Skip to main content

Manon Cleary Papers

Identifier: 223

Scope and Contents

The papers were donated to the DC Public Library by the estate of Manon Cleary as facilitated by her husband F. Steven Kijek. These records are incomplete as Kijek still retains a portion of the materials. The collection documents the personal and professional life of Cleary, as an artist and educator in Washington DC and includes, but not limited to, correspondence, notes, photographs, artwork, reviews, ephemera, and printed materials. Combined, the materials present a detailed picture of Cleary’s life and career. Cleary stipulated that no portion of her collection be restricted and thus in addition to her artwork and teaching careers, the collection documents her sexual assault, health issues, and various personal and family issues. The Collection was arranged into its present structure by a team of processors led by Mark Greek. Materials are arranged into 17 series, with series 1, Exhibitions, being arranged by Cleary herself.


  • Creation: 1942 - 2016

Conditions Governing Access

University of the District of Columbia Student records and District of Columbia vital records are restricted due to District law and privacy concerns. Restrictions for these records will be lifted on January 1, 2089. This restriction applies to boxes 38 and 39 (Series 7, University of the District of Columbia, sub-seriers 6 Restricted) and the CD containing a death certificate (Series 15, audiovisual, sub-series 4, digitial materials).

Conditions Governing Use

There are no known restrictions for use of this collection. Copyright was transfereed to DC Public Library at the time of the collection donation.

Biographical / Historical

Manon Catherine Cleary, and her identical twin sister Shirley Cleary-Cooper, were born on November 14, 1942 in St. Louis, Missouri to Dr. Frank and Crystal Cleary. Throughout their childhood both sisters showed a talent for art. Following their graduation from Southwest High School in 1960, the Cleary sisters attended Washington University in St. Louis receiving their degrees in Fine Art in 1964. Manon then attended the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University, spending her first year of graduate school in Rome. There she studied the work of Caravaggio and remained inspired by his work for the rest of her life. After completing her Masters degree in Fine Arts in 1968, Cleary took a job as an art teacher at the State University of New York at Oswego. In 1970, Clearly accepted a new art teaching position at the University of the District of Columbia and moved to Washington, D.C., teaching there for the next 30 years. Within a few years of living in the District, Cleary moved into the Beverly Court Apartments, a haven for many DC artists in the 1970s. In 1979, the residents of the Beverly Court purchased the building making it the first cooperative in the city. In 1981, Cleary married Tommy Iven Hensen, a student from Denmark. The marriage lasted a little over a year and ended in divorce in 1983. Although their marriage was brief, Tommy became a focus of much of her early artwork. Cleary is known for her photo-realism style. The Washington Post called her the best figure painter of her generation. Her style started to emerge during her undergraduate studies where her watercolor professor taught her how to mix graphite powder and alcohol to create a more painterly style of drawing. Cleary didn't like the painterly style, however she was attracted to the use of graphite and the “glow” that only it could provide. Cleary developed her own style, working in a layered fashion, covering the whole paper in graphite and then using erasers to flesh out the image. This allowed the image to come into focus slowly, as then Cleary would layer the graphite with the aid of tissues and blending stumps. Cleary created her images from multiple photos, taken from different angles, a habit she developed during college when models weren't readily available. As a painter her work was described as “not painterly” because Cleary tried to hide her brush strokes and evidence of her painting technique. Cleary was best known for her nude figure drawings and her most common subject was herself. If nudes were Cleary's most common subject, her most beloved subject would be rats. Cleary was given a rat, Bobo, as a gift in the 1970s and from that point on they became a recurring subject for her. Another theme that is very apparent in Cleary's work is sexuality. In some of her art, it is frank and bold, like her series of large oil paintings from the early 1990s that studied male genitalia. Other studies of sexuality are more subtle and abstract, such as the “Exotic Bloom Series.” In 1996, Cleary experienced a traumatic event while visiting Kazakhstan on a goodwill trip to exhibit her work and lecture about art. Cleary was attacked and raped by a Kazakh artist, with whom she had only briefly met. The attack shook Cleary and she left the country quickly in a state of denial. It took Cleary several months to start to examine her feelings and work through them. She ended up creating an evocative series titled, "The Rape Series.” The series features paintings of Cleary's face, shaped in horror and pain, with red paint splattered over the canvas. The paintings are the most physical of Cleary's portfolio, with some of the canvases burned or slashed. Cleary's attacker was invited to Washington, D.C. for a show on Kazakhstan art in 1998, but was denied entry into the United States due in part to an affidavit she signed with the State Department upon returning from Kazakhstan. Cleary met her second husband, F. Steven Kijek, a dancer, in Baltimore at a party after a gallery opening. When they met, he supposedly stripped naked in the middle of a crowd and asked if she would like to paint him; they were married in 2001. Cleary was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1999 brought on by a smoking habit and inhaling toxic fumes from her paint. The disease forced Cleary to retire as an educator, and her weight dropped to just 80 pounds. Even with all of these challenges, Cleary still found a way to create new art, creating a series titled "Breathless" that featured her face, with breathing tubes, pressed up against the glass of a copy machine. Cleary died in 2011. Her work is held by many museums throughout the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Gallery of Art. She held numerous solo exhibitions and was a part of many exhibitions worldwide.


39.25 Linear feet (88 boxes (3 record center, 64 document storage, 17 flat, 3 CD, and 1 index card box))

Language of Materials



The collection is divided into seventeen (17) series. Series 1: Exhibitions Series 2: Correspondence Series 3: Education Series 4: Personal Series 5: Medical Series 6: Financial Series 7: University of District of Colunmbia Series 8: Beverly Court Series 9: Subject Files Series 10: City Arts Project Series 11: Kazakhstan Series 12: Printed Materials Series 13: Ephemera Series 14: Artwork Series 15: Audiovisual Series 16: Photographs Series 17: Books

Custodial History

Donated, by bequest, to the Library in four different donations starting in 2015. Donations were facilitated by F. Steven Kijek, spouse of Manon Cleary.

Processing Information

At the time of processing, the collection was loosely grouped into multiple categories depending on material type. These categories were refined to become the series arrangement presented in this guide. The exhibition series maintained the order as it was the only grouping established by Cleary. Processors added additional headings and performed some order refinement on this series. Duplicate materials beyond two copies were discarded, with single copies of discarded items were, when applicable, added to the Cleary file in the Local Artist Vertical File. Throughout the processing work, envelopes, folders, binders, and other organizational housings were discarded along with out of collection scope materials. All personal and private information pertaining to Cleary was redacted and materials within the University of the District of Columbia series were restricted pursuant to DC regulations/laws. Cleary's health information, which would be otherwise unavailable by law, is made available through the authorization of her spouse F. Steven Kijek. Date for some items in the correspondence series were established by proximity to other letters and/or the date of the stamp cancellation on the envelope. The DVD/CDs contained in Series 15 were described at the item level and titled based on what was written on the physical disks. In cases where nothing was written, the DVD/CD was named for the title retrieved from its digital metadata. DVD/CDs were dated based on the date of creation or modification of the digital item. Triplicate, blank, or corrupted DVD/CDs were discarded as well as DVD/CDs containing unlicensed copies of films or videos not pertaining to the life or work of Cleary. DVD/CDs without cases were placed in cases. Each case was then numbered and placed in boxes. All 27 floppy disks and the singular SD card were kept. The content on them remains un-reviewed because of the lack of proper technology that can read them.

Manon Cleary Papers
A Guide to the Manon Cleary Papers
Guide prepared by Mark Greek, with assistance of Mia Steinle, Izy Carney, Jason Campbell, Peter Costolanski, Derek Grey, and Miya Upshur-Williams in 2024
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The People's Archive, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library Repository

901 G Street NW
4th Floor East
Washington DC 20001