Exhibit at Pattee Library examines memorial photography

September 02, 2011

A new exhibition, opening Sept. 6 in the B. and H. Henisch Photo-History Exhibition Room (Room 201A Pattee Library), explores some of the ways in which photographs have been used to help us remember the dead. “Something to Remember You By: Memorial Photography” will include a variety of photographic processes from the 19th century to the present, from daguerreotype cases illustrated with death themes to online funeral memorials.

The exhibition draws from the holdings of the B. and H. Henisch Photo-History Collection and the Jay Ruby Collection on the Photographic Representation of Death, both housed in the Special Collections Library at Penn State. Among the highlights of the display will be examples of post-mortem daguerreotypes and black-bordered cartes-de-visite. In the 1860s, families who could afford the cost would send carte images of marriages, children, and the deceased to their families and acquaintances. Unlike the post-mortem or casket image, memorial photographs displayed the deceased while still alive.

By the 1890s, companies like H. F. Wendell (“The Largest Memorial House on Earth”) of Leipsic, Ohio, paid women all over the U.S. one cent each to clip obituaries from their local newspapers and send them to Wendell, who in turn produced memorial cards on speculation and sent a sample to the families. Included in the exhibition will be rare catalogs and advertising literature from Wendell. There also will be examples of porcelain roundels, popular in the early 20th century, designed to be placed in a stand for the living room mantel or bookcase.

The selection of materials was made by guest curator Jay Ruby, emeritus professor of anthropology and former director of the graduate program in the anthropology at Temple University. He has been exploring the relationship of visual communication between cultures and pictures for more than thirty years and is the author of numerous articles and books, including "Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America" (MIT Press, 1995); and "The World of Francis Cooper: Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania Photographer" (Penn State Press, 1999). He is co-editor of the forthcoming "Made to Be Seen: Historical Perspectives on Visual Anthropology," to be published by the University of Chicago Press.

A related gallery talk by Jay Ruby, “Something to Remember You By: Memorial Photography,” will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 6, in the Foster Auditorium (Room 102 Paterno Library). Ruby will examine photographic memorials from the beginnings of photography to the memorials associated with the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. The presentation also will be available for viewing through MediaSite Live at http://www.libraries.psu.edu/mtss/ online -- no login is required.

The exhibition will run through Jan. 6. The B. and H. Henisch Photo-History Collection Exhibition Room is part of the Eberly Family Special Collections Library and contains a display area for both permanent and changing exhibitions. It is open during the library's hours of operation.

For further information, contact Sandra Stelts, curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts in the Eberly Family Special Collections Library at Penn State, at 814-863-5388 or sks5@psu.edu, or visit http://www.libraries.psu.edu/speccolls/ online.

  • The collection includes advertising literature from the 1890s.

    IMAGE: B. and H. Henisch Photo-History Collection
Last Updated September 06, 2011