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Roberta Cantow papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00559

Scope and Contents

The Roberta Cantow Papers are comprised of biographical information, personal writings, artwork, photographs, awards, and psychic readings (audio tapes), photographs, correspondence, email, publicity, and other documents pertaining to the production and distribution of Cantow's films, as well as Cantow's thoughts on issues and circumstances covered in the films.

Audiovisual materials include copies in various formats (video tape, DVDs, soundtrack, audio recordings, digitized and born-digital recordings) of Cantow's films and performance pieces. The films are documentary and include Clotheslines, "an homage to women and their daily work,...a lively and humorous look at the relationship that women have with the chore of cleaning the family clothes.... In this documentary, layers of emotions come to the surface as the commonality of women's work is exposed." Other films include Dr. Clown, about Patch Adams, M.D.; The Book of Laughs, about the shared memories of two sisters; If This Ain't Heaven, the reminiscences of a fifty-year-old African American man; and Illuminada, a visual impression of Mexico. There are smaller amounts of materials pertaining to other films and film possibilities that Cantow pursued, e.g. a script for TThe Revolt of the Mother, based on the novel by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. There are also recorded interviews by Cantow of herbalist, Susan Weed, and Goddess scholar, Karen Tate.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1954 - 2021


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use with the following restrictions on access: At the direction of the donor, Roberta Cantow's journals will be closed until two years after Roberta Cantow's death. After that period, they will be available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that they own copyright, Roberta Cantow has retained full ownership of any and all copyrights currently controlled by her in these materials until her death. After her death, copyright in these materials will transfer to Smith College. Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by Roberta Cantow, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Filmmaker Roberta Cantow was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Janet Leah Wohfield and Lawrence Albert Cantow, M.D. She earned an A.B. from the University of Michigan in 1969, and an M.F.A. from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 1972. From 1969 to 1970, she studied at the Etienne Decroux School of Mime in Paris, France. She is the founder of Buffalo Rose Productions (1982), Original Digital (1997), and One Of A Kind Video Portraits (1993-2003).

She has produced, directed and edited numerous independent films and videos, including The Book of Laughs (1988), If This Ain't Heaven (1984), Clotheslines (1981), Moon Festival (1994), Mosaics (1994), and Doctor Clown (1992).

Cantow often presents and discusses her work in public forums, and has served as an educator among multi-ethnic populations in community college, adult education, and youth-oriented museum and artist-in-residence programs. She has been the recipient of numerous grants, and has garnered many honors and awards for her work.


365 Gigabytes (electronic mail, video, audio and one archived website)

13.606 linear feet (21 containers)


Roberta Cantow is a filmmaker. This collection of her papers includes biographical information, personal writings, artwork, photographs, awards, and psychic readings (audio tapes), photographs, correspondence, email, publicity, and other documents pertaining to the production and distribution of Cantow's films, as well as Cantow's thoughts on issues and circumstances covered in the films, including: the documentary Clotheslines, Dr. Clown (about Patch Adams, M.D.) The Book of Laughs, If This Ain't Heaven, and Illuminada.


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request the creation of and access to digital copies. Some, but not all, of the audiovisual records have already had digital surrogates made.

This collection contains materials received from the donor in digital form that are not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request access to this digital content.

Other Finding Aids

One or more content listings to individual accessions in this collection are available for download. Links can be found in the description of the individual accessions.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Roberta Cantow, 2006-2021.


17 film reels were transferred to the New York Public Library in November 2022, as they already held some of Cantow's films and have better facilities for preserving film.

Related Materials

The internegatives of both Clotheslines and If This Ain't Heaven are being stored in a vault in Princeton, New Jersey and under the custody of the Special Collections Department of the New York Public Library. (The Donnell Library originally paid for the preservation of these films).

Processing Information

Digital content transferred to the Sophia Smith Collection was copied to networked storage for preservation and access; and file lists were created.

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. A full crosswalk of old to new numbers is available.



Finding aid to Roberta Cantow papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Ellice Yasner Amanna
2014; 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:22-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2020-03-30: Accessions, description added and finding aid updated to current standards
  • 2020-05-14: Recent digital accessions added
  • 2020-11-10: Added Accession 2020-S-0015
  • 2021-11-23: Added Accession 2020-S-0020
  • 2022-11-03: Added Accession 2021-S-0009
  • 2022-11-07: Updated to account for transfer of films to NYPL

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063