Blog posts by Marla
Posted 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.
Posted December 16, 2013
I’m more of a savory cook. I enjoy making dinners rather than baking something sweet. But sometimes you have to be brave, even use a candy thermometer, to see if there’s magic in an old recipe.
A couple of years ago, my daughter had to do a school project on a biographical figure. I encouraged her to find the extraordinary in a local hero. Sofia chose to research ZaSu Pitts, the local actress with the not-so-ordinary name.
Many already know that ZaSu Pitts was an actress, known for her comedic timing and large, expressive eyes. She was born in Parsons, Kansas in 1894 but moved to Santa Cruz with her family when she was nine. ZaSu’s childhood home at 208 Lincoln Street is still there (looking fantastic thanks to recent landscaping), sandwiched between the Nickelodeon Theatre and Jack’s Hamburgers. ZaSu’s real name was Eliza Susan (named after her aunts) but she preferred to be called her nickname, the mash-up of her two monikers.
ZaSu attended Santa Cruz High School and was active in the theatre department. She left Santa Cruz in 1916 at the age of 22 for Los Angeles and was cast in The Little Princess (1917), a silent film whose leading lady was Mary Pickford. ZaSu starred in Greed (1924) and was featured in numerous movies; she was at the top of her game in 1930s B movies. ZaSu performed on Broadway and acted in T.V. shows in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Candy Hits was written by ZaSu Pitts and was published in 1963, the year she died. It’s a recipe book sprinkled with anecdotes about her life. Making candy was a life-long passion of ZaSu. It connected her to her past and kept her grounded while she pursued her career. ZaSu was known to bring her sugary concoctions to Hollywood parties and gatherings.
“Many people have asked me how I happened to choose candy-making for a hobby,” ZaSu wrote. “It really began in my childhood, and if I close my eyes, I can still see the kitchen in our Santa Cruz home, smell the fragrant odor of spice cookies baking in our iron stove and molasses candy bubbling in the iron frying pan…I stood by, all eyes, waiting for that exciting moment when my mother would give me a piece of the taffy to pull into sticky strings.”
My daughter finished her report on ZaSu Pitts, and I suggested we try one of ZaSu’s candy recipes. This would be great–Sofia could present her report and as an added bonus, treat the class to homemade candy. So in our Santa Cruz home, we attempted to make ZaSu’s chocolate fudge. Three times I tried, but it didn’t turn out quite right. I’m convinced it’s me–I think ZaSu would have made it just fine. We ended up buying Marini’s fudge and taking it to school. And yes, we told everyone it was proxy candy.
We didn’t recreate the magic that occurred in the Pitts kitchen almost a hundred years ago, but at least we tried. “You must gamble on that precise moment when your candy is about to ‘set up,’ and pour it out into a buttered shallow pan just before that critical split second arrives” ZaSu wrote.
Candy-making’s a lot like many things in life: sometimes you get it right and sometimes it ends up a sweet mess.
Posted November 19, 2013
Last summer, MAH archives intern (and San Jose State Library Science graduate student) Greg Gardner processed the Paul Johnston Collection. He writes about his insights in tackling this photographic collection, and how we here at the Museum preserve our collections for generation to come. Thank you Greg for all your diligent work in making the archives accessible.
By Greg Gardner
Libraries, museums and archives preserve items from the past so the community of the present and the future use can learn and enjoy them. All of these institutions make a major commitment to preservation. Most people when they hear preservation first think about saving paintings like the ‘Mona Lisa’ or protecting documents like the ‘Declaration of Independence.’ But because photographs are relatively new, less than 200 years old, and so commonplace, most people are carrying a camera phone, preserving them is not an immediate thought. Photographs have had a profound impact on society. The photos of Matthew Brady, Mark Gardner and others from the battlefields of the American Civil War provided a stark reality of death and destruction in war, this influenced public attitude towards the war and how it should be waged. Then there are the photographs of W.H. Jackson, the first person to photograph Yellowstone. He captured the natural beauty of this area. Without these photographs Congress may not have created the first national park. There are many other instances in which photographs have captured a moment that energized a community. All institutions must take action to preserve these historic resources, historic treasures, our heritage, for the present and the future.
One of the special collections at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History archives was donated by Paul Dombey Johnston in 1986. He was born in Vancouver, Washington in 1889. He moved to Capitola, California with his family in 1899, finally settling down in neighboring Aptos in 1905. He worked as a cherry and apple picker, in an apple drying shed, and sold popcorn at the Capitola Beach. He later became a mail carrier and then an owner of a gas station and garage. He married Christina Henrietta Jensen in 1913. They were both avid sportspersons travelling extensively across Northern and Central California. Another passion they both shared was photographs and photography, they collected and captured almost one hundred years of history that included the people, places and events that helped to shape Santa Cruz County.
Paul and Christina Johnston were strong community supporters. As a mail carrier Paul travelled throughout Aptos and the surrounding region. He probably knew every resident in the area. Christina was an active member of the Parent Teachers Association and she supported her community by collecting for the Red Cross and even sewing clothes for those in need during the Great Depression. This strong sense of community led to their desire to carry the history they had saved forward to future generations. There photographs have been used to help tell stories such as the book “Forever Facing South” by David Heron or in photograph exhibitions like “I’ve Seen It All” organized by Paul Johnston himself.
The photographs in the Johnston Collection illustrate many issues faced by preservationists today. These issues are not unique to the Johnston Collection. For example, in Deadwood, South Dakota a professional photographer’s, Josef Fassbender, photo collection from the early 1900s was recently unearthed in 2011. The staff and volunteers who are processing this collection are already discovering issues of photographic paper deterioration and exposure to moisture and dust. Photograph degradation can be broken down into three categories: biological, mechanical, and chemical. Biological degradation is most often exposure to mold but also includes bug or rodent infestation. Fortunately, the Johnston Collection did not show any signs of biological degradation. However, there are signs of mechanical and chemical degradation.
Mechanical degradation occurs when a photograph is exposed to a mechanical force that stretches, pulls, contracts, expands, tears, gouges, or scratches. Most often this is an unintended consequence of poor storage
This photo from the Johnston Collection is of a group of friends on the street outside the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk about 1907. The lower left corner shows the effect of bending and flexing a photograph. The vehicle on the left side in the background is difficult to identify due to this distortion. Also, along the creases some of the photograph medium itself has sloughed off, these locations can also provide a pathway for other forms of degradation.
This photo is of two women and a man on a set of railroad tracks alongside a cattle gate. This photograph shows a more subtle form of mechanical degradation. Many photographs are kept in photograph albums or scrapbooks using corner tabs. These corner tabs can over time, through constant pressure on the same spot, distort the photograph. Looking at the corners of this photo one can see the obvious signs of flattening in comparison to the rest of the photograph. These corners can be weakened to the point that they can easily break or tear off.
This photo shows the Neptune Casino about 1905. In this instance, the Johnston’s saved this photograph by gluing it in a scrapbook. At a later date he wanted to use it for some other purpose so he attempted to remove it from the scrapbook. The process of removing the photograph resulted in corners being torn off. This issue is still prevalent with the newer forms of albums in which the photographs are mounted on self-sticking paper.
A photograph is created by a chemical process. In some cases these processes may not be the most stable so they can deteriorate over time without any outside influence. However, in most cases there needs to be an exposure to an outside source for chemical degradation to occur. This outside source can be exposure to light or varying levels of moisture.
This photo is of the Rio Del Mar Beach near Aptos most probably from the early to mid-1950s. This is an early Kodacolor photographic process; unfortunately this early process was not the most stable. These earlier Kodacolor photographs over time tended to fade to magenta. This naturally happened as they aged; they did not have to be exposed to any outside element. A few years later Kodak perfected the process so this type of fading no longer occurs.
This photo is of a group of people, including Paul and Christina Johnston going on their honeymoon, outside the Aptos Train Station in August 1913. The band across the middle of the photograph clearly demonstrates the effect of extended exposure to light. Usually there is not a band like this but there must have been books or other objects stacked on the photograph. Photographs will usually not show fading effects as long as there is a reasonable light intensity and a reasonable length of time. It is the combination of light intensity and time that causes photographs to fade.
This photo is of Christina Johnston with a group of her co-workers from the Hihn Apple Packing Shed in the 1910s. This is a good example of the silver oxidative-reductive deterioration, otherwise called silver mirroring. In the dark portion lower right of the photo there is a bluish-silver speckling, the silver molecules are clumping together. Photographs from about the 1890s to the 1920s can show this silver mirroring. The mirroring will usually start on the outer edges of the photograph and work its way towards the center.
Preservation is the process of saving an item for as long into the future as possible. The most important preservation step that can be taken is to control the environment. Extreme temperatures and/or humidity, or extreme daily variations in the temperature or humidity, is a major culprit in the biological, mechanical, and chemical degradation of photographs. For photographs the rule of thumb is colder is better. But, there is also a practicality to photograph storage, not every organization can have a freezer storage facility. The Library of Congress Audio Visual Conservation Center at Culpepper, Virginia is a freezer storage facility for over 1.1 million motion picture films, television and videos. A specialized facility like this is expensive to build, to maintain and also requires very strict protocols for moving the film to and from the storage area to prevent mechanical degradation. So, for practical purposes the optimum storage temperature is 18 C (65 F) with a relative humidity of 35-50%. Proper storage temperature and humidity are the most critical components of the preservation process.
Proper storage materials are another important component of the preservation process. Storage boxes provide the next line of defense for photograph collections. Boxes provide protection from dust and other pollutants, accidental mechanical stress, and most importantly from exposure to light. The last line of defense for photographs is the enclosures. These enclosures can be made of paper or plastic, with plastic enclosures the photograph can be held and looked at through the enclosure. Enclosures provide extra stiffening thus reducing the likelihood to bend, flex, or fold the photograph. They also protect the photograph from dust and other particulates. Finally they prevent handling damage, the oils from fingers are kept away from the photograph (finger oils are acidic, attract dirt and can help promote chemical reactions in the photograph). These enclosures, since they are in direct contact with the photograph, must be non-reactive. All storage materials used should pass ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test (PAT) to ensure they do not cause fading or staining. This multilayer storage provides the best protection possible for photographs.
Digitization is another tool that can enhance the preservation of photographs. Creating digital scans of photographs can increase access to these historic and artistic resources while at the same time reducing the handling of these resources and their exposure to the environment. Digitization involves more than just taking scans of photographs. There is also the collection of information called metadata. The descriptive information of the photograph such as the dimensions, the condition, the photographic process, and even whether it is the original or a copy are important to maintain the identity of the photograph. As with all photographs it is also important to collect information on the subject of the photograph – the who, what, where, when and why. This metadata is critical to maintain the context of the photograph. Another area in which digitization is demonstrating its usefulness is the preservation of scrapbooks and photo albums. There is no longer the need to attempt to gently separate, or cut, the photograph from the glued or sticky pages to get access to single photographs. The photograph can be scanned while it is still in the scrapbook and the digital copy shared. Digitization is powerful tool that can help with the preservation of photographs.
Preserving our heritage is an important function for museums, libraries, and archives. Preservationists have to balance the preservation of an item with the access to and exhibition of that item to promote learning. As an individual, as a community, as a society, we will not know where we are going if we do not know where we have been. We must learn from our past, what was done right or what was done wrong, to prevent mistakes in the future. All of us can take some basic common sense actions to preserve out photographic heritage for many years to come.
“Care, Handling, and Storage of Photographs,” Library of Congress. Accessed August 15, 2013, http://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/photo.html
“How should I store my photographic prints?” National Archives. Accessed August 15, 2013, http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/storing-photos.html
Reilly, James M. Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints. Rochester, NY: Rochester Institute of Technology, 1986.
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn and Dianne Vogt-O’Connor. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Chicago: Society of American Archivist, 2006.
Posted October 17, 2013
Like most people, I enjoy celebrating birthdays and all sorts of anniversaries of happy events. I dread remembering the sad stuff. I know you’re supposed to acknowledge them so you’re grateful for the good times, but sometimes I block out bad memories–store them in a box and close the lid.
A couple of weeks ago my fabulous collections volunteers (aka “The White Glove Crew”) and I decided to work on a new cataloging project. I chose a box in the collection room labeled “Communication, Documentary Artifact” (nomenclature for museum cataloging is awesome). Inside we found a brick salvaged from a building in downtown Santa Cruz after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. It looks like an ordinary brick, but of course its history is extraordinary.
The very next day, a woman named Karen visited the Museum. She donated the earthquake brick years ago, and she came to bring me another one. I told her how I had just completed a new inventory of the artifact the day before. The timing was almost spooky.
Karen smiled and said, “Well these things happen; when you acknowledge it, it makes everything better.” She went on to tell me that reclaiming these bricks had been a labor of love. The Sunflower House (once on California and Rigg Streets) had cleaned the bricks. Then volunteers with Parks and Rec attached the commemorative plaques. Karen reminded me that even in challenging times, a community can come together and that’s worth remembering.
I was just out of college in 1989, and was in downtown Santa Cruz on October 17th. When I tell me earthquake story (many of us have them), I like to joke and say I was shopping for earrings when the quake hit. I still have my gold hoops, although I don’t wear them anymore.
That story is better to remember than envisioning people lying down on the sidewalk, some clutching their chests. I choose to block out the screams and the looks of panic on faces I immediately saw after the shaking stopped. Or forget the sight of cars with smashed hoods damaged from falling building bricks (these bricks?). Or the sound of broken glass I stepped on as I made my way down Pacific Avenue.
But sometimes you have to open the lid on bad memories to remember the good ones. I recall how I got home that night. I was about to catch a ride from one of my friends. As we made our way through the dust and rubble, my mom turned a corner, waving me over. Somehow she had managed to get downtown and find me moments before I left. These things happen.
A few weeks ago, I was assembling my daughter’s disaster survival kit for school. I packed a mini flashlight, a garbage bag to make a rain poncho, and some packages of tuna and applesauce because they’re less perishable food.
My daughter said, “I hate that stuff. What if there’s really an earthquake and I have to eat this?” I told her “Don’t worry, just when you open the lid of your applesauce container, I will be there to take you home.” Because that could actually happen; it had before.