“There was joy and there was sorrow”: Armistice Day, 1918

woman wrapped in ivy, with wings painted as American flags, holding a sword

From the Valentine J. Oldshue papers, circa 1917

World War I was fought between multiple countries in two main alliance groups, making the process of ending the war complicated. In some ways, it began with Allied power Russia’s separate peace with the Central Powers, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed in March of 1918. On September 29, the Allied Powers signed the Armistice of Salonica, ending the war with Bulgaria. A month and a day later, an agreement was reached with the Ottoman Empire, the Armistice of Mudros.

Here we offer transcriptions of letters describing the atmosphere at the front at the time of the final two armistices. Red Cross Lieutenant Hugo Friedman discusses the Armistice of Villa Giusti, the cessation of hostilities with Austria-Hungary, which came on November 4. It was prelude to the cease-fire with Germany exactly a week later, the Armistice of Compiègne, discussed by Porter Rudolph, an Army Sergeant.

Famously, that final armistice came at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” In the years since then, November 11 has become a day to commemorate not just World War I but service in all wars. In France and Belgium, it is generally still called Armistice Day, while in the U.S. it is known as Veteran’s Day. In Britain and Commonwealth countries, Remembrance Day is fixed to a day of the week, typically a Sunday or Monday near November 11, rather than that specific date.

Lt. Hugo Friedman

Victor Hugo Friedman (1878-1965) of Alabama served with the American Red Cross in Italy — at various locations as needed, including a canteen high in the Alps at Santa Caterina, risking his life to serve the 2nd Alpini Regiment on Gran Zebrù (or Königspitze) mountain. He was 40 at the time of armistice; he had been in Italy since August of that year and would remain there for approximately six months.

In a letter to his family of November 4, 1918, he describes the mood in a local Italian village after the armistice with Austria-Hungary, their hardships over the course of the war, and the state of Austrian prisoners held locally. It seems to be a carbon copy, which may account for why there is no salutation or signature, except to the added handwritten portion.

Especially pertinent parts of the letter are in bold. Click on any of the thumbnails to see a larger version.

I am especially thankful tonight that I am in Italy, and in that portion of the War Zone that lies nearest to the frontier. For what; just a year ago seemed possible defeat, probable ruination for a fine country and a great people, tonight has culminated in a Grand Victory.

When the armistice with Austria was signed at 3 o,clock today, Austria had been defeated and Italy was a Victor, pure and simple.

I am billeted in a little Village, along with the Colonel and his staff, of perhaps 300 inhabitants and 500 soldiers. On one side of the village tower the Alps. The mountains begin to rise within 300 yards of the little cluster of stone houses and rises, seemingly straight up, above the snow line, 4200 feet above the village. It is on the Eastern side and so precipitous that the sun,s rays do not penetrate this little valley until after 9 o,clock, each morning.

The top of this mountain is the frontier of Italy and Austria and it has been the location of several Austrian outposts, with there batteries of little mountain guns. Many a time during the past ten days 26 shells were fired into it. As has every Italian village, no matter how small, there is a church and a nice brick and stone church at that, with its two large bells placed one above the other.

Now good people, how would you have liked to live in a village, where for three long years of war, terrorized day after day, night after night by the enemy, where the God=fearing people could not even listen to the cheerful sound of their church bells, for those bells had been silent these three years, fearful lest there sound might bring down on the village, iron messengers from the enemy. It was my good fortune, when the clock struck the hour of 3 today, proclaiming the cessation of hostilities, to be standing in this village street. At the first sounds of the bells there was silence for a minute or two. They could scarcely realize their deliverance. Then the soldiers began to cheer and the old men and the women and children ran into the street and burst into shouts. Many cried out of sheer joy, and all of them began to gather around the church as if they wanted to drink in the voices or those bells.

That was 5 hours ago and still those bells are ringing, one after another, they take their turns at the ropes.

Those were the happy ones. But as the corporal (my interpreter) and I were going to my room; about 4 o,clock, we saw the [pg. 2] other side of the picture. Standing in a doorway, crying as though her heart would break, was a girl of about 10 years of age and clinging to her skirts were two little tots, crying also out of sympathy because they were surely too young to comprehend. My interpreter questioned the girl and found that her father had been killed just three months ago, and the sound of these bells had brought back memories. Sitting on a doorstep, we saw a young woman in black, crying. Her husband had been killed recently. And so it was in all of these mountain villages, that are overshadowed by the guns of the enemy. There was joy and there was sorrow.

As I write the soldiers are shooting fireworks and from the Italian outposts upon the tip top of the mountain, the sentinels are sending up many colored signal rockets. Some of them have the little parachute attachments so that the fire will float for a while. They are so very high that they seem to be visiting amongst the stars.

Now the terms of the armistice, as agreed upon about 10 o,clock last night, were these. That the armistice would take effect at 3 oclock today, that whatever line the soldiers were on at that time, they were to hold and that whatever soldiers of the enemy were behind that line at 3 o,clock were to be prisoners of War. So you can perhaps realize what an effort was made to extend the lines into the enemy,s territory as far as possible during the few remaining hours.

And, dear people, such a country for “extension”. Up one mountain, 4000 to 8000 feet then down the other side and then up and down again, continually and snow and ice everywhere. Every officer and every soldier available grabbed their guns and marched to the work and presumably the enemy was making just as strong preparations to stem the tide.

Yet so determined were these Alpini, so brave and so bent on pushing the enemy back off the territory that had been stolen from them in days gone by, that some of the patrols forced their way, 15 and 20 miles back into the enemy,s lines. To one who knows these peaks as I do it seemed an impossibility.

All prisoners, taken hereabouts, must be brought to this headquarters. Here they are questioned and all documents that they may have, are inspected. The first batch that arrived, late this afternoon, consisted of 7 men and a corporal. If you had seen them, you would have wondered how in Heavens name, they could have existed up in the snow, as long as they have. Their cloths hung in rags. Several had only parts of a uniform. Few had overcoats, their hair was long and ragged and they were anything but clean. You seldom see a beggar in America as ragged as they. When I gave them some cigarettes and cigars, they had many smiles for “Americana”. They had never seen an American uniform before and had no knowledge of any Americans in Italy. I made their guards line them up for a photograph and they looked as pleased as children.

Now 4 of these 8 men, were under 20 years of age, 3 were 21 and the corporal was 30. And the pity of it was, that when the examining Officer inspected their pocket=books, full of Post cards and pictures of their home folks and friends, some of the photos were of these same boys, some on football teams, some in family groups, all nicely dressed and at pretty homes. There were absolutely unrecognizable in their present condition. One of them autographed a piece of paper money that he had and gave it me. Another gave me a little military medal. Since then several batches have come in and now (at 11;p;m;) we have just had a phone message stating that others are on the way here.

Now the Austrians, the comrades of these prisoners, perhaps these very same men themselves, are the ones who have terrorized this War Zone for three years. They have perpetrated [pg. 3] every misdeed, they have treated with greatest cruelty all Italian prisoners they have mistreated the women and the old and youthful inhabitants of all Italian villages which they have taken, and yet, today, I have seen these Italian officers and soldiers, with that sympathy which no other Nation possess in like quantity, give to these prisoners comforts and eats and not one harsh word have I heard hurled at them. It is past understanding, when you have heard, as I have, what the Italian people of this War Zone have undergone during the past three years, from this enemy.

Could any one on earth, have aught but tender feelings for such a people.

My comrade and I have had many strenous times in these mountains since my last letter to you. We have carried over comfort and supplies for the American Red Cross to peaks, known the world over, to all mountain climbers, where the snow and ice is perpetual. One of these little outposts is nearly 13000 feet high and is the very highest trench of the Allied Army in the whole War Zone of Europe and one of the highest peaks in the Alps.

We have seen and crossed magnificient glaciers and we have gazed on snow clad mountain peaks, glistening in the sun, one after the other, as far as the eye could reach. From some of the sentinel;s posts we could see many miles into Austria and Switzerland. We have had the enemy, a sentinels, “pot” at us with rifle and machine gun and, tied to a rope alongside Alpini guides, we have scaled icy clefts where misstep meant a tragedy; yet when we would gain our objectives and see the look of appreciation upon the soldier,s faces for the comforts and supplies which we had brought them, we have always felt more than repaid and in our hearts was always that feeling of “doing so little” for these men who were “doing so much” for the Allies and humanity.

A few days ago, I had that honor of being recommended for the “Croce de Guerra”, the Italian Cross of War, I feel that this more than compensates me for all of the strenuous hours I have spent. It seems now that it will only be a matter of a few weeks or months before we all shall be coming home again, flushed with Victory.

With best wishes to all of you, I am,

Dear Folks

Enclose copy of letter here just written to an officer. Some of it is news to you. The Gruppa I am with just rec’d orders be ready move front so I may be in another Country in a day or so.

Looks like the finish real quick now. Think I am getting all your letters and certainly look forward to them. Don’t get over 1 copy out of 10 of Tusc[aloosa] Papers. Certainly sorry hear of Lester [S—?] death. I expect take 2 to 3 months get home after Peace. Maybe longer. Love to all. & Merry X’Mas

Hugo

Sam: might show this Mr Verner & F.M. & any other boys happen to see. Have sent Mr A Lerman [?] & HPL a copy in two of letters.

Sgt. Porter Rudolf Jr.

Porter Breckenridge Rudolf Jr. (1893-1948) of Illinois served in the 33rd Infantry Division, a National Guard unit, in the 108th Engineer Regiment. He had just turned 25 at the time of armistice; he had been in France since May of that year and would remain overseas until June 1919.

In a letter to his father, Porter Sr., of November 21, 1918, he addresses in detail what it was like at the front on the day of the armistice, presumably in northeastern France, near Verdun. He specifically mentions being a part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the last major Allied campaign of the war, which involved over 1 million American soldiers. He also mentions the recent arrival of his “kid” brother, Roy, a 22-year-old Corporal with the 304th Tank Brigade. Edna is their sister.

Especially pertinent parts of the letter are in bold. Click on any of the thumbnails to see a larger version.

France Nov. 21 1918

My Dear Dad.

This is quite a novel experience for me that is writing a letter to you personally. Of course all of my letters to mother are intended for you and the family as well as her on account of my having twice to write each on individually.

As you may know, the “stars and stripes”, the weekly paper of the A. E. F. has requested all men of the A. E. F. to write a Christmas letter to Dad and have it in the mail before the 24th of this month. As I consider myself a small cog in this [pg. 2] machine I take it that they mean me just as much as anyone else so here goes Dad and if you get half as much pleasure reading it as I have in writing it I know that the time was well spent.

To begin with Dad since this request was just published that great day which we have all been fighting and waiting for finally arrived when on this misty and foggy morning of Nov. 11 – 1918 at 11 o’clock hostilities ceased. I personally am very proud to say that on that final morning I was in the live and went thro’ an experience I shall never forget although being in other engagements which were a lot “better” for example “The Argonne”

Well, we left camp on the night of the 10th expecting to go over the top in ^the morning. Being in charge of a platoon our work as laid out to me was naturally more or less on my mind as we marched that dark night. We ^were delayed many times on the road by ammunition transports and other outfits going to the live also. We finally arrived at the shell-torn village (which was in the live) at 400 A.M. and according to orders expected to “hop the bags” at 5

At 5 there was no order and when at 6:30 there still [pg. 3] were no orders we were hoping against hope that the Armistice had been signed which would prevent anyone being killed on the final day which to us was “zero” in luck. However our guns were in operation and it seemed as though Fritz never sent over so many big shells and such a lot of gas as he did that night and morning. At 930 the Infantry went over but still we had no orders and we were still in the town dodging those damn shells. Then just a few minutes after 930 the order came [pg. 4] for our guns to cease firing. Buglars were sent out on the field and frantically blew “Recall” for the Infantry to come back. Such a feeling as passed thro’ us I cannot describe with pen and ink. The war was over although Fritz kept ^up a terrific shelling until 11 o’clock sharp when all guns were silenced, for all time I sincerely hope, because Dad while I wouldn’t sell my experience for millions still I had enough as they say over here, “We are fed-up on this war stuff”.

[pg. 5] We walked around that town in a daze after 11 o’clock fearing that we would wake up at any minute and find it all a horrible dream.

By the time darkness fell we had not received our orders to move back to camp so had to go back to our bed, a rock pile in a shattered railway station. However Dad we were a happy little platoon realizing that only accidents can keep us from seeing home and the loved ones again. No shells can now “bump us off” How different this night was from the many preceeding ones. Now we built a blazing big fire when in the morning shells were walling. There were fires all around us which over in Fritz’ live he was sending up all kind of his flares lighting the heavens and, what was no man’s land just a few hours before, in wonderful fashion.

The next morning Fritz was already on his way to the Rhine. Another Sgt. and myself walked over a couple of miles behind his lines [?] and talked and visited with the Jerry’s as though there never had been a war. I [?] believe if such a thing was possible that they were happier than [pg. 6] we were. They couldn’t shake hands with us fast enough. Well Dad I could write volumes tonight but will save some for that happy day when I get home.

Since the 11th I have not had time to write anyone because I have spent only one day in camp. However I did manage to send mother and also Ruth a “whiz-bang” (Field post card) telling you that I was safe and sound.

We have been on road work so the Armies of Occupation could move forwards.

We came back to camp today and according to [pg. 7] persistent rumors we will be one of the 1st Divs home.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I have seen the front for the last time. I think that in the next few days we will move back and start drilling in preparation to leaving for home.

If Roy is now over here he can call himself lucky because it will be nothing but a pleasure trip. He will probably stay in some seaport town until time to board ship again.

[pg. 8]I am very glad the kid had no time to see active service.

Well Dad I think I will bring this letter to a close hoping I haven’t bored you.

Wishing each and every one of you the merriest of all Christmas days I am

Your
Loving Son,

Porter

[signature of censor: John H. Chase, 2nd Lt. Engr.]

P. S. Pass on the Christmas Greetings to all of my friends and relatives. I may not have time to write them personally.

Po.

P. S. I am enclosing a Christmas Card for Ruth. Mother will know what to do with it. I didn’t seal it because I tho’t the base censor might want to look at it.

Po.

Other Armistice Accounts

Weir (first name unknown) served in a field hospital in France, as part of the 3rd Infantry Division, a Regular Army unit, in the Sanitary Train. It is a bit unclear who he is writing to. Based on the content of the three letters we have, “Mother” may be (1) his own mother, making little Genie his sister; (2) a wife who is mother to Genie, their child; or (3) an adult sister with a child named Genie, his niece.

  • In a letter to his family of November 6, he notes the November 4 armistice with Austria-Hungary and his hopes of a cessation of war with Germany as well, though he doubts it will be very soon. The handwritten addition to the typed message dates from Armistice Day itself. Weir is not a particularly careful typist; typos and missing words are from the original.
  • Read Weir’s letter in our digital repository

From the Valentine J. Oldshue papers, circa 1916

Alston Fitts (1867-1950) of Alabama, a doctor, served in the Army Medical Corps, at Camp Hospital 14, in Issoudun, France. He was 51 at the time of armistice; he had been in France since January of that year and would remain overseas until March 1919.

  • In a letter to his wife, Marie, of November 13, 1918, he shares mixed feelings, as during the celebrations he has heard about the death of someone back home. He also mentions logistical issues to be worked out in order to get him home when the time comes.
  • Read Dr. Fitts’s letter in our digital repository

Andrew Lewis Dawson (1895-1968) of Alabama served in the Army Medical Corps at Base Hospital 40, in Sarisbury Green, England, at a manor house called Sarisbury Court (also known as Holly Hill House). He was 23 at the time of armistice; he had been in England since the previous month and would remain overseas until April 1919.

  • In a letter to his mother, Margaret, of November 17, 1918, he discusses life at their hospital, away from the front. The brother he mentions is probably Eugene, who was around a decade younger and still at home. The quotation he gives at the outset is a paraphrase of lines from the poem “The Pessimist” by Benjamin Franklin King, circa 1894.
  • Read Cpl. Dawson’s letter in our digital repository

University Libraries Special Collections Announces LGBTQ Digital Exhibit and Digital Collection

University Libraries Special Collections announces the launch of a new digital exhibit, Empowering Voices, and a digital collection, the Alabama Forum, a major LGBTQ newspaper. University Libraries is pleased to hold the largest collection of Forums in Alabama, with issues dating from 1981-2002.

The websites for Empowering Voices and the Alabama Forum contain more than 5,000 pages of text, ephemera and photographs digitized for this project.

Documenting Black Literary Culture, 1926-1976

We recently published a new research guide called From Jim Crow to Black Power: African American History and Culture, 1877-1970 , which is designed to help researchers navigate our holdings on life during the post-Reconstruction, pre-Civil Rights era, as well as the ideas and cultural touchstones that marked the period. Please check it out and tell us what you think!

We have those materials because of the work of pioneering writers and intellectuals who began documenting what the white establishment sometimes forgot or dismissed. In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson championed the first national commemoration of African American history: Negro History Week. Between that time and the widespread celebration of Black History Month in 1976, there was a growing interest in chronicling and sharing all aspects of African American culture. Literature was a longstanding and especially accessible part of that narrative.

Below are 20 published collections focused on African American (then “Negro” or “Afro-American”) literature — from poetry, prose, and drama to critical and biographical works — all published in the fifty year period between the first Negro History Week and the national recognition of Black History Month. They are listed in chronological order and, where possible, some information is provided about the editor(s). The call number is also given, if you’d like to request the book in our reading room.

Front cover On Being Black, an anthology edited by Charles T. Davis and Daniel WaldenCullen, Countee. Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets. Harper & Bros., 1927. [Wade Hall Collection PS591.N4 C8]

  • Countee Cullen was a poet, and his traditional, romantic aesthetic drew from both black and white culture. (source: article at Poetry Foundation)

Johnson, James Weldon. The Book of American Negro Poetry: Chosen and Edited, with an Essay on the Negro’s Creative Genius. Harcourt, Brace, 1931. [Alabama Collection PS591.N4 J6 1931]

  • James Weldon Johnson was a writer, professor, and activist. He is perhaps best known for writing the lyrics to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and for the novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. He was also an executive secretary for the NAACP. (source: article at Poetry Foundation)

Watkins, Sylvestre Cornelius. Anthology of American Negro Literature. Modern Library, 1944. [Wade Hall Collection PS508.N3 W3]

Front cover of American Negro Poetry, an anthology edited by Arna BontempsGloster, Hugh M. Negro Voices in American Fiction. University of North Carolina Press, 1948. [Wade Hall Collection PS374.N4 G5]

Hughes, Langston, and Arna Bontemps. The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949. Doubleday, 1949. [Special Collections PN6109.7 .H8]

  • Langston Hughes was a writer in various genres, including fiction and non-fiction prose as well as drama. He is especially well-known among the general public for his accessible poetry. (source: article at Poetry Foundation)
  • Arna Bontemps is an often forgotten but important force in African American literature. He was perhaps most influential as an editor of collections like this one, and as a writer-historian. (source: article at Academy of American Poets)

Hughes, John Milton Charles. The Negro Novelist: A Discussion of the Writings of American Negro Novelists, 1940-1950. Citadel Press, 1953. [Wade Hall Collection PS374.N4 H8]

Front cover of American Negro Short Stories, an anthology edited by John Henrick Clarke

Clarke, John Henrik. American Negro Short Stories. Hill and Wang, 1966. [Alabama Collection PS647.A35 C52 1967x]

Hughes, Langston. The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers: An Anthology from 1899 to the Present. Little, Brown, 1967. [Wade Hall Collection PS647.N35 B47 1967]

Hill, Herbert. Anger, and Beyond: The Negro Writer in the United States. Perennial Library, 1968. [Wade Hall Collection PS153.N5 H5 1968]

  • Herbert Hill was a white labor leader in the NAACP and, later, an academic. He helped develop an African American studies department at the University of Wisconsin. (source: New York Times obituary)

Bontemps, Arna Wendell. American Negro Poetry. Hill and Wang, 1969. [Wade Hall Collection PS591.N4 B58 1969]

Front cover of Anger and Beyond, an anthology edited by Herbert Hill

Robinson, William Henry. Early Black American Poets: Selections with Biographical and Critical Introductions. W. C. Brown Co, 1969. [Rare Books Collection PS591.N4 R6 1969]

Davis, Charles T., and Daniel Walden. On Being Black: Writings by Afro-Americans from Frederick Douglass to the Present. Fawcett, 1970. [Wade Hall Collection PS508.N3 D3 1970]

  • Charles Twitchell Davis was an academic, the first African American to teach at Princeton and to receive tenure in the Yale University English department. (source: essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr.)

James, Charles L. From the Roots: Short Stories by Black Americans. Dodd, Mead, 1970. [Wade Hall Collection PE1122 .J34]

Wilentz, Ted, and Tom Weatherly. Natural Process: An Anthology of New Black Poetry. Hill and Wang, 1970. [Alabama Collection PS591.N4 N3 1970x]

Back cover of My Name Is Black, an anthology edited by Amanda Ambrose

Barksdale, Richard K., and Keneth Kinnamon. Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology. Macmillan, 1972. [Wade Hall Collection PS508.N3 B35]

King, Woodie, Jr. Black Short Story Anthology. Columbia University Press, 1972. [Alabama Collection PS647.A35 B5 1972x]

  • Woodie King is a theater director and producer, founder of Concept East Theatre in Detroit and New Federal Theatre in New York City. (source: bios at The History Makers and Black Past) His writing is usually about the theater industry — see his Black Drama Anthology (Columbia, 1972) in the Gorgas Library’s collection, PS628.N4 K5.

Long, Richard A., and Eugenia W. Collier. Afro-American Writing: An Anthology Of Prose And Poetry. New York University Press, 1972. [Wade Hall Collection PS508.N3 L6 v.1-2]

  • Back cover for The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, an anthology edited by Langston HughesRichard A. Long was an academic and public intellectual who founded the department of African American studies at Atlanta University. He also taught at Emory University. (source: ArtsATL profile)
  • Eugenia Williams Collier is a writer and critic, best known for her short story “Marigolds” (1969), for which she won the Gwendolyn Brooks Prize for Fiction from Negro Digest. (source: bio at The History Makers)

Ambrose, Amanda. My Name Is Black: An Anthology of Black Poets. Scholastic Book Services, 1974. [Wade Hall Collection PS508.N3 M95 1973x]

Hatch, James V. and Ted Shine. Black Theater, U.S.A.: Forty-Five Plays by Black Americans, 1847-1974. Free Press, 1974. [Wade Hall Collection PS628.N4 H3]

WWI Poster Art

Hoole Library is home to over 100 World War I posters — large and occasionally fragile, but still in beautiful color.

You can take a look at full-size facsimiles of some of them at Gorgas Library, as part of our exhibit For Home and Country: America’s Entry into the War to End All Wars.

You can now also find them online!

While there were undoubtedly more posters made for World War II, due to our longer and deeper involvement in that conflict, posters from the first “Great War” provide just as interesting a glimpse of the politics of the day, not to mention the art styles! According to the Library of Congress, “During World War I, the impact of the poster as a means of communication was greater than at any other time during history. The ability of posters to inspire, inform, and persuade combined with vibrant design trends in many of the participating countries to produce thousands of interesting visual works” (source).

Processing our posters was time-consuming. Most had long sides from 30-40 inches, some up to 60 inches, so they required two people to safely manipulate or move. We had to temporarily colonize a couple of large tables to use as work surfaces and order several custom boxes for archival storage. The posters then had to be arranged into series.

The desire to limit future handling — by us and by researchers — made digitization imperative. The digitization process, however, was also complicated by the posters’ size. The smaller ones could be captured with the mounted digital cameras we use in our regular digitization workflow, but the larger items had to be captured using a large scanner, work we had to outsource.

The results were worth the time and effort, though. Check out this sampling:

This poster for the Navy features of the work of illustrator James Montgomery Flagg, famous for his Uncle Sam “I Want YOU” poster, used in both WWI and WWII.

This poster by Belgium-born artist J. Paul Verrees was for the earliest version of the Air Force.

This poster for the U.S. Food Administration, illustrated by L. N. Britton, advises Americans about how to ration their diets.

This poster advertised the second of four Liberty Loans, beginning in October 1917; it would raise $3.8 million.

This poster for the Red Cross was designed by commercial artist William Henry “Haskell” Coffin.

This poster for the YMCA, by artist Gil Spear, promoted of the United War Work Campaign, a large, multi-organization effort to fund entertainment for soldiers.

This poster for the American Library Association features of the work of illustrator Charles Buckles Falls, showing his Art Nouveau influences.

If you’re looking for more ways to learn about WWI, there are other local exhibits to check out:

Old School Trick Photography

This post was written several weeks ago by Alissa Helms. She has since moved on from Digital Services, but we wanted to share one of her finds from the Perkins family photos. While she was digitizing the tail end of the collection, she found some trick photography slick enough to fool anyone not paying attention to detail — including those of us who thought we knew the collection pretty well.

Good luck in your new position, Alissa!

*

Portrait of an unidentified girl, hand-colored daguerreotype. Image credit: J. Garnier (ca. 1850) via George Eastman House Still Photograph Archive on Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of an unidentified girl, hand-colored daguerreotype (ca. 1850), J. Garnier, via George Eastman House Still Photograph Archive

While most people today know about photo manipulation thanks to digital image software tools like Adobe Photoshop, photographic images have been subject to modifications nearly since the birth of photography itself in the early 19th century. Most adjustments made to photos then were meant to improve the quality the image and make it appear truer to life. Other manipulations were meant to trick the viewer or augment reality in some way.

 

One popular early photo alteration technique from the mid-19th century was colorizing black and white daguerreotype and carte de visite photographs by a process called hand-tinting. Daguerreotypes, which are images made on a silver-plated copper, were invented in 1839 and were commercially popular during the Civil War and the preceding decades. Here is an example of a painted daguerreotype.

Albumen photographic print types such as Cartes de visite and cabinet cards followed the daguerreotype and were popular in the latter half of the 19th century. Unlike daguerreotypes, these photographs were printed on a paper base and had a more stable surface. There are a few examples of colorized prints in our collections, most of them employing only 1 -3 colors. (Photographs from the Southern Cartes de Visite Collection at the A. S. Williams III American Collection.)

While adding color to monochromatic photographs can be seen as an improvement, something to enhance and make the image more life-like, other photo manipulations were meant to deceive and trick the eye rather than perfect the image. These special effect methods included distorted images, pinhole photography, mirror portraits, “magic vignettes,” artificial mirages, ghosts and spirit photography, doubles, silhouettes, and decapitated head shots.

Doubles, or doubling, was an extremely popular and relatively easy to produce photo trick. These photographs featured two or more images a single person, achieved through a double exposure on a negative. There were a number of techniques that could be employed to create the effect – some more complicated than others – and many photography magazines and manuals included instructions on how to do it.

Example of doubling effect, from H. G. Reading’s Photographic Amusements (1897), via Internet Archive

The oldest known instructions appear in the American Handbook of the Daguerreotype by S. D. Humphrey, first published in 1853 (online text version at Project Gutenberg), and, interestingly, is still being published. Trick Photography, published in 1906 (digitized version at Internet Archive), detailed a number of photo manipulation techniques, including doubling. The author describes how the effect works, and the book features an illustration of a box that could help achieve the trick. Photographic Amusements, published in 1897 (digitized version at Internet Archive), also describes how many photographic tricks of the day could be done for the bargain price of one dollar!

We have a few of these interesting manipulated photographs in our special collections. The Perkins family, once before featured in our blog, was a Tuscaloosa family who documented their lives with a camera in the late 1800s. Edwin, the oldest son of Julian and Mamie Perkins, had an apparent passion for photography and had the know-how to try out a few of the trick shots that were popular at the time. In the photographs below, he doubles himself, his brother Brook, and his cousin J. R. Kennedy, Jr. (Photographs from the Perkins family photo collection at W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library.)

“Perkins sons,” Edwin and Brook, and Brook and Edwin (ca. 1895) [http://purl.lib.ua.edu/46582]

“Serenade,” Edwin and J. R. Kennedy, and Edwin and J. R. Kennedy (ca. 1895) [http://purl.lib.ua.edu/157117]

“Face in the air,” Edwin Perkins x 2 (ca. 1895) [http://purl.lib.ua.edu/46531]

“Soar up (soap) on top,” Edwin Perkins x 2 (ca. 1895) [http://purl.lib.ua.edu/157142]


These photographic manipulations are practices that continue today. Though the technology involved is quite different, trick photography is still amusing. The Bronx Documentary Center has the online exhibit Altered Images that chronicles the history of manipulated images in American culture. The adage “the camera does not lie,” it seems, has never actually been true.

Resources:

Native American History Resources

The Division of Special Collections has some interesting resources related to the culture and history of local Native American tribes, both in the Williams Collection and at Hoole Library. For Native American Heritage Month, we’d like to share a few pertinent manuscript collections.

Anthropological Research

Alabama Anthropological Society Records (W.0059): This collection contains a variety of materials, primarily from the early part of the twentieth century, of the Alabama Anthropological Society. A significant portion of the collection is made up of correspondence (incoming and outgoing) of Peter Brannon, founding member and the Society’s second president. There are also several papers or reports on Indian relics, as well as other anthropological interests. There is also a photo album containing photographs and newspaper clippings documenting Alabama Anthropological Society field trips from 1920-1922. The photographs were taken at archaeological sites in Dallas County, Macon County, and Elmore County. Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/95237

Photo of an archaeological dig, from the

Photo of an archaeological dig, from the David DeJarnette Papers

David DeJarnette Papers (MSS.0421): This collection contains photographs related to archaeology and geology, including photos of the Stanfield-Worley Bluff Shelter dig. There is correspondence to DeJarnette when he served as editor-in-chief for the Journal of Alabama Archaeology as well as personal correspondence related to information on the Native Americans that are associated with Moundville, Alabama. This collection also contains a draft of his MA thesis. Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/140622

Peter Brannon Papers (W.0009): Includes a diary of an archaeological trip to Georgia in 1905. Went to Brunswick, St. Simon’s Island, and Cumberland Islands. Also includes a “Catalog of his Indian Relic Collection.” Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/90702

Other Research

James F. Doster Papers (MSS.0447): The James F. Doster papers include materials this Tuscaloosa native and history professor at The University of Alabama created and collected. As a consultant for the Creek Nation on claims with the Indian Claims Commission, Doster conducted research in archival repositories in the Americas, England, and Spain. Doster’s research helped substantiate their case against the government by documenting the Creek Nation’s history. His collection therefore offers rich resources on the history of the Deep South in general and Alabama and the Creeks specifically. Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/140613

Page from the notebook of R. D. Spratt, from the

Partial notebook page from Notes on the Choctaw Indians, Their Language, etc.

Notes on the Choctaw Indians, Their Language, Etc. (MSS.0298): The collection contains a late nineteenth century ledger with handwritten notes by R. D. Spratt, regarding the history, legends, significant members, and language of the Choctaw Indians. A significant portion of the book deals with the Choctaw language. The book also contains two typewritten pages of information about the Choctaw. Finding aid and digitized content: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/44928

Adrien Rouquette Papers (MSS.1212): Contains a nineteenth century manuscript French/Choctaw dictionary titled Vocabulaire Choctaw (lac Pontchartrain) Louisiane, a photograph of Father Roquette’s chapel, and two clippings from newspapers. Finding aid and digitized content: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/18557

Virginia J. Hanson Papers (W.0018): Includes Research notes and correspondence written between 1935-1937 about African American and Native American folklore for her thesis. These stories are collected in three research binders titled “Negro Lore,” “Indian Lore,” and “Traditional Stories of Slaves and Civil War.” Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/95253

D. Barron Research on Native Americans (W.0088): Contains J.D. Barron’s research materials and correspondence related to Alabama place names with roots in Native American languages. Dates from 1887-1906. Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/94171

Legal

George Strother Gaines Paper (MSS.0551): Deals with Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, including treaties, from 1810 to 1840. Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/84157

Legal documents from the

Legal document from the Creek Indian Land Sales Collection

Creek Indian Land Sales Collection (MSS.0371): The collection contains six documents pertaining to the sale of lands belonging to Ko Yoo Quae, Alpetter Hadjo, Co Choc O Nee, Coch Che Yo Ho Lo, and Pelis-hart-ke–all Creek Indians living in Alabama–between 1833 and 1841. Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/19064

John Forbes and Company Land Records (W.0074): Contains three journals recording land sales and transfers of Lanton, Leslie, and Company (later John Forbes and Company) from 1799 to 1853. The company acquired approximately three million acres of land in what is now Alabama and Mississippi after Native American tribes were pressured to cede lands. Indian indebtedness to the Panton, Leslie, and Company resulted in a triangular scheme negotiated by the company and the US Government whereby Native Americans would cede lands to the United States for cash, the Indians would use the cash to satisfy their debts, and the company would release their claims against the Indians. Finding aid: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/95255

Personal Accounts

Partial page from the Jesse Griffin letter

Partial page from the Jesse Griffin Letter

Jesse Griffin Letter (MSS.0597): The collection contains a letter dated 5 September 1813, from St. Stephens, Alabama, to his parents in which Griffin states that he has traveled fifty miles in flight from Indians, who killed more than 400 people in five days. On 30 August 1813, Creek Indians under the leadership of William Weatherford, also known as Red Eagle, attacked white settlers at Fort Mims near the convergence of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, killing approximately 500 people. Although Griffin and his family survived, they lost their crops, livestock, and most of their household goods. This attack was part of the Creek Indian War that lasted from 1813-1814. Finding aid and digitized item: http://purl.lib.ua.edu/19002

More?

For a complete list, including published items, contact Chris Sawula at the Williams Collection or Kate Matheny at Hoole Library.

The Power of Facsimiles, part 1

Facsimiles — exact copies — of historical documents provide a way to access details of the original without having to actually possess it.

Some are of printed items for which certain versions are now rare, or for which the original publishing context — from material details to accompanying images — is often lost. Here, the interest may be in comparing these early versions to later or plainer representations.

Others are of unique handwritten manuscripts such as drafts of works that were later published. There, the interest is often in the author’s writing and revising process.

In this three-part series, we explore some of the facsimiles held by the Division of Special Collections. Part 1 takes a look at literary facsimiles at Hoole Library.

Dante Alighieri, 14th c.

Il Codice trivulziano 1080 della Divina commedia, Rare Books Collection Oversize Z1152.D2.T7

A 1921 reproduction of the work, composed in the early 14th century, made from the copy held in the personal library of Prince Luigi Alberigo Trivulzio.

William Shakespeare, 17th c.

Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, & tragedies: being a reproduction in facsimile of the first folio edition, Rare Books Collection PR2751.A15 1902

A 1902 reproduction of the first folio of 1623, made from the Chatsworth copy.

John Milton, 17th c.

Facsimile of the manuscript of Milton’s minor poems, Rare Books Collection Oversize PR3552.A1

An 1899 reproduction of several poems, composed in the 1630s and 1640s, made from the manuscript held by the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, UK. Unbound. Accompanied by the text in print, on separate pages.

William Blake, 18th c.

Songs of innocence and of experience, Rare Books Collection PR4144.S6 1967

A 1967 reproduction of the work, originally published in 1794. Accompanied by textual representation, on facing or following pages.

Percy Shelley, 19th c.

Note books of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Rare Books Collection PR5436.F6 1911a

A 1911 textual representation of drafts and notes, dating from the early 19th c., held in the personal library of William K. Bixby. Accompanied by some facsimiles of the original.

D. H. Lawrence, 20th c.

Sons and lovers: a facsimile of the manuscript, Rare Books Collection Oversize PR6023.A93 S6 1977

A 1977 reproduction of the manuscript, originally published in 1913.

James Joyce, 20th c.

Ulysses: a facsimile of the manuscript, Rare Books Collection PR6019lO9 U482 1975

A 1975 reproduction of the manuscript, held by the Rosenbach Foundation (Philadelphia), originally published in 1922. In three volumes.

Marianne Moore, 20th c.

A-quiver with significance: Marianne Moore, 1932-1936, Alabama Collection PS3525.O5616 A77 2008

A 2008 reproduction of The Pangolin and Other Verse as well as other poems from the period, written 1932-1936.

George Orwell, 20th c.

Nineteen eighty-four: the facsimile of the extant manuscript, Rare Books Collection Oversize PR6029.R8 N525 1984x

A 1984 reproduction of the manuscript, originally published in 1949. Accompanied by textual representation, on facing pages.

Scripture in Miniature

View of miniature Bible published by Frederick A. Stokes in New York in 189?, with item closed, inside its metal carrying caseIt’s not surprising that one of the best selling books in the world has been produced in miniature form. Still, I didn’t expect to stumble across these two turn-of-the-century specimens today. I was on a hunt in an artifacts box for something completely different (and far less interesting!) when they caught my eye.

Throughout this post, click on any image to see a larger version. For more from our collections, see our tag for Miniature Books.

Pretty Small

The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments. Glasgow: David Bryce and Son, 1901.

This Bible, 1.75 x 1.25 inches, is attached by chain to a miniature lectern, apparently by the publishers themselves.

Closeup of miniature Bible, published in Glasgow by David Bryce in 1901, attached to miniature lectern by a chain

It is charming in this context, but the inside of the book is even more remarkable.

Title page of miniature Bible, published in Glasgow by David Bryce in 1901, attached to miniature lectern by a chain

Not only does it contain the expected scripture, which can be read (with difficulty) with a magnifying glass, but it also features illustrations of Bible people and scenes.

The printer, David Bryce, was a well-known publisher of miniatures, and his books were sold in the U.S. under the imprint of Frederick A. Stokes, such as the example below.

Really Small

The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 189?

This book is only .625 x .75 inches, smaller than a postage stamp. Here it is with a pencil, for comparison.

Pages from a miniature Bible published by Frederick A. Stokes in New York in 189? , with pencil eraser for size comparison

It comes in a metal locket-style carrying case smaller than a box of Tic Tacs, at 1.125 x 1.375 inches.

View of miniature Bible published by Frederick A. Stokes in New York in 189?, with item inside its metal carrying case

The ornamental case reads Midget-Book with magnifier window. Though this built-in magnifier isn’t enough to make the book legible, the print quality is good enough to allow us to read much of the text via a high quality scan.

Pages from a miniature Bible published by Frederick A. Stokes in New York in 189?

Looking at the item at 1200 DPI, we also found some helpful explanatory text opposite the title page:

The Publishers beg to thank the Oxford University Press for enabling them to produce in this tiny form a facsimile of their Pica 16mo New Testament, printed upon the very thinnest Oxford India paper ever made.

View of miniature Bible published by Frederick A. Stokes in New York in 189?, with item open inside its metal carrying case

If the original was 16mo or sixteenmo (or sextodecimo), it was already fairly small, though not “miniature,” at 4 x 6.75 inches.

Some information for this post was gleaned from the Guide to the Early Miniature Books Collection, 1727-1925, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries (link). They appear to have the same Bryce Bible with stand, as well as a metal case Qur’an that is probably very similar to the tiny New Testament. (At the National Library of Scotland website, check out the pages on their metal case Bryce Qur’an as well as their metal case Bryce New Testament.)

Men of Color in the 19th Century

African Americans occupied a wider variety of spaces in the social order of 19th century America than you may realize. Because of the horrors of slavery, there are an uncountable number who, at least individually, are all but erased from the historical record but whose collective presence is felt most strongly. But there are other black lives that sometimes did make a more public mark but have until recently been less comprehensively examined: those of the free and the freed, especially before and during the Civil War and during Reconstruction.

Today, we focus specifically on just seven examples of men of color living in the 19th century, to see how and to what extent their diverse social positions and individual stories are revealed in our collections. Unfortunately, there are sometimes more questions than answers.

William, laborer, enslaved

Encountered in the collection Jacob Ramser Receipt (MSS.1695)

portion of receipt from Jacob Ramser for sale of a slave named William, 1852This collection consists of a receipt by Ramser acknowledging the payment by Alpheus Baker of $1,000 for a male slave named William, aged about 20, whom Ramser warrants to be of sound mind and body, “except that three of the toes of his right foot have been partially cut off.” The transaction was witnessed by J. M. Buford and E. S. B. Fort.

William must have been a strong young man and a good laborer to have commanded such a high price. One wonders how and when his toes were mutilated, if Ramser’s use of the passive voice (“have been partially cut off”) is because he did not know or because he wanted to distance himself from his own actions.

Horace King, architect and builder, enslaved then freed

Materials found in the collection Robert Jemison Jr. papers (MSS.0753)

Portion of a letter from Horace King to Robert Jemison, 1864Horace King was technically a slave, and while that technicality matters, it also doesn’t quite capture the reality of his life. King learned to build bridges from his owner, John Godwin, and eventually the two formed something of a partnership such that he was able to travel on his own to take on projects across the South. He was apparently the stronger engineer and craftsman; his master handled the business side of things. He was freed in the 1840s, and he continued to ply his trade and also had a part in the Reconstruction government of the state. (Read more about him in the Encyclopedia of Alabama or the New Georgia Encyclopedia.)

A note on his connection to the Jemison papers: As a major player in pre-war Tuscaloosa, Robert Jemison was in a position to undertake serious improvements to the town’s infrastructure, including commissioning a bridge to be built over the Black Warrior River. Although in the end King was not chosen for the job, Jemison was keen to keep ties with him for future projects, including the construction of a bridge in Columbus, Mississippi, which is why the two were in correspondence over the course of several years.

Cornelius, enslaved then freed

Encountered in the collection Robert B. McAfee Letter of Emancipation (MSS.1698)

Portion of a statement from Robert McAfee freeing a slave named Cornelius, 1813This collection consists of a letter by McAfee dated March 2, 1813, freeing a slave named Cornelius “from all claims from me & my heirs and he is hence forth to be & act as a free man.” The letter was witnessed by James Campbell; on the obverse annotation states that it was recorded at the May sitting of the Mercer County Court, attested by John Jethen. (The state is uncertain; there is a Mercer County is Illinois, New Jersey, and Ohio.)

One wonders what exactly Cornelius did for McAfee and why McAfee wanted to free him. Was Cornelius the exception, or was it McAfee’s habit to do this? More importantly, did Cornelius know this was coming (was he working toward it?) or was it a surprise? And how did he feel?

Solomon Perteet, builder and businessman, free

Reflected in the collection Solomon and Lucinda Perteet papers (MSS.1129). (The image below is from the Jemison papers, MSS.0753.)

Portion of a summons relating to a debt owed to the estate of Solomon Perteet, 1867

Perteet was born free in Georgia, the son of a white woman from a modest slaveowning family and presumably one of her slaves. He moved to Tuscaloosa in the early 1800s, where he gained prominence in the community as a craftsman and property owner. He purchased his wife, Lucinda, and her child in order to free them, and he apparently did the same for several other enslaved African Americans. (Read more about him at the Tuscaloosa Area Virtual Museum.)

The collection includes receipts and legal papers, mostly pertaining to Lucinda as she handled his estate and lived on after him.

John Smith, sailor, presumed to be free

Encountered in the collection Five certificates attesting to the service of African American sailors during the Civil War (MSS.4149)

A portion of an affidavit attesting to the Civil War service of John Smith, 1869The affidavits in this collection confirm the service of African American sailors during the Civil War. In them, white citizens of Massachusetts in good standing, swore under oath that the black person named in the document served aboard the U.S. ship listed in the capacity stated. John Smith was on the U.S.S. Potomac from August 1861 to April 1862, and his comrades from the U.S.S. Kingfisher attested to that fact.

Smith’s name is so generic as to suggest it might be a pseudonym or a dodge to avoid giving his legal name. If this is true, one wonders why he would do that — to hide from something or to restart his life afresh, or perhaps both?  We don’t know where he was born, so we don’t know if he was always free or simply freed or emancipated by the time he served. What’s striking is that the system still required white people to vouch for him. These men did, however, which shows their recognition of his role in the war effort alongside them.

Chauncey Leonard, chaplain, free

In the collection Chauncey Leonard letter (MSS.4148)

Envelope from a letter sent by Chaplain Chauncey Leonard during the Civil WarChauncey Leonard was one of only fourteen African American chaplains in the U. S. Army during the Civil War. He served in the L’Ouverture Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. The L’Ouverture Hospital opened in February 1864 to serve as the hospital for African American troops and contraband civilians (i.e., escaped and freed slaves). It was set up outside the divisional structure of the other military hospitals in Alexandria. Chauncey Leonard opened a school for the soldiers at L’Ouverture that was well attended.

The collection contains a letter from Leonard to C. T. Beach, stating that Mr. Beach’s letter to his son Peter had been received and read. Leonard also thanked Mr. Beach for the money used to pay an assistant teacher in the hospital’s school.

Jeremiah Haralson, politician, enslaved but emancipated

In the collection Jere Haralson letter (MSS.0625)

Portion of a letter from Alabama State Rep. Jeremiah Haralson, 1876Jeremiah Haralson, born on a plantation in 1846 near Columbus, Georgia, was raised as a slave. After emancipation, he taught himself to read and write. He moved to Alabama, where he served as the first black member of the State House of Representatives in 1870. He served in the state senate in 1872 and in the U.S. Congress from the 44th district from 1875 to 1877. At other points in his life, he was a farmer, a coal miner, and perhaps a minister. (Read more about him in the Encyclopedia of Alabama, or about his career at the U.S. House of Representatives archive.)

The collection contains a letter written in 1876 by Rep. Haralson to the United States Centennial Commission in Philadelphia, requesting an additional invitation for his wife to attend the opening of the Centennial International Exhibition of Industry.

How to Shoot an American Quilt

View of a quilt on a quilt frame, seen from behind a camera tripod.

Our makeshift photography studio

When Digital Services was asked to provide images for an upcoming book on longtime donor Wade Hall’s amazing array of archival collections, most of the requests were fairly standard: book covers, documents, and photos. Even the occasional 8-Track box or daguerreotype wasn’t all that far afield from the usual digitization lab fare. What was totally out of our realm of experience, though, was the quilts.

A couple of weeks ago, Jeremiah and Claire temporarily turned the office into a photo studio in order to capture images of seven very different pieces from the the Wade Hall and Gregg Swem American Quilts Collection. Jeremiah is our digital photography guru and Claire is herself a quilter, so they made a good team. Here’s what they reported about the quilts themselves and the process they used to shoot them.

The Quilts

As in the case of many Wade Hall collections, we don’t have a clear provenance for most of these items, but a lot can be deduced by examining them — if you know what you’re looking at. Luckily, Claire does!

Woman straightening woven blanket on quilt frame.

Claire at work

Red and cream woven blanket, closeup

Woven pattern, with visible seam between pieces

Technically, all seven blankets they photographed aren’t strictly quilts. Two are woven textiles. The one in red and cream checkerboards and stripes (left) was made on a small loom, probably at someone’s home. Claire pointed out that you can see where multiple strips of the woven material were sewn together to create the full blanket.

Another woven blanket (in salmon, blue, and teal, above) was apparently made on a larger loom, given that it isn’t pieced from strips. It may not have been super mass manufactured, though. One corner of the blanket shows a name and location, maybe that of the weaver or the intended recipient, suggesting that it was done on commission, perhaps even locally to its owner.

Red and white applique quilt

Applique quilt

The other five blankets are definitely quilts. What makes them different? According to Quilting-in-America.com, a quilt is “a textile sandwich consisting of two pieces of fabric with a filling between them. The upper layer, or top, is decorative. The bottom, or backing, is usually, but not always, rather plain. The filling, or batting, provides the warmth and loft” (source). That top generally consists of smaller pieces that have been sewn together.

However, the first one they shot, in red and white (right), employs a lot of applique. This is a technique where smaller pieces of fabric are sewn onto a large piece of fabric, rather than cobbled together to form the top. It’s easy to see that the red has been done this way, but if you look closely, there are also white elements appliqued to the white background.

Closeup of crazy quilt, greens and blues, with red ties

Tied crazy quilt

Two of the blankets are crazy quilts, so called because they are pieced together from irregular scraps and can look rather chaotic, a mix of colors, textures, and shapes. One is done in satins and silks, and it has a dagged edge, resembling the pointed or leaf-shaped edge you would be most likely to see in medieval costumes.

While most of the quilts they photographed were quilted in the typical manner, with lines of stitches holding together the top, batting, and backing, one of the crazy quilts (left) is tied. In tied quilting, the simplest way of holding the layers together, yarn or thread is pulled through at intervals and knotted. In the case of this particular quilt, the ties are bright red, so Claire said they were likely meant to be decorative, not just functional.

Closeup of white, yellow, and red "names" quilt, seen folded on top of two crazy quilts

Embroidered name quilt

The tied crazy quilt also features embroidery, not a quilting technique so much as a general way of using ornamental stitches to add decoration to fabric, in this case the quilt top. Embroidery is used on several of the blankets, but it’s used to particularly striking effect in the hand quilted yellow and white name quilt (right). It is made of 30 large squares, nearly identical except that each has a different set of names embroidered into it. This may indicate they were done by several different people and combined into one blanket. After all, quilting has traditionally been a type of communal work, with many hands contributing to a finished product.

Closeup of Halloween quilt label

Halloween quilt label

Even in this day and age, when there’s not the same desperate necessity of shared labor, quilters tend to be community oriented. One of the most well-known American quilting communities is Gees Bend, in Wilcox County, Alabama. Its roots go back generations. A modern Gees Bend quilt with a Halloween motif (left) was among the pieces they photographed. Like most quilts, it has a label, in this case indicating not only the maker’s name but also additional information about where it came from and who it’s for. For more on this quilt, check out a classic post from our sister blog, Cool@Hoole.

The Photo Shoot

While Jeremiah has had to take down the mounted camera and use it to shoot framed objects, he’s never captured any of the collections’ textiles. Fortunately, the technical aspects of the process were relatively straightforward. The bigger challenge was often in wrangling the quilts themselves.

View of a quilt on a quilt frame, seen from over the shoulder of a man behind a camera tripod.

Jeremiah at work

The setup was deceptively simple: each blanket was draped over a borrowed quilt frame and shot against a black drop cloth. One of our cameras, a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, got a vacation from its usual downward-facing mounting and was set up on a tripod. Traveling along with it were the lights, which had to be rearranged quite a bit to get the right effect.

To know how to present each quilt — whether as a full piece or to focus on some component like a motif, edge, or label — we needed to know why it was chosen. After consulting the book’s rough draft, Jeremiah and Claire worked out what would make the most sense to illustrate the writer’s ideas. Still, there were judgment calls. Old textiles can be stained or have holes. Does one photograph the cleanest area or the most representative? Sometimes, those aren’t the same thing. Or take this woven piece:

Which is the “right” side — with the cream color as the background, or with the cream color as the contrast? In the end, they photographed it both ways.

Closeup of "dagged" edge quilt, yellow, maroon, and blue, in shiny satin fabric

Shiny crazy quilt with dagged edge

There were only a few technical challenges. The satin and silk crazy quilt (left) was difficult to properly light because it was so shiny, with each fabric piece picking up and reflecting light. Without some intervention, this shine added up to a very bright image. To combat this, Jeremiah adjusted the polarizing filter on the lens to block out the light coming from certain directions, bringing the overall image into a proper exposure.

Halloween quilt with bright orange fabric

Bright orange Halloween quilt

The Halloween quilt (right) was also challenging, but for a different reason. Something about that particular tone of bright orange was outside of the camera sensor’s comfort zone. For the wide shot of the blanket, Jeremiah had to make a few adjustments in Photoshop to get things under control. For the closeup shot, they were able to use one of our everyday mounted camera setups. The Canon EOS 6D’s sensor apparently doesn’t mind that shade of orange.

Good Results, Sore Muscles

On the whole, the process was pretty successful, if not a bit tiring. Jeremiah admitted that the height of the quilt frame was made for display, not for photography, so the tripod — and the photographer! — had to be set rather low in order to keep things centered and level. Claire reported that quilts are a lot heavier than they look, especially when you have to handle them all day and sometimes lift them over your head!

A woman and man holding opposite sides of a red and white applique quilt

Expert quilt wranglers!