Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Tattered Photograph

    Walter Maison Ives
June 29, 1899 - September 5, 1963

Greetings everyone!
For this posting I thought I might leave you with a more unique thought.

     I have an astounding quirk of personality in that I can often be found proclaiming that I would never consider doing something more than once any more than I would devote the rest of my life to a particular artistic style or technique to which I have recently been introduced.  This proclamation often leaves me humbled before my friends, family and peers when I find myself continuing with anything I've learned years after so profoundly verbalizing my first opinion of disdain.
     One of these statements takes me back to the late 1970's when I was first introduced to the fields of photographic and fine art restoration.  I was studying photographic retouching at Winona, the Professional Photographers of America School of Photography, now located in Atlanta, Georgia.  Under the direction of the world renown artisan and photographer, Helen Yancy, I was being instructed to use my artistic abilities and an airbrush to photographically, and flawlessly, alter, enhance and restore photographs. 
     I had never before used an airbrush as an artistic instrument and found myself struggling to control the variable capabilities of the unfamiliar tool.  As the week's instruction went on and my battle to conquer this new instruction continued I heard myself saying, "If you think I would do this for a living you are out of your mind". 

     Long pause............

     Here it is in the twenty-first century and I have spent every day of the past thirty-one years (among other specialties) restoring, altering and duplicating photographs.  As I built an internationally known business of fine art and restoration services, taught at home and internationally and built my reputation up to become one of the top eight artisans in the portrait, photographic and restoration fields, I have chewed and eaten every word of my so long ago uttered statement not once, but many times over. 
     I once said I couldn't see myself doing photographic restoration or alteration work for a living yet, looking back, I cannot think of anything more rewarding both financially and, more important, emotionally. 
     Even though there is a digital airbrush in there for those who choose to use it, the computer now takes the place of many of the old photographic art and darkroom techniques.  It gives a person the capabilities to do some of the retouching and restoration work themselves that was previously only supplied by specialists in the field.  Many photographers remove their subject's loose hairs, blemishes, add interesting backgrounds, text and special effects to the photographs they capture and I no longer have to face stacks and stacks of the kind of work I once supplied to photographers and clients in seventeen countries around the world.  I can now concentrate on the work required of a craftsman (or woman) and restore original photographs and paintings, duplicate historic and aged photographs with old world darkroom techniques and create artistic works where portraits, backgrounds, alterations or restorations could only be achieved because of my personal talents and skills. 
     Regardless of the medium, equipment or tool, I am returning to my customers a one of a kind work of art that is near and dear to their heart that could be created by no other.  My work is artistically unique and, as such, will be cherished for many generations yet to come because it Brings Back Memories Of Another Time.
     So much of my work is emotional.  Tears of remembrances and hugs of joy often accompany the time I spend in consultation with my clients.  This is the happiness and contentment I get from my work and, today, I would like to express some of that emotion surrounding my work by posting the following verse.  This poem was written by a fellow member of the Professional Photographers of America and printed earlier in the January 1986 Professional Photographs Magazine.  These words express the range of emotion that is derived by the work that myself, and those in my industry, derive from working with treasured images of our customer's past. One couldn't ask for anything more than to be rewarded by their work and truly fulfilled by it when the day is done. 

by Marty Ricard M. Photog Cr., CPP

She sat before me, wrinkled, gray
   A tear upon her cheek.
Her head was bowed, her eyes cast down,
   She could barely speak.

Her Husband of a half a century
  Had taken glory's path.
Now all she had were memories
   And one tattered photograph.

She looked up with beggar's eyes
   And asked so tenderly,
Can you repair this photograph?
   It means the world to me.

For fifty years I felt his touch.
   Now deaths torn us apart.
This photograph is all I have
   To ease the aching of my heart.

I fixed the cracks across the face
   And brightened up his eye.
And when she saw the photograph
   She could only cry.

How much?  She sobbed, it matters not.
   I'll pay any fee.
I said, I only want a smile,
   That's good enough for me.

She squeezed my hand and paid her bill
   And in a solemn tone,
She said, My husband's picture
   Is the dearest thing I own.

The months slipped by so swiftly.
   I saw her now and then.
And every time she took my hand
   She paid her bill again.

Then, one day she passed away
   And I went to say good bye.
But, when I saw her lying there
   I couldn't help but cry.

A gentle smile adorned her lips
   But, on her lifeless breast,
They had placed that precious photograph
   ...It was her last request.

Stocks and bonds and diamond rings
   She left to fade away.
She only took the dearest thing
   On this, her final day.

Yes, she took that portrait with
   her into eternity.
And with that special photograph
   Went a tiny part of me.

And each of us must ne'er forget
   Who share this precious craft
That wondrous thread of golden love
   We weave into each photograph.   

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Strangers In The Box

"Strangers In The Box"

     I have mentioned in the past how fortunate I am to come from a family that saved what seemed to be meaningless items of the time, but items that turned out to be of the most treasured value in recording my family's heritage. 
     One of the most cherished of all the possessions passed down to me was my Great Grandfather's Ditty Box. 
     Great Grandfather, Edward Francis Ives, began his younger years as a ship's carpenter. I think of him almost every day in my Heirloom Art Studio as I have many of his hand tools which I use daily in my work.  I particularly love his small hand drill. This scaled, precision instrument I use every time I frame artwork and am required to make tiny, accurate drill holes in the back of picture frames to hold screws for hanging mechanisms. 
     Frank (or E.F. as he often signed his name) worked his way up through the ranks until he became a licensed sailing Captain on the Great Lakes, particularly on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.  
     A Ditty Box acts as a sailor's strongbox for personal possessions.  Above you will see Great Grandfather's box and notice the hand painted trees and corner decorations in black paint.  No one recalls who painted the decoration but, as I have many small drawings of ships on the water drawn by Frank himself, I prefer to believe the decoration was personally painted by my ancestor.  As an artist, myself, it makes me feel closer to this man whom I feel so drawn to, yet, never knew. 
     The Ditty Box was given to me when I was eight years old and held many records of my family's past.  Inside were hand-written letters dating back to 1820, original photographs in pristine condition, deeds, land agreements, court documents, sales receipts, newspaper clippings and much, much more.  So much history placed carefully inside a simple wooden container less than twelve inches wide.  
     The collection dated back to the days of my Great Great Grandparents, Francis Edward and Angeline Ives (seen side by side in the upper right photograph in the image above).  Francis Ives kept everything written on paper he deemed important to remember and thus passed the collection down through subsequent generations who added more and more to the contents as the years passed. 
     I feel incredibly fortunate to have this collection in that it tracks my family's history in personal and descriptive details most genealogists could only hope to find.  Without even going to official records or archives, my family is recorded back six generations and the people and places to which they traveled or lived are described in such detail as to make them more than just a group of unknown people with names and dates.  These family members have come alive in both photograph and written word.  I feel so honoured and privileged to own such a collection that makes my past and my family real persons. 
     Alas......not all family's are as fortunate.  A quick glance at the newsstand offerings or television show schedules reveals that others desperately seek answers to their past.  Because of the demand for answers and information, the internet is filled with sites and locations for genealogical research and cities, libraries and associations are being asked to get their records digitized and/or online for ease of research.  
     When people neglect to write and record their history the past is forgotten and information is lost.   One thinks the most mundane information isn't important enough to write down or that, surely, future generations will remember everything that was told to them but, this simply isn't true. 
     While exhibiting my restoration services at an Italian Heritage Conference, in Canada, in 2009, my good friend, Henrietta, was speaking to a group of attendees trying to impress upon them the importance of submitting their family histories to her Italian research project.  The group was resistant to the suggestion that it was important to record each and every family's memories and histories.  Several claimed, "I know who I am and my children don't care about the information." 
     With that statement, Henri calmly and emphatically stated, "You're absolutely right.  You're children don't care.  You're not recording your history for your children, you are preserving it for your Grandchildren and future generations.  It is them who will care and who will need to know who they are and where they came from."  Wow!  Truer words were never spoken. 
     It seems that everything skips a generation.  During the Depression (the first one!) families had to scrimp and save, make their own clothes, construct their own quilts, put up fruit preserves, smoke meats and more.  I'm not old enough to have lived through the Depression, but growing up, year after year I, myself, was expected to help can vegetables, cook relishes, pack pickles and stuff the freezer full of cut corn and other necessities to get my parents and siblings through another single winter to the next growing season.  
     I can't recall how many times have I heard people state that their lives were filled with such demands they would never place the same expectations on their children or that their children took no interest in their parent's pursuits be it demands or pleasures.   I never made this claim myself but, I suppose I am guilty of it's train of thought.  Although I did teach my daughter how to sew, she can no more make jam than she could knit a sweater or use my table saw.  It just didn't seem important to pass on these skills to her and she showed little interest in what I knew how to do in some areas. 
     My mother, Betty Ives, is a world renown quilting instructor and has spent most of her career teaching young (and older) woman how to quilt.   These are woman who's Grandmothers quilted but, who's mothers were never given the information because it was not a necessity and they could just as easily purchase a blanket at a department store as they could invest in fabrics and hours of time to make something to keep them warm.  The quilting technique and skill was lost only to be desired by that third generation.  
     You're not doing it for your children, you are doing it for your Grandchildren! 
     With that thought in mind, and another reminder to write down information and save it for those who come after you, let me leave you with the following poem.  It is something I have had in my collection of writings for some time and, unfortunately, cannot claim to know it's author or origin.  It is, however, a most remarkable and heartfelt piece of literature which I wish to share with you all.

"The Strangers In The Box"
by Pamela A. Harazim, 1997

Come, look with me inside this drawer, 
In this box I've often seen, 
At the pictures, black and white
Faces proud, still, serene. 

I wish I knew the people, 
These strangers in the box, 
Their names and all their memories
Are lost among my socks. 

I wonder what their lives were like, 
How did they spend their days? 
What about their special times? 
I'll never know their ways. 

If only someone had taken time
To tell who, what, where, or when, 
These faces of my heritage 
Would come to life again. 

Could this become the fate
Of the pictures we take today? 
The faces and the memories
Some to pass away?

Make time to save your stories, 
Seize the opportunity when it knocks, 
Or someday you and yours could be......
The strangers in the box. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Things Go Better With COKE

"Things Go Better With Coke"
1963 Coca-Cola Product Advertising Slogan

    The first Coca-Cola recipe was formulated in the mid-eighteen hundreds at the Eagle Drug and Chemical Company, a drugstore in Columbus, Georgia by John Pemberton, originally as a coca wine called Pemberton's French Wine Cocoa.
    In 1886, when the City of Atlanta and surrounding Fulton County passed prohibition legislation, Pemberton responded by developing Coca-Cola, essentially a non-alcoholic version of the French Wine Cola.
    The first sales were at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886.  It was initially sold for five cents a glass at soda fountains, which were popular in the United States at that time due to the belief that carbonated water was good for the health.  About nine servings of the soft drink were sold each day and sales for that first year added up to a total of about fifty-dollars.  The ironic thing about sales was that it had cost John Pemberton over seventy dollars in expenses to produce the product.  The first year of Coca-Cola sales were, for the times, at a huge loss.
    Until 1905, Coke concentrate, or Coke syrup, was marketed and sold as a patented over-the-counter medical tonic containing extracts of cocaine as well as the caffeine-rich kola nut.  The product was touted as a remedy for nausea or mildly upset stomach.  Pemberton claimed it cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and.....oh, wow.....impotence.  The product could just take care of it all!
    The original 1886 advertising slogan was a simple "Drink Coca-Cola".  Subsequent years produced many of the most well remembered slogans and ad campaigns as any product ever produced.
    Isn't this interesting?  Certainly, but, what does an international passion with a soft drink have to do with any possible subject that could be posted here?  An even better question:  why is there an image of the Fayette, Alabama Courthouse shown in conjunction with the all too famous beverage? 
    The answer to all these questions goes back to a customer's phone call to the Heirloom Art Studio wayyyyy back in 1999.
    In the fall of that year I received a phone call from an Alabama gentleman that had been on the hunt for a photographic restoration artist and conservator that had the skills he needed to help with a very historic project. 
    It seemed the man had recently purchased an early nineteen hundreds home and made the most fabulous discovery inside it that would require my expertise and special handling. 
    While searching the attic of his new home, the gentleman had discovered what he thought were broken and scratched shards of glass between the support beams of the attic's roof.  Collecting the fogged and dusty pieces of glass from their long time resting place he discovered, upon closer inspection, that there seemed to be blackened images of people, places and buildings upon one side of the glass. 
    Spreading the damaged glass out under lit conditions, the pieces revealed a collection of 8"x10" glass negatives in various states of scratched or broken condition.  Of particularly historic importance were two of the negatives which led him to seek out my services as one of the remaining persons still printing glass negatives in the darkroom.
    To the man's eye, these particular negatives appeared to be the 1911 dedication of the Fayette, Alabama Courthouse.  The year 2000 approach of the next Millennium was expected to bring a re-dedication of the City's Historic Courthouse.  If proven to be, in fact, authentic images of the original dedication, the gentleman wished to have the negatives printed and restored for presentation to the City of Fayette upon their upcoming celebration of the building and the City. 
    After giving explicit instructions as to how to pack and ship the negatives to my Studio, I hit the research trail to see what I could discover about the original construction of the Courthouse.
    It seemed that this was the second Courthouse to be built in Fayette, a City named after the Marquis de LaFayette, who helped George Washington fight in the American Revolution.  The first Courthouse, as well as most of the City, succumbed to a devastating fire in March 1911.  The following newspaper accounts were found in The Montgomery Advertiser as well as a Birmingham, Alabama Newspaper.

    MANY BUILDING BURNED-Among Those Destroyed Were The New Court House and Jail, New Hotel, Bank Building, Cotton Warehouse and the Masonic Temple.

    Birmingham, Ala., Mar. 24.-Considerable interest was taken in the fire that raged for several hours this morning at Fayette, eighty miles west of here on the Southern Railway, in the heart of the natural gas fields, because of close interests held by Birmingham people in that section and the trade that comes this way.
    The fire started in the drug store of Peters and Young and it spread rapidly from building to building. Three hundred fifty bales of cotton, belonging to one firm alone, were destroyed, besides much other cotton.
    The estimate made this afternoon of the loss by the fire is given at more than $500,000, with less than $150,000 insurance.
    The buildings destroyed included the $40,000 court house and jail, the new hotel, the bank building, Peters and Young’s drug store, Jones Brothers, general merchandise; Fayette Banner office, Masonic Temple, (two stories); Miss Emma Shepherd, millinery store; W. Anderson, jewelry repair store; Smith, Dodson and Company, general merchandise; Walker Bros. & Co., general merchandise; J.R. Robinson, grocery; E. Rose & Co., general merchandise; Knuckles & Walker, general merchandise; Berry Brothers, grocery, City Restaurant; G.T. Hassie & Co., general merchandise; W.M. Cannon, general merchandise; Robertson & Dodd, general merchandise, S.J. Cannon, drug store; Propst Bros., hardware and furniture; Propst Bros., (2-story brick), general merchandise; Farmer’s Warehouse; S.J. Sanders, livery stable; Jeffries Livery stables; eight residences and other buildings.
    Fayette, because of the discoveries of natural gas within a mile and half of the town, has been on a big boom and much building was under way while the population has been on a steady increase. The town is said to have a population of nearly 2,600.
    A report reached Birmingham this morning that the fire started from someone having a lighted match near a leaking gas pipe.
    The people of Fayette exerted every effort to check the blaze, but in vain. The fire raged on the main thoroughfare of the town down Temple Avenue.
    Fayette was established during the Civil War.

    The negatives in question arrived at the Studio and research and dating absolutely confirmed that they were taken on the very day the Fayette, Alabama Courthouse was rebuilt.  Although the recorder of the event has still to be determined, the fabulous images showed the dedication day ceremonies as they transpired throughout the day.
    Oh, how I wish that you could all see these photographs up close and in person.  The town folk, clothing, children playing, horse and buggy in one image but automobile in the next...........and so forth.  The closeup activity is history in itself, although I have yet to figure out why one well dressed woman carries a suitcase up the front walk.  Is she heading out of town after the ceremony or is she bringing a wicker basket with the picnic lunch?  There is no way to tell.
    While processing and perusing through closeups of the crowd, however, two distinct facts did became abundantly clear.
    First, one cannot help but notice that although everyone in the crowd has turned out in their Sunday best and appears equally attired, the crowd is most definitely segregated.  We are, after all, recording an event taking place in the American South, in 1911. 
    Where the white residents mingle throughout the front and center of the lawn, the black attendees stand in groups to the right and left of the Courthouse.  One close up detail can be seen below. There is even one person sitting in the second from the left, lower window that could possibly also be black. 

    As a Canadian Citizen, born and raised near where many Civil War Slaves considered the end of their Underground Railway, I can only stare at these negatives and handle their recorded history with both shock and awe.  My historically different upbringing has me holding these original pieces of the past with honour and great respect for American History as well as an understanding yet heartbreak for the trials and tribulations of the struggles of its Southern People. 
    The second, most unique, discovery in these images is that, regardless of the solemnity of the event...................................THINGS REALLY DO GO BETTER WITH COKE!!!!

     Positioned prominently on the lawn of the Courthouse, at the corner of the main roadway and the walk to the Courthouse entrance is the Coke Booth.  The banner hung around the stall says:  Drink a Bottle of Coca-Cola. 
    My husband and I have worked many an hour at charity events operating the Coke booths that the Coca-Cola Company now provides and delivers on wheels with their self-contained, hitched trailers, but, I swear, after so many hours in the darkroom, I honestly thought I was seeing things.  I expect to see the ever present bold red Coke signage in contemporary photographs, but while working with such an importantly historic set of negatives I never dreamed of finding this little piece of accompanying humour and historic record captured along side the first historical intent.
    Coca-Cola was first sold in bottles on March 12, 1894.   I checked the company's records for recorded advertising slogans and did not find the one captured in our 1911 negatives.  Perhaps the company will now have to amend their history to claim that Alabama vendors had their own advertising slogans.
    It is a wonderfully warm and sunny Sunday and I am about to head outdoors to work in the gardens and spruce up the grounds for spring.  But first, I believe it is time for a break and a cold drink. Perhaps you will also feel the same and join me. 
            Things go better with Coke.  Drink a Bottle of Coca-Cola.
    By the way, the Fayette, Alabama Courthouse negatives were successfully printed, evidence of the broken pieces and the thousands of scratches were removed and enlargements of both of the images were delivered to the Courthouse in time for the year 2000 re-dedication and Millennium Celebrations of the City of Fayette.  I have no way of confirming that a Coke booth was present at this second prestigious occasion.