Faces of Appalachia: Photographs by Albert Ewing

Portrait of five unidentified women seated outdoors, from the Albert J. Ewing Collection via Ohio Memory
Portrait of five unidentified women seated outdoors, from the Albert J. Ewing Collection via Ohio Memory
Albert Ewing, seen at right with his younger brother Frank, who is believed to have joined Albert in the photography business. Via the Albert J. Ewing Collection
Albert Ewing, seen at right with his younger brother Frank, who is believed to have joined Albert in the photography business. Via the Albert J. Ewing Collection

 

Albert J. Ewing: Not many people know the name these days, but around the turn of the last century, Ewing (1870-1934) was busy documenting the lives of everyday people in the region of Appalachia along the Ohio River. Over his career, he generated thousands of historical images in the form of glass plate negatives, many of which are now held in the collections of the Ohio Historical Society. Beginning January 9th and running through the end of the year, a large selection of images shot by Ewing are on exhibit, both in the form of the original glass plate negatives (illuminated from behind), as well as prints from a variety of themes. Also included in the exhibit is a display of antique photography equipment, an 1890s portrait studio where you can take your own photo with period props and clothing, and a interactive “storyboard” where you can curate your own selection of Ewing images.

Ewing was born in 1870 in near Marietta, Ohio, and lived with his family in nearby Lowell, along the Muskingum River. He most likely began his photography career in the 1890s, and during the period of 1896 to 1912 traveled extensively as an itinerant photographer in southeastern Ohio and central West Virginia. Ohio Memory now has a collection devoted to Ewing’s work, which consists primarily of individual and group portraits, as well as landscapes and others scenes of daily life. His photographs capture the range of human experience, featuring moments of frivolity and fun, as well as somber scenes–he was also known to shoot postmortem and other memorial photography. Many of the people photographed included important items in their portrait, including pets, bicycyles, instruments, and even teddy bears!

Reversed negative gives a hint to the subjects' identities, via the Albert J. Ewing Collection
Reversed negative gives a hint to the subjects’ identities, via the Albert J. Ewing Collection

Although the identities of many of his subjects have been lost over the last century, etched names, dates and locations on a number of the negatives help give clues as to who these unknown individuals might be. For example, taking this image and flipping it horizontally results in the image at right, which appears to be labelled “G. B. Stratton.” Hints like these, as well as other recorded details, help bring to life the people, places and objects captured by Ewing, and remind us that things aren’t so different even a century later. We’ve also activated the commenting and tagging features for this collection, and hope that users will contribute interesting details that may help identify the anonymous subjects of many of Ewing’s photographs.

The Ewing Collection consists of 5,055 glass plate negatives, each individually housed and numbered. Additionally, the collection includes approximately 450 modern contact prints made from the glass plate negatives. The Ohio Historical Society received the collection in 1982, at which point it was still housed in the original dry plate negative boxes purchased by Albert J. Ewing.  Faces of Appalachia is the first exhibit displaying the work of this important figure in Ohio history, and we hope you’ll take time to see the collection in person, as well as visit it online!

Two women seated in a prop boat with an artistic back drop, via the Albert J. Ewing Collection.
Two women seated in a prop boat with an artistic back drop, via the Albert J. Ewing Collection.

Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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