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Bob Cato papers

Identifier: CSC-0089

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Bob Cato papers contain materials from 1900 through 2015, with the bulk of the papers dated between 1962 and 1999.

This collection contains materials related to Cato’s role as a graphic designer, photographer, and artist including process work and final products. These include diaries, correspondence, legal papers, writings and speeches, genealogical materials, clippings, printed materials, photographic material, fine art, process work, scrapbooks, administrative materials, moving images, audio, and digital material.

Of special note is the process work including book dummies and record jackets that show the progression of a design from sketch to final product. An ideal example of this is the American Flyer record jacket design; the collection contains early designs in a sketchbook, paste-up with original art, multiple proofs, and a photograph of a billboard with the record jacket image. Some of the book dummies never saw completion, but exhibit a design style that can be seen in finished books including Joyce Images and The John F. Kennedys. This collection also includes a wealth of fine art including many collages that incorporate important people and subjects in Cato’s life and career.

The Bob Cato papers have been arranged into seven series, four of which have been divided into subseries. This collection is housed in 35 archival document boxes, 37 oversize boxes, 9 binders, 17 print boxes, 6 flat file drawers, 6 additional shelves, 4 slide boxes, and three standalone pieces of art (hanging canvas, reproduction, and sculpture). Many materials have been stored according to size and so may be housed with materials of similar size rather than similar content.


  • Creation: 1900-2015
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1962-1999


Conditions Governing Access

VHS and DVD materials require advance notice to access and are limited to on-site researchers only. Access to additional film and digital media cannot be provided. Access to portions of this collection is RESTRICTED and subject to the discretion of the curator. The 16mm color print with optical soundtrack is RESTRICTED due to needing special handling. Sketchbooks and scrapbooks in this collection are extremely fragile and require careful handling.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

Restrictions on use of the materials (for example, reproduction or publication) that apply after access has been granted. Copyright for Cato’s images and materials is held by RIT. Copyright for non-Cato materials is not held by RIT and permissions must be obtained by the researcher.

Biographical Note

Robert G. Cato was born in New Orleans in 1923, the son of Ysabel Soto, a teacher who immigrated to the United States from Cuba, and Robert Bailey Cato, a business executive. At the age of 15, on a family trip to Mexico City, he met the painters Pablo O’Higgins and Jose Clemente Orozco, and began studying art under their mentorship. In 1941, Cato was the youngest artist on record to exhibit work in the Carnegie International, at age eighteen.

After World War II, Cato moved to Chicago, where he studied briefly under the Bauhaus designer László Moholy-Nagy.

In 1947, he went to Philadelphia to study with art director and designer Alexey Brodovitch. After Brodovitch was hurt in a car accident, Cato became his driver and cook. Soon after, Cato became his assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, where Brodovitch was transforming magazine and fashion design with an innovative mixture of open space, sharp typography, photography, and Modernist art—characteristics that would also define Cato’s work over the next several decades.

Through the late 1940s and the ’50s, Cato worked as art director at Junior Bazaar, Theater Arts, Dance and Glamour magazines while continuing to paint and exhibit his personal work.

In 1960, he began his association with the recording industry at CBS/Columbia Records. Over the next decade he helped turn the record album cover into an important form of contemporary art. Cato created or supervised some of the most memorable record album covers of the 1960s. One of his many groundbreaking ideas was to put the work of the underground illustrator R. Crumb on Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills.

For his cover designs, Cato was awarded two Grammys by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. They were for Barbra Streisand’s People (1964) and for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits (1967). Later, in 1997, the Recording Academy would award Cato its President’s Merit Award.

After short stints at McCall’s magazine and Revlon, where he created the “Charlie Girl” image, he returned to the music business. In 1971, he was appointed vice president for creative services at United Artists Records and Films in Los Angeles.

During his 50-year career, Cato taught at the School of Visual Arts and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Cato devoted much of his last 10 years of work to fine art, photography and producing books, including Joyce Images (1994), a collection of photos and art devoted to James Joyce. Cato passed away in March 1999 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

[From the New York Times obituary for Bob Cato; edited by NRP]


83 Linear Feet (This collection is housed in 35 archival document boxes, 37 oversize boxes, 9 binders, 17 print boxes, 6 flat file drawers, 6 additional shelves, 4 slide boxes, and three standalone pieces of art (hanging canvas, reproduction, and sculpture).) : Graphic Design Archives, Cary Collection Annex, range 7a (shelves 7a-15 to 7a-21 and 7a-28 to 7a-47), above range 10a/b, art grate; flat files (drawers 5.5 - 5.9, 7.3); Dudley A. Weiss Reading Room, Room 2688 (curator’s office), and the Cary Collection, range 17a.




The Bob Cato papers document Cato’s role as a graphic designer, artist, and photographer. His work designing record album covers helped turn them into forms of contemporary art and won him two Grammys. He is also known for his creation of the “Charlie Girl” image for Revlon, and photographs of top recording artists of the 20th century.

System of Arrangement

Series I. Graphic Design, 1949-1995

Subseries A. Process Work, 1957-1995
Subseries B. Final Products, 1949-1994

Series II. Photography, 1943-1999

Subseries A. Appraised photographic collection, circa 1950s-1980s

Series III. Fine Art, 1937-1997

Subseries A. Sketchbooks, 1937-1997
Subseries B. Photographic Reproductions of Artwork, circa 1960s-1990s

Series IV. References, 1900-2011

Subseries A. Professional, 1941-1997
Subseries B. Personal, 1910-1999
Subseries C. Family, 1922-2003
Subseries D. Personal/Family Photographs, 1915-1990
Subseries E. Material referencing Cato, 1941-2002
Subseries F. Collected Material, 1900, 1926-2011
Subseries G. Other artists/photographers, 1930-1996

Series V. Audio/Visual, 1965-1999

Series VI. Realia, 1931, undated

Series VII. RIT exhibit materials, 2015

Physical Location

Graphic Design Archives, Cary Collection Annex, range 7a (shelves 7a-15 to 7a-21 and 7a-28 to 7a-47), above range 10a/b, art grate; flat files (drawers 5.5 - 5.9, 7.3); Dudley A. Weiss Reading Room, Room 2688 (curator’s office), and the Cary Collection, range 17a.

Custodial History

The Bob Cato papers were donated to the Rochester Institute of Technology in two installments, the first including 4 boxes, 1 green trunk, 1 silver trunk, 3 portfolio cases, rolls of canvas paintings, 42 framed artworks, and 1 sculpture; the second installment included 4 boxes and appraised photographic materials in multiple boxes. Signed deeds of gift dated 2014 and 2015 are on record irrevocably transferring materials.

Related Materials

For related collections, see the Alexey Brodovitch collection.

For additional Cato photography, contact the Sony Music Archives Library:

Tom Tierney
Director, Sony Music Archives Library
550 Madison Ave., B-02
New York, NY 10022

Terms to Note

These terms have been defined as used in conjunction with materials in this collection, compiled mainly from the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus.

Jacket: The detachable coverings for books or records that encompass the record or book as a whole.

Cover: The front section of a book or record jacket that usually contains the title.

Paste-up: A copy prepared for photographing consisting of elements such as text, titles, and artwork that have been arranged, pasted, and marked. Also known as mechanicals.

Proofs (printed matter): Proofs printed from matter that has been composed into pages, usually after corrections have been made but before plates are made.

Process work: Work in any of the stages through which it passes prior to becoming the finished product including paste-ups and proofs.

Processing Information

Resource record originally encoded by Lisa Witt, October 2015.

Collection processed and finding aid written by Nicole Pease, May-July 2018.

Bob Cato papers, 1900-2015
Cary Graphic Design Archives
Lisa Witt, Nicole Pease
21 October 2015, 7 August 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection Repository

Rochester NY 14623 US
(585) 475-2408