Sunday, November 4, 2012
On Hatteberg's People, William Gray was a Kansas photographer who never used film. His images, the negatives, were captured on glass plates. The museum in Stafford, Kansas is now home to those rare plates, and more importantly, home to an historic collection of images that tell us volumes about the people of the early 20th century.
Gray worked out of his photography studio in St. John from 1905 to 1947. He took pictures of everything in the community. Now, 29,000 glass plates of the early 20th Century Kansas reside in a safe at the Stafford County museum where Michael Hathaway is the Museum Director.
"As far as the value of the history and culture on the negatives, to me it is priceless," Hathaway said. "It's quite rare to find a collection that is indigenous to one geographic location."
The plates are fragile and must be cataloged and cleaned for permanent storage. For the last few years, Stafford County Historical Society President Marion Hearn has spent countless hours cleaning each glass negative.
"I've done about 75 of them in one day. But most of the time it is anywhere from 45 to 60 that I can do at one time," Hearn said.
Carol Long is an artist based in St. John. She is a fan of the building that was both home and studio to photographer Gray.
"I know it doesn't look like much, but that is about to change," Long said. "I know what it looks like now, but you can just imagine an artist living and working in this space and giving classes to our community and enhancing our quality of life here."
The north-light window is perfect for artists - but now needs $270,000 dollars to be rebuilt. The old darkroom where Gray worked is falling apart and even has holes in the ceiling. Long envisions the old building as a future artist colony and gallery that will be open to the community. Just in time, this weekend the building was accepted into the National Historic Register.
"William Gray was an artist, he was a fabulous artist. So on this building those things were recorded and we would love to have more come into this space, made for an artist," Long said.
While Long hopes for an artistic renaissance, Hathaway sees the pictures as a visual voice from the past.
"They tell us who we are and where we came from and I think it is important to save that information for future generations," Hathaway said.
Gray's old cameras are displayed at the museum in Stafford. His life's work stands as a black-and-white look at our colorful past.
"It shows us where we came from and perhaps will tell us where we are going," Hathaway said.
Grants have been made available to the Stafford Historical Society for the preservation of the glass negatives. With Gray's photo studio in St. John now on the historic register, Long and her group can begin fundraising to restore the old portrait studio. You can see more pictures of William Gray's work by clicking the link below.
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