NHPRC “Colorado 20th-Century Photograph Collections Project” Nearly Complete

Intern Erica San Soucie with a mammoth glass negative from the Aultman Studio collection
Intern Erica San Soucie with a mammoth glass negative from the Aultman Studio collection

This month, the Photography Department wraps up a two-year project to make four of its most significant photography collections available to the public. By the end of June, researchers will be able to browse through online collection guides to and digital images from the Aultman Studio, Fred Payne Clatworthy, David DeHarport, and Winter Prather collections. The project has been generously supported by an Access to Historical Records grant from the National Historic Records and Publications Committee (NHPRC).

In 2015, NHPRC selected History Colorado’s “Colorado 20th-Century Photography Collections Project” for grant funding because of the significant national and regional importance of these particular collections. Estes Park photographer Fred Payne Clatworthy (1875–1953) was an internationally respected pioneer of the autochrome, a rare early color process, and took the first color images of Rocky Mountain National Park. These photos were instrumental in convincing Congress to expand acreage to the park in 1917 and were published in National Geographic to much acclaim. Winter Prather (1926–2005) was a Denver-based abstract expressionist photographer considered by many to be a lost master of American modernist photography. History Colorado holds the most comprehensive collection of his work, which documents the industrial West during the mid-century in vivid color.

Archivist Adrienne Evans working on the project, May 2017
Archivist Adrienne Evans working on the project, May 2017

Prather’s contemporary, David DeHarport (1920–2001), began his career as an anthropologist and archaeologist and later transitioned to photography. His expansive, pictorialist landscapes focus new attention on the vanishing communities of the American West in the twentieth century: ancestral Puebloan sites in the Four Corners area, the effects of economic depression on Colorado’s eastern plains communities, and ghost towns in the Rockies. Lastly, the Aultman Studio collection was selected for the project because of its importance as Colorado’s longest-running photography studio. From 1890 to 2000, Trinidad-based photographers Oliver, Otis, and Glenn Aultman documented the people and events of southern Colorado, uniquely capturing the region’s changing demographics and ethnic diversity in more than 50,000 images. Not only do the Aultmans’ photos provide an unusually comprehensive portrait of the modern West, it is also History Colorado’s largest photograph collection.

Before the project started, these collections had been “lost” to researchers for decades. Each contained boxes upon boxes of unidentified, unorganized photos, slides, and negatives. Few of the photos had been digitized. There were no catalog records or guides to help researchers find images within the collections. In fact, few outside the museum even knew that History Colorado held such vibrant collections documenting Colorado in the early to mid-20th century.

Fred Clatworthy autochrome of Helen and Barbara Clatworthy in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1929
Fred Clatworthy autochrome of Helen and Barbara Clatworthy in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1929 (History Colorado, 10043611)

Now, thanks to the grant support of the NHPRC and the leadership of project archivist Adrienne Evans, these collections are finally seeing the light of day. Since 2015, Adrienne and her team (contract archivist Megan Patton and intern Erica San Soucie) have sorted tirelessly through more than 195 boxes of unsorted prints and negatives, thoroughly researched the histories of the photographers who took them, written detailed guides to each collection, and digitized 200 selected images from each of the photographer’s works. Browse images from each collection online now at History Colorado Online Collection! The “Colorado 20th-Century Photography Collections Project” represents the best of History Colorado’s photography collections: four brilliant photographers who captured Colorado’s multifaceted beauty in the modern age.