Archive 5 January 2001 - March 2001
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HIstorical Portfolio by Peter Palmquist
CAMERA FIENDS AND KODAK GIRLS IN
SOUTHERN OREGON 1850-1950 (Cont'd.)
The closing two decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a modest but significant increase in the number of female photographers active in Southern Oregon. In April 1888, Mrs. Cora D. Morris (and daughter) established a short-lived portrait studio on D Street, Medford. In January 1891, Mollie Ober and Frank Redden opened the "Ober & Redden Art Studio" in Medford which lasted until 1898. Central Point was represented by Mrs. Sarah J. Lyon(s), listed as a photographer in an 1889 regional business directory, and a Mrs. I. M. Nichols, also offered her photographic services to the citizens of Central Point from September 1892 through at least 1895. By 1902, Grants Pass had become the home of photographer Mrs. C. J. Smythe, who advertised her wares in a local newspaper. Likewise, Mrs. Charles L. Clevenger and her husband were also active in Grants Pass from 1903-1906.
Typically, once a community had become the home of a female photographer, others could be expected to follow in their footsteps. As might be expected, the majority of these nineteenth-century women photographers were married or had been married; widows, etc. These pioneering women photographers were also considered to be personable and forthright in their business dealings and many were active in community affairs. However, it is equally essential that we not overlook the social aspects of photography generally. Typically, women arranged for, purchased, and distributed the vast bulk of all family portraits. These decisions involved the skills of coordination of and negotiation (getting the family to the studio in the first place), social awareness (choosing the "right" photographer, proper clothing, hair styles, etc.), and economics (how to pay for the photographs from meager household budgets). Each of these skills could be considered prime requisites for the management of a successful photographic business. All but a handful of Oregon's early women photographers were involved in portrait photography rather than trying their hand at outdoor photography or landscape viewing as art.
The actual range of occupations for women involved in the photographic field was diverse: gallery owners, partners and managers, portrait and commercial photographers with and without formal gallery connections (some working from their homes), gallery clerks and bookkeepers, photo-finishers, retouchers and colorists, as well as saleswomen serving in camera stores. Many women enjoyed multiple roles along the course of their photographic careers. Some of these careers lasted for decades while others were short-lived or seasonal. An unknown number were or had been involved in amateur photography. In fact, by 1895 the Blue Book of Amateur Photographers (American version) identified dark rooms and dealers which catered to amateur photographers in no less than sixty-three Oregon communities, including such facilities in Ashland (Logan gallery) and Grants Pass (Everitt gallery). Several regional camera clubs also were formed about this time. Unfortunately, there are a number of unanswered or only partially answered questions concerning the personal lives and goals of these women, such as how many were amateur photographers who turned professional? How many were foreign-born, or the sole support of their family? Other quantitative details, including salary received or data concerning the social status accorded these women, also remain in short supply today.
A stellar exception to the typical lack of biographical information is displayed by the remarkable life and tragic death of Klamath Falls photographer, Maud Evangeline Baldwin. Born in Linkville, Oregon, in 1878, Baldwin was the only daughter in a family of five children. Her father's pet, she enjoyed a well-to-do lifestyle as her prominent father moved up the local political ladder—Treasurer, Judge, Councilman, and eventual appointment as a state senator from Oregon. As befitting a senator's daughter, Maud was expected to be on hand for all social events involving her father's career, a responsibility not entirely to her liking. She took up photography about 1898-1899, beginning a creative career which she adored. Concentrating on scenic views of southern Oregon, she opened a studio on the upper floor of the A.O.U.W. Building at the corner of Payne Alley and Main Street, Klamath Falls. Her first darkroom and a primitive studio were located in a small room just of the organization’s main meeting room, while order taking and the sale of her scenic views were handled downstairs in her father's hardware store.
In 1902, Maud's father built a two-story addition on the east side of the A.O.U.W. Building. The entire second story of this addition was given over to Maud's new studio which she opened on July 9th, 1902. Her new and greatly improved facility was touted as the most complete and up-to-date in southern Oregon and it was rumored that it had been elaborately prepared regardless of expense. Determined to become the best photographer possible, Maud attended the California College of Photography in Palo Alto, California, "class of 1905." By July she had returned to Klamath Falls and reopened her studio with great fanfare. A reporter from the Klamath Republican wrote an extensive review of the grand opening, including the following tongue-in-cheek credo: "If you have beauty come and we’ll take it--if you have none, come and we'll make it." The opening attracted more than one hundred attendees who were universally enthusiastic about what they saw. The main reception room was devoted to examples of Maud's portraiture and featured an extensive display of local scenes. "Another room was devoted to Indian relics, baskets, bows and arrows, beads and other specimens of handiwork of the Klamath Indians - the collection of baskets is by far the largest and best in the country." Specializing in all types of commercial photography, her photographs form an indelible record of life in the Klamath Falls area.
As the years passed, family pressure (primarily her father's burgeoning career) cut into the time previously dedicated to her photography. Likewise, the romantic love of her life, a man employed as a cook in her father's hotel, was declared unsuitable for a senator's daughter. By 1915, she had all but abandoned her avocation and found herself increasingly ensnared in social activities. Her personal interests thwarted, she became deeply depressed. In 1920, even this unhappy world collapsed even further when her mother suffered a disabling stroke which left her an invalid. This tragedy was shortly followed by the death of her beloved father. Left with the entire care of her mother, and with full responsibility for her father's estate, Maude found herself unable to cope. Finally, she made her fateful decision: "I am going insane and I cannot stand it. You will find me in the lake Maude[sic]." Her body was found floating in several feet of water under the Link River bridge. A non-swimmer, she had waded into the lake and deliberately drowned herself.
The first two decades of the twentieth century added many new names in the growing roster of women photographers to be found in the southern Oregon communities of Ashland, Medford, and Grants Pass. Wynne Scott, who specialized in baby portraiture was active in Ashland in 1912 before relocating to Medford the following year. Scott also advertised wash drawings, hand tinted photographs, and a comprehensive line of outdoor photography as well. She also serviced the needs of local amateur photographers with a full range of developing and photo-finishing services. In 1913, Scott was hired as the head of the portrait department of the Gerking-Harmon Studio of Medford. Details of Scott's life after 1913 are not known. Five years later in 1918, the Carl C. Darling (and wife, Cynthia) Studio began its operation in Ashland, offering a full range of commercial services through 1933.
As previously noted, Grants Pass was represented by Mrs. C. L. Clevenger from 1903 to 1906, and then by Mrs. Ruth Clemens and Inez G. Fitzgerald, both about 1913. Clemens was associated with the Clemens Drugstore from 1913 through 1917. Fitzgerald was born in Michigan in August 1852. She was unmarried and had been involved in photography since 1889. Fitzgerald's early professional years were spent in California, first in San Francisco and later in Gilroy. She was about age sixty when she arrived in Grants Pass. Further afield, Mrs. Mae Mongold was listed as a photographer in Klamath Falls in 1911-1912 and Tina Hamblock Barrows is thought to have practiced photography in the coastal community of Bandon in 1915.
Medford, meanwhile, became the most active site for female photographers in southern Oregon. The Vinson Sisters (Annie and Pheba) operated a gallery in Medford from 1906 until 1911. In 1908, photographers Cecelia and Frederick Lesmeister arrived in Medford. The following year, Frederick abandoned his wife and moved to Dayton, Ohio. Cecelia, moved to Central Point where she opened a studio and confectionery shop through 1915. Mrs. M. E. Wilson also operated in Medford in 1912-1913, and by 1919, the husband-and-wife partnership of James Issott and his wife, Anna Wendt Issott (1883-1974) had began a nearly decade-long studio specializing in children's portraiture. They located themselves in rooms formerly occupied by Frank Hull on the northwest corner of Main and Riverside Streets, Medford. The Issotts later sold their studio to the Peasleys (another husband-and-wife team) in April 1927.
Albert E. and Lorane M. Peasley bridged the depression years successfully, largely by offering a variety of services and because of their reputation for quality work. They remained at the Main Street location until 1930 before relocating to 227 West Sixth Street across from Medford's luxurious new Holly Theatre through 1937. Their custom work featured art-enhanced portraiture, including oil colored photographs, pen and ink sketches and "shadow light" effects. The Peasley's also offered commercial photo finishing. The black and white prints were advertised in a "Crystal Glow" finish, probably a euphemism for glossy or ferrotyped surfaces.
The 1920s also saw the arrival of Patterson Post Cards in Medford. Photographer Frank Patterson arrived in Medford in 1921 and married Josephine Champie in June 1922. While Frank did most of the photography, Josephine did most of the hand-coloring of postcards that were sold exclusively at Crater Lake Lodge. In 1926, more scenic postcards were sold by the Patterson Studio than by any other scenic photographer in the West. By 1927 there were nearly twice as many cards produced as by any western industry and there were already two hundred and twenty-eight regional dealers who handled Patterson cards. In that same year, Patterson employed eight printers and clerks, the majority of them female. Miss Esther Messenger (later Mrs. Charles Hobbs), was one of the hired printers. She also counted cards and filled sales orders, no small task when you consider that an average day's production was on the order of five to seven thousand cards. In one eleven-hour marathon day they printed 10,000 individual post cards. In 1930, alone, it has been estimated that production amounted to at least two hundred and fifty thousand cards.
The 1930s saw the arrival of a Kennell-Ellis branch studio in Medford. This portrait operation was part of a chain of six galleries located in Oregon and Washington. Another branch was established in Klamath Falls. Each studio operated by a local manager. The manager either received a salary, a split of the profits, or both. Catherine Gaylord was the first manager of the Medford operation. She was followed by Blanche Leclerc, assisted by Ruth Leclerc as "photographer." In May 1936, Blanche Leclerc purchased the gallery but continued to operate it under the Kennell-Ellis name until 1938 when it became the Wilfley Studio.
In 1935 Mrs.[sic?] E. Hayden Jones was listed as a Medford photographer at 607 West 2nd Street; residence same. Fortunately, we have a chatty account of her life:
Miss [Edith Hayden] Jones is a native of Missouri, Kansas City, to be exact. Her father served in the Confederate Army. Her earlier days were happily spent on a farm. When fifteen, she entered the University of Oklahoma, leaving the college while a sophomore. Readers will recall a popular fad of that time, leather pillow covers, with Indian scenes painted on them. She obtained employment as a painter of these scenes, since her urge for art would naturally interest her in these productions. Meanwhile, she had several friends in Oklahoma City who owned a photo studio, another outlet for her artistic trend. By questions and answers, experiment and trial, she learned the rudiments of the profession and soon showed skill as a retoucher. Soon she discarded pillow top art for retouching in several studios. By this time her parents moved to Yuma, Arizona. She moved with them, but after a six months' stay decided to go further west, and went to live with a cousin in Portland, Oregon. There being no retouching to be done, she purchased a stamp picture studio, and, to use her words, "the fun began." Perhaps she had in the mind the time when she and a partner had a studio house boat on the Columbia River, and the incidental camping experiences along the river, as the "studio" moved from town to town. Interested in photography, her real hobby is raising unusual plants and flowers. She and Skipper, the put, constitute the family. Her studio today is located in Medford, Oregon.
The 1940s saw the beginnings of one of the region's longest running photographic establishments. Phillip F. Brainerd purchased the Wilfley Studio in the fall of 1940 and operated it with his wife, VerNette until their retirement in 1982. For many years the Medford newspaper used the Brainerds as a source for photographs, paying one dollar for each image published. They also did most of the areas "drug store" film processing and photo-finishing. During the war years, Dale and Violet Vincent served as photographers at Camp White, the U. S. Army post near Medford.
The close of the 1940s into the 1950s featured a new round of husband-and-wife operations in Southern Oregon. An exception, was the Memory Lane Studio of Ashland which was run by two women, Mrs. Bonnie. L. Conrad and Mrs. Mildred L. Alger, from 1947 to 1967. In Medford, Harry and Ruth Foreman operated their own studio from 1951-1955 and from 1953 through at least 1957, Ronald R. and Faustina Hughes controlled the Hughes Photo Service at 27 North Main Street. Likewise, Medford's Classic Studio was run by Dwaine E. and Janet L. Smith from 1956 to 1967.
Like any historical summary, this article only touches on the highlights of the subject of southern Oregon's female photographers through 1950. Harkening back to my analogy that searching for women photographers is much like prospecting for gold, there are still many "nuggets" of information to be found. However, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of our present knowledge of Oregon's early women photographers is not that there were so many, but rather that so many have already been forgotten.
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