Faces of Appalachia, an exhibit featuring the work of traveling Ohio photographer Albert J. Ewing (1870–1934), went on display at the Ohio History Center in 2013. Recently extended through June 1, 2014, the exhibit now features a fresh selection of Ewing’s glass-plate negatives. Taken between 1896 and 1912, they are being exhibited for the first time ever.
The new group of 122 glass-plate negatives from the Ohio Historical Society’s Albert J. Ewing Collection went on display in the third floor lobby of the Ohio History Center in Columbus last week, where you can see them through June 1, 2014. Another part of the Ewing exhibit, also on display through June 1, is in the Spotlight Gallery on the first floor of the Ohio History Center museum.
Traveled Rural Southeast Ohio and Northern West Virginia
Ewing lived in Lowell, Ohio, a community north of Marietta on the Muskingum River. He traveled rural areas of southeast Ohio and northern West Virginia to take photographs between 1896 and 1912. Many are portraits taken on site, sometimes using improvised backdrops.
Displayed on light boxes so you can see the images, Ewing’s glass-plate negatives are part of a collection of more than 4,000 that arrived at the Ohio History Center in 1982 still packed in the boxes in which he had bought his undeveloped plates, with very little information about the people and places they picture.
“While planning the exhibit we had many questions to try to answer,” says Ohio Historical Society Visual Resources Curator Lisa Wood.
“We examined Ewing’s negatives for clues and consulted a variety of sources like census records, city directories and vintage newspapers to piece together his life and career,” Wood says. “However, we still had unanswered questions about Albert and his family.
“For example, negatives signed ‘Ewing Brothers’ and photographs of him with his younger brother, Frank, gave us reason to believe that Frank joined Albert in the photography business. Albert was a traveling photographer, so there was a lot of work involved in transporting, setting up and repacking his equipment. A second pair of hands would have been welcome. However, Albert also had two older brothers, Thomas and Elbridge, so we weren’t sure whether Frank was the brother in ‘Ewing Brothers.”
Relatives Share Information
Since Faces of Appalachia opened, several Ewing family members — grandchildren of one of Albert Ewing’s sisters — have contacted the Ohio Historical Society, Wood says.
“They were able to support much of the information we had uncovered during our research. Though there were four brothers in the Ewing family, they strongly believe that uncle Frank is the brother in ‘Ewing Brothers,’” she says.
“They weren’t sure how Albert Ewing chose photography as a career and they don’t know why he left the photography business after about 1910, either,” Wood says. “Introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera in 1900 and other changes in technology that made amateur photography easier for more people, together with the taxing physical labor of moving his big wooden camera and other equipment may have led him to change careers.”
Museum Visitors Help Identify Photographs
“Since the exhibit opened, we’ve also been contacted by people who recognize places pictured in the photographs,” Wood adds.
“Before the exhibit opened, we wondered whether visitors might recognize anyone in the photos and help us identify them. So far, they’ve identified locations on the Ohio River and the newspaper office in Ritchie County, W. Va., but not individual people. Like Albert, we know little about most of the people he photographed. If we’re lucky, their names are written on the edge of the glass plate negatives, but most of them remain unknown.”
See the New Negatives
Wood says that the new negatives now on display feature themes of family, community and work and play as well as the material culture and physical landscape of Appalachia in the early 1900s.
“We are very excited to share more of this unique collection,” she says. “In 2013 we learned so much more about Albert Ewing and his life and work than we knew before the exhibit opened. Who knows what may come to light when more people see the exhibit in 2014?”
In addition to the negatives, the exhibit includes approximately 75 prints made from negatives in the Ewing collection that document the everyday lives of people in the region; an interactive 1890s photography studio with props and period-style clothing where you can create your own old-time photographs using your cell phone or camera; and a storyboard where you can search through photos mounted on magnetic sheets then post them on a board and create your own stories and captions.
Ohio History Center Museum Hours and Admission
See Faces of Appalachia: Photographs by Albert J. Ewing at the Ohio History Center in Columbus through June 1, 2014. While at the Ohio History Center, also see 1950s: Building the American Dream, Transformation and permanent exhibits on Ohio history, natural history and archaeology.
The Ohio History Center museum is open five days a week: Wednesdays–Saturdays 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sundays noon–5 p.m. Ohio History Center museum admission is $10/adult; $9/senior (age 60+); $5/youth (ages 6-12); and Free/child (age 5 and under). Ohio Historical Society members enjoy free admission. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Questions about visiting the Ohio History Center or the Ewing exhibit? Call 800.686.6124.
Explore the Ohio Historical Society’s Albert J. Ewing Collection online at www.ohiohistory.org/ewing.