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Artifact of the Month: George E. Stone Stereograph Collection
Posted by Marla on January 14, 2014
Archives intern Renata McRee has completed some fantastic work on some of the MAH’s collections. Here’s her account of working with and researching the stereograph collection.
Tracking the Elusive Mr. Stone
(Written in the style of 1930s and 1940s detective novels)
The archives were dusty, but with a pleasant aroma of old books. It was my first day on the job, interning in the Archives at the Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz. “Find something that interests you,” I had been prompted as a place to start, and my eyes wandered to an assortment of boxes sitting alone in a corner of the shelf. I suppose it was the fact the boxes were in a corner by themselves that attracted me. How long had they been sitting there? What secrets did they hold? Stereographs, was the answer my fellow workers in the Archives told me. Yet what exactly was a stereograph?
My mind went back to University courses on the subject, remembering a Professor that had mentioned these early forms of entertainment. The “first 3-D movies” she had called them. The class had marveled as curiously and fantastically two photos mounted on a card side-by-side became one when seen through a special hand-held viewer. This was a stereograph. Still a marvel even in the age of television.
My task was to sort through these marvels and categorize them. The name on several of the boxes identified the stereographs’ creator as George E. Stone. Although he seemed to have been a prolific man, the museum knew nothing about G.E. Stone. Something drove me to identify or find a face for the elusive man who made these objects packed away on a shelf that I was now holding. So now I found myself faced with another task: Find the man called George E. Stone. All I had to go on were the clues that were given me. A name—George E. Stone Laboratories—and the words, Producers of Motion Pictures and Stereographs.
G.E. Stone proved to be an elusive fellow to track down. Based on some text c.1927 volume present on the back of some of the stereographs I could deduce that many of the stereographs dated from that time or thereabouts. I was therefore looking for a G.E. Stone who was active in that time and an adult in the nineteen-twenties.
Thinking this information was gold, I began my research. George E. Stone proved a rather popular name. I was left with four potential G.E. Stone’s that fit the profile. One lead proved a dead end. An actor, the Hollywood sort, and his online profile proved him very unlikely to be G.E. Stone, stereographer.
The second—an Amherst University, Massachusetts Professor. He was also a botanist and photographer. No definitive evidence of his having created stereographs, but the botany sketches and photos suggested an interest and ability to create them. Many of the museums stereographs were botany related. Birth and death dates of this man were adequate to suggest a period of activity in the nineteen-twenties.
The third G.E. Stone was the Library of Congress entry for George Edward Stone. A picture of a stereograph on the entry made this man seem a promising candidate. But wait—birth and death for this man were the same as the Amherst Professor. Worth checking out.
The fourth candidate was a George E. Stone who was an author of some letters sent to me by the Harrison Memorial Library in Carmel, CA when I inquired about him. They had no biography on him though. Neither did libraries in San Francisco and Monterey, other areas the mysterious stereographer had worked. Mr. Stone seemed to have moved like a ghost through these places. Or had he?
The letters from Carmel revealed a different G.E. Stone. A Professor of photography for twenty-four years. San Jose State had a G.E. Stone. They had a photo of him—a jolly looking man with round glasses and thinning hair. Posed with a camera of course. And yet there was no bio. Was he the right Stone?
I went back to my leads. Now I had to see whether I could cross G.E. Stone candidate number two or number three off my list. The fourth—S.J. University Mr. Stone, the writer of my letters had written them in the late nineteen-fifties. He could not be the same G.E. Stone as candidate number two the Amherst Professor. Amherst Professor was deceased by then.
Yet what about the Library of Congress Stone? His dates were the same as Amherst Stone’s. Meaning that the letters I had were written by an altogether different man. A nineteen-twenty-nine Sunset Magazine article, the aforementioned letters, a Berkeley Heritage post on a women named May Gray, an AFI Feature Films entry and an ancestry.com search, proved to me that the George E. Stone who was San Jose State Professor and the writer of the letters were one and the same. And these sources placed him in San Francisco, Monterey, and Carmel during the same time as the stereographs were made. The Sunset article even stated that this Stone had worked for a motion picture company in Carmel and Monterey during the twenties. Seemed like a pretty fair bet that the stereographs could have been made during that time. Also, AFI Feature Films had an entry reading: George E. Stone Laboratories as producer for a nineteen-twenties dated film. Same laboratories as on some of the stereographs. Mr. Stone S. J. State Professor was looking like a pretty good candidate for the stereographer.
Though I cannot go back in time and ask this Mr. Stone if he did make the stereographs, what I do know is that through perusal sometimes puzzles start to fall into place. As I tracked down this elusive moniker, a trace of what the man’s life may have been like started to form. Suddenly I could imagine him on the rocks of Carmel making stereographs.
When I finished my last day uncovering the mystery of Mr. Stone, a fellow researcher came into the archives. Snowy white hair, glasses, name of Stan. I’d seen him before. Today he asked me what I was working on. I told him about G.E. Stone. Mentioned he may have been an S.J. State Professor. To which Stan replied: “I think I remember having a Professor of photography with that name when I was a student there in the nineteen-fifties.” Could Stan identify him? I showed Stan the picture of G.E. Stone from S.J. State. “That looks like him, but a lot younger. Well, maybe it is him,” was Stan’s reply. Now I had a face to put to the stereographs. And I definitely had a story. But was it the right G.E. Stone? Well, everyone loves a mystery.