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Lynn Bretz collection of Elizabeth Layton and Asa Converse materials

Call Number: RH MS 1541


This collection contains information, interviews and material regarding Kansas artist Elizabeth Layton and her father, newspaperman Asa Converse, collected by Lynn Bretz. The information, interviews and materials were probably used to write the text "Portrait of the Artist" in the book Through the Looking Glass: Drawings by Elizabeth Layton. There is a print, but no original artwork of Elizabeth Layton in this collection. Memorials of Lynn Bretz along with newspaper articles that she wrote are also included.


  • Creation: late 1880s-2014, bulk 1980s


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Biography of Lynn Bretz (1949-2012)

Lynn Bretz was born in Ruston, Louisiana. She earned a bachelor's degree in English with honors from the University of Kansas (KU) in 1971, a Master's degree in English from the University of Denver (Colorado) in 1973, and a Master's degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas in 1979.

During the early 1980s, Bretz worked as a journalist for the Lawrence, Kansas-based newspaper Lawrence Journal-World as the arts editor. She wrote the portrait of the artist portion of the exhibit catalog Through the Looking Glass: Drawings by Elizabeth Layton and the foreword to the book Landscapes in Kansas: paintings by Robert Sudlow. Bretz later worked at KU, first as a writer/editor at University Relations and working her way up to Director of University Communications in 2006. She was inducted in KU's Women's Hall of Fame in 2011.

Bretz had one sister, Anne Bretz-Aronoff, and two brothers, Bob and Lewis Bretz. Her partner, Janet Hamburg (1951-2010), was a KU dance professor.

[Biographical information from Lynn Bretz obituary on the Warren-McElwain Mortuary, Lawrence, Kansas website,]

Biography of Asa Converse (1875-1942)

Asa Converse was born in Louisburg, Kansas in 1875 to John Melvin and Cynthia (Finch) Converse. In 1897, Asa Converse was the manager of the football team of Ottawa University, in Ottawa, Kansas. He graduated from Ottawa University in 1898, after completing the scientific course. Shortly after graduating, at the age of 23, Converse purchased the Wellsville Globe newspaper in Wellsville, Franklin County, Kansas for $750.

Converse married May Frink in 1900; she wrote a weekly column in the newspaper. Converse and May had three children: Adelbert Frink, Carolyn Maude, and Elizabeth Hope. Elizabeth Hope (Converse) Layton became a well-known artist late in life.

Asa Converse was active in Republican politics in the state of Kansas, served on the city council in Wellsville and represented the 13th district in the Kansas House of Representatives from 1935-1939 and in 1941. He remained the publisher of the Wellsville Globe until his death in 1942. After his death, his wife and daughter Elizabeth edited the newspaper until 1957.

[Biographical information from collection materials, from the Don Lambert collection of Elizabeth Layton papers, RH MS 1538, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas and from]

Biography of Elizabeth Layton (1909-1993)

Elizabeth Hope Converse was a native of Wellsville, Franklin County, Kansas, the daughter of newspaper people. She married Clyde Nichols in 1929 but returned home in the early 1940s with her five children after the marriage failed and her father passed away. She helped her mother run the Wellsville Globe 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, and local journalist Don Lambert discovered Layton.

Through Lambert's promotion, 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.

[Biographical information from Don Lambert collection of Elizabeth Layton papers, RH MS 1538, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.]


1 linear foot (3 document cases + 3 oversize folders + 5 cassette tapes + 8 CDs)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

This collection largely consists of index cards that Lynn Bretz probably used to organize Elizabeth Layton's oral interviews, audio cassettes and CDs of which are included, and information from other sources into subjects to write the main text of the book Through the Looking Glass: Drawings by Elizabeth Layton.

The collection also has original papers of Layton's father, Asa Converse, who was the owner of the Wellsville Globe (or Globe) newspaper in Wellsville, Kansas. Converse's papers include the paperwork from purchasing the newspaper in 1898, correspondence, notebooks, and a daybook. Converse was involved in politics and jotted many political notes in his daybook. Additionally, the collection includes original photographs of Asa Converse and his Wellsville Globe newspaper business. Presumably, Bretz used Converse's original material to write about Layton's background and family history in the book.

Slides and transparencies of Layton's artwork, possibly used for reproduction in Through the Looking Glass, are in the collection. Memorials of Bretz, along with newspaper articles that she wrote about other arts subjects, are also included.

Physical Location

RH MS 1541

Physical Location

RH MS Q482

Physical Location

RH MS R513

Physical Location

KC AV 124

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Anne Bretz-Aronoff, 2022.

Related Materials

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

Don Lambert collection of Elizabeth Layton papers, RH MS 1538, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Guide to the Lynn Bretz Collection
Lynn Bretz collection of Elizabeth Layton and Asa Converse materials
Finding aid prepared by lmw, 2021. Finding aid encoded by lmw, 2021. Finding aid revised by eje, 2022.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Lynn Bretz collection of Elizabeth Layton and Asa Converse materials, RH MS 1541, 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