with her five children after the marriage failed and her father passed away. She helped her mother run the newspaper. Elizabeth later married Glenn F. Layton.

After years of suffering from depression without relief, Layton's sister suggested that she take an art class as a form of therapy. The local college was offering a class on "blind" contour drawing, a technique that involves looking at the paper only briefly for reference while concentrating on the artist's subject. Layton took the class at the age of 68, in 1977, her only training in drawing. Layton signed her artwork as "Grandma" because she was so much older than the other college students in the art class. The art class had an exhibit to showcase their work. Don Lambert, a reporter working for the local newspaper, the Ottawa Herald, saw Layton's artwork in the exhibit and contacted her. Lambert immediately saw talent in Layton's artwork.

Through the promotion of Don Lambert, Layton's artwork has been exhibited across the country and has been featured in numerous books, magazines, and newspapers. Layton's work focused on personal matters and rejected stereotypes about old age, mental health and illness, and gender. From the late 1970s until her death in 1993, Layton created thousands of drawings with social commentary and truthful depictions of aging and depression. Because Layton saw her artistic talent as a gift, she decided never to sell any of her artwork. Lambert helped her arrange donations of her work. After her death, Lambert continued to help by being involved in the Layton Foundation, an organization established to administer her paintings.

[Biographical information has been taken from the collection.]


7 Linear Feet (14 document cases + 2 oversize boxes, 3 audio tapes)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

This collection contains exhibit promotional material for the artist Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton, news coverage of Layton's work and interviews as an artist, Layton's own descriptions of her artwork, correspondence from Layton, and correspondence to and from Don Lambert concerning her artwork.

Also included is paperwork of the Layton Foundation, information on artwork donations, information on Layton's depression, and photographs, negatives, and slides of Layton and her artwork. The collection does not contain any of Layton's original artwork.

There are several folders of personal material of Don Lambert that does not pertain to his work with Layton, in addition to material from unidentified artists other than Layton.

Physical Location

RH MS 1538

Physical Location

RH MS R482

Physical Location

KC AV 102

Physical Location

A/V items at Annex (Contact Spencer Library Public Services)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Don Lambert, 2019, in honor of Elizabeth "Betsy" Broun.

Related Materials

Elizabeth Layton Collection, RH MS 1278, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

In addition, the Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas has several original works by Elizabeth Layton in their collection.

Separated Materials

Signs Along the Way: a biography/memoir about Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton by Carla Russell, Kathy Tracy, Judy Cross and Elizabeth Layton. Available at RH C12442, Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Postpartum Lullaby: a poem and drawing by Elizabeth Layton. (From box "Important Papers). Available at RH D9896, Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Drawing and Coloring for your Life by Julia Nichols & Avis Garrett, illustrations by Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton. Available at RH D9897, Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Reach For It! A Handbook of Health, Exercise and Dance Activities for Older Adults, by David E. Corbin and Josie Metal-Corbin. Cover illustration by Elizabeth Layton. Available at RH D9898, Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Processing Information

The collection was processed as was presented by the donor, Don Lambert. For the most part, each box received from the donor represents a series in the finding aid. Series and folder titles in quotations are those of the donor, and may have been originally written on a box or an envelope inside a box. Duplicates of materials were returned to the donor as requested. An occasional duplication of materials may have occurred between series. Titles not in quotations were devised by the processor.



Guide to the Don Lambert Collection
Don Lambert collection of Elizabeth Layton papers
Finding aid prepared by lmw. Finding aid encoded by lmw.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Don Lambert collection of Elizabeth Layton papers, RH MS 1538, 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