Monday, December 7, 2009

Archive of a Floating Photographer's Gallery 1869-1880

An amazing archive of the floating photography gallery of itinerant artists G.W. Gibson and John Matthews of Parnassus, Pennsylvania.

Available at the upcoming Cowan's Winter American History Auction.

Here's the auction house item description:

Little is known of the partnership of Gibson and Matthews; they are unlisted in Ries and Ruby's 1999 Directory of Pennsylvania Photographers 1839-1900). Based upon the identifications of many of the images, however, they apparently operated a floating gallery on the Ohio River and its tributaries. The following locations are noted associated with various images: Oil City, and Parnassus, PA; Paintsville, KY on the Big Sandy River; Guyandotte, W.VA. on the Ohio River; Bear Creek, KY; Nashville, TN; Clearwater, Florida -- including an exterior image of a road gang with two "Nigers."

Virtually all of these images were contained in two separate CDV albums, one of which inscribed on the front inside pastedown: This album was bought in 1869 was taken through all the travels over the Western planes [sic] in a covered wagon G.W. Gibson, but assembled here is a photographic archive of their work. The images are highly personal, and largely documents the family circle of Gibson. Included is a half plate tintype of their floating gallery and houseboat with his wife Mary and two daughters, as well as seven images of Gibson, and three portraits of John Mathews. Many of the images are identified in an unknown hand and indicate that they were taken on board the floating gallery. A treasured clutch are genre scenes of the toys of Gibson's daughters Iana and Istella, including dolls at tea, doll's heads, a tableau of dolls, potted plants, and a photograph album (which is included here). There are also images of stuffed squirrel, and a dead canary (a family pet?).

One exceptional image taken on board the floating studio on the Ohio River in 1876 shows Mathews and Gibson's wife and daughters seated around a breakfast table. There are numerous portraits of the Gibson girls, some with a potted geranium. In one, the two girls stand with their dolls beside a head clamp decorated to serve as a Christmas tree. A fine compendium, and intimate view of the family of an itinerant artist photographer.

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