Cornell Legacy Helps History Thrive


During the last three years, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation—named for the legendary American assemblage and collage artist and for his brother—has generously awarded the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ (VFH) radio program, BackStory with the American History Guys, three grants totaling $300,000.

“Through the good offices of co-trustees Richard Ader and Joseph Erdman, the Cornell Foundation has played a crucial role in ensuring the ongoing development of our now weekly national radio program,” says BackStory’s founding executive producer, Andrew Wyndham. “We are deeply grateful for their support.”

“Anything in history is of particular interest to us,” explains Erdman, reflecting on the Cornell Foundation’s on-going grants for BackStory. “Richard Ader and I are interested in history and historic sites, especially in and around Charlottesville, with the University of Virginia as a central focus.”

Crucial Support


“The Cornell Foundation has played a crucial role in ensuring the ongoing development of our now weekly national radio program.”
- Andrew Wyndham

This aspect of their mission, Erdman notes, resonates with Cornell’s goals as an artist: “He evoked images of the past—for example, the grand hotels of Europe during the Edwardian era. His creations include clippings of news articles as well as paraphernalia and pictures that he often obtained through the Bettmann Archive, reflecting his sense of history.”

In addition to supporting the arts at the University of Virginia, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation has been a major contributor to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Madison’s Montpelier, as well as to VFH. The Cornell Foundation, Erdman points out, supports only not-for-profit organizations or entities.

A 1956 graduate of U.Va., Erdman majored in political science. Ader was a history major at New York University. The two were law partners in New York for many years before becoming Florida residents along with their wives, though each family now also has a home in Charlottesville.

How did the Cornell Foundation come to be? “Well, Richard met Cornell at the office, when he walked in one day.” Their firm, he explains, already had a storied past, having represented writer James Joyce and his publisher, Sylvia Beach, among others. “Richard represented Cornell and helped draft his last will and testament. When Cornell died, Richard was away, so I attended the memorial service and met Cornell’s niece who played an important role in the settlement. I helped handle the estate and worked on various legal arrangements for both the Estate and then for the Foundation.”


Today, directing the resources of the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Erdman and Ader strive to make a difference, empowering projects and organizations that advance appreciation for the arts and increase historical knowledge and understanding.