Tuesday, January 12, 2016


This week is my last at Tulane University Libraries' Southeastern Architectural Archive. I have taken a position as head of the Richard L. D. and Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections at Kansas State University.

In sorting through personal and professional files, I've come across a few things I had set aside to investigate later. Photographs of costumed ladies posed against painted backdrops, a flood-devastated western town, bright linens hanging outside a rustic lakeside cabin (above). I acquired all these images by digging through boxes at the Originals Mall of Antiques in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. None of them bore any textual identification, familial or geographic designations.

The Western Town

A series of three photographs documented some natural disaster, possibly a bad storm and/or flood. I had speculated the pictures were from the late 19-teens, but using a Peak Lupe 8x Model 2018, I could make out the following building markers:

Hotel Vail (below,  left)
Santa Fe / The Hub (below, center)
The Hotel Vail is still standing and is on the National Register, so identifying the locale as Pueblo, Colorado was fairly easy.

Not knowing anything about Pueblo's history, I used America's Historic Newspapers database and Denver Public Library's Digital Collections to confirm that the event was the June 3, 1921 flood. The unidentified photographer focused his/her lens on the the vicinity of the high water mark along Union Avenue. At its peak, the flood covered over 300 square miles.

The Photo Postcard Studio

A series of four real-photo postcards presented women dressed in costumes set against painted backdrops or decorative curtains. They seemed to be from the 1940s, and given the subject matter, most likely from the Great Plains. The photographer used EKC paper with undivided backs, but none of the versos bear anything more distinctive.

There is a Cultivator
And a Reaper

And Two Harvesters
And a Geisha
Yes, a geisha. With a cherry blossom kimono and a peacock-feathered fan.

In the last decade, there has been a growing interest in rural studio photography:

The John Michael Kohler Art Center's current exhibit Bringing to Light: The Massengill Family Photo Collection (through 17 January) features portraits produced in an Arkansas mobile studio. Many of the images are hand-colored close-up photographs; some can be viewed via Maxine Payne's 2004 Making Pictures: Three for a Dime.

Luc Sante's Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard (2009) addresses the proliferation of small-town photo postcards during the early twentieth century. Sante's interest in the format stemmed from a random encounter with a New York peddler over thirty years ago.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

NYPL - NEW Digital Resource

The New York Public Library [NYPL] has announced the launch of 180,000 high resolution public domain images through its Digital Collections. The site includes thousands of images of the Gulf South, including this one of a Mississippi Carnegie Library under construction (1910).

In many instances, the versos of photographs are also scanned. These often provide substantive contextual information.  For example, photographer Dick Williams captured the above image circa 1939. Producer Michael Todd and Director Hassard Short are shown inspecting the "Gay Old New Orleans" model for the New York World's Fair.

I've mentioned Todd's production in a previous post.

The Crescent City was prominent at the fair. The New Orleans Village celebrated Mardi Gras week with nightly carnival parades. Eddie Durchin and his orchestra played, and Joe Louis, Fredi Washington and Ann Lewis performed a skit. Mississippi-born "Hammerin' Hank" Armstrong (1912-1988) led a dance number at the Sazerac Restaurant Show.

Names of artists and designers were frequently included in publicity photographs. From the verso of the photograph show above, one can glean that Pilar Fernandez (left) of Havana, Cuba painted murals for "Gay Old New Orleans."  Another reveals that Irene Sharaff (1910-1993) designed Michael Todd's costumes.

Images above:  Aurelius P. Hood. Carnegie Library in Course of Construction at Mound Bayou, MS. 1910. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.  Permalink:  http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-e64e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
This structure -- demolished in the 1930s -- was on the corner of SW Green Street East and Fisher Avenue.

Dick Williams. Michael Todd and Hassard Short Inspect Old New Orleans Model. Circa 1939. New York Public Library. Permalink:  http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-974f-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

Leo Casey, Director of Publicity. Pilar Fernandez (Havana, Cuba) and Janice Torre (1928 Carrollton Ave) Sitting on a Fence. Detail.  1940. New York Public Library. Permalink: http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-d27d-d471-e040-e00a180654d7