Portland Museum of Art

Portland, Maine

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Recollected Images: Chansonetta Stanley Emmons

March 18, 2000-May 21, 2000


"Recollected Images: Chansonetta Stanley Emmons" is on view at the Portland Museum of Art March 18 through May 21, 2000. Celebrating the remarkable artistic achievements of early 20th-century photographer and Maine native Chansonetta Stanley Emmons (1858-1937), this exhibition of works from the Museum's collection will coincide with Women's History Month. One of the few women of this time to establish a career in photography, Emmons is known for her touching scenes of rural Maine life, evocative landscapes, and incisive travel photographs. Selections from all of these subjects in black-and-white prints and original hand-colored glass slides, as well as a 1900 scrapbook, will be on view in Recollected Images, focusing on the reflective nature of the artist's photographs and her interest in memory and the passage of time. (left: Portrait of Herself, By Herself (self-portrait with camera), 1904, gelatin silver print)

Born in Kingfield, Maine, the young Chansonetta became interested in photography after her enterprising older brothers F. E. and F. O. Stanley invented a new method for dry-plate printing in 1883 (they also collaborated on the early automobile the Stanley Steamer). After her husband's death in 1898 she increasingly relied upon photography as a means of emotional and financial support. Being both a woman and a photographer at a time when being either placed one somewhat outside the accepted parameters of the art world, Emmons was obliged to be resourceful when it came to fashioning a career. Although her brothers by this time millionaires thanks to their inventions would provide assistance throughout her life, Emmons's independent spirit drove her to participate in numerous competitions and camera club exhibitions throughout the Northeast, and in the 1920s to initiate a series of successful lectures which featured her best photographs reproduced in hand-colored glass lantern slides. (left: Apple Blossoms, 1904, gelatin silver print, 4 5/8 x 6 9/16 inches, Museum purchase with support from the Photography Fund with the Benefit of the Collection, 1996.24.3, photo by Melville McLean; right: Harvest Time, 1920s, gelatin silver print, 6 1/2 x 4 9/16 inches, Museum purchase with support from the Photography Fund with the Benefit of the Collection, 1996.24.33, photo by Melville McLean)

Shelling Corn is one of those images, probably first printed as part of the 1900 photo album and later reworked as both a slide and an oil painting (one of her few known to exist), all of which are on view in this exhibition. Typical of the rustic genre scenes for which Emmons would become best known, Shelling Corn is a poignant look back at rural America as the 19th century gave way to the 20th. By carefully selecting and posing her sitter as well as his environment, Emmons fashioned an image that alludes to an earlier time, thus inspiring nostalgia for a way of life in eclipse. Emmons's concern for elegantly and painstakingly composed images allies her with the avant-garde ideas of "pictorialist" photography, which sought to apply the aesthetic characteristics of painting to the new art form, thus maximizing its emotional and visual effects. This is particularly true of her rarely-seen, intimate, and elegant studies of nature, such as Spider Web (n.d.). Highlighting the spider's handiwork as well as the photographer's, this image may be read as an evocative metaphor for the feminine creative impulse. (left: Shelling Corn from the album Glimpses of the Summer for Christmas 1900, gelatin silver print, Museum purchase with support from the Photography Fund with the Benefit of the Collection, photo by Melville McLean; right: Spider Web, n.d., gelatin silver print, 6 15/16 x 4 7/8 inches, Museum purchase with support from the Photography Fund with the Benefit of the Collection, 1996.24.2, photo by Melville McLean)

A gallery guide detailing the wide scope of Emmons's photographic output will be available in the exhibition. The publication will also include complete documentation of all the artist's works in the permanent collection of the Portland Museum of Art. Be sure to take advantage of this rare opportunity to learn more about this engaging artist, about photography at the turn of the century, and about the museum's collection.

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