Friday, October 17, 2014

Sepia Saturday: Portraits on Glass

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features a hand-colorized photograph of a street artisan.  The process of applying watercolors, pastels, or other paints and dyes to a black and white photo was very popular before the invention of color-photography.  My great-grandparents certainly kept up with the trends by making sure their children sat for a special photo that then was colorized. 


Josy Davis (1901-1903) and Orvin Davis (1899-1963)  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Josy Davis and Orvin Davis
probably 1903

This portrait of my maternal grandfather Orvin Davis and his younger sister Josy held a spot on my grandparents’ fireplace mantel for years.  The picture is on a 3”x4” piece of white glass.  I have been unable to determine if such glass portraits had a special name, but the hand-colorizing is obvious since I also have the corresponding sepia photo.

Josy Davis (1901-1903) and Orvin Davis (1899-1963)  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com















Violetta Davis (1904-1989) and Velma Davis (1908-1968)  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Left:  Violetta Davis Ryan
Right:  Velma Davis Woodring

Portraits of my grandfather’s other sisters have found their way into my possession too.  I used to imagine that my great-grandmother Mary Frances Jollett Davis had organized a big day at the photography studio with her children, but it dawned on me that the children all seem to be the same age.  Perhaps Walter and Mary Frances decided “Age 2” (or thereabouts) was the perfect age for a special portrait session.  It also looks like the three girls are wearing the same dress. 

When my sister and I cleaned out our parents’ home, another special portrait emerged from the closet.

Josy Davis (1901-1903)  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com

This 16”x20” portrait of Josy looks almost like the small glass portrait but with my grandfather “photoshopped” out, to use a modern term.  It appears never to have been framed. 

Why was the portrait in a manila envelope rather than a frame?  Why are there no similar portraits of the other children?  I think I know the answer.  Josy probably died shortly after this portrait was made.  Maybe Mary Frances and Walter meant the large portrait to be a tribute but chose not to be reminded of such a sad time by displaying it. 

Tombstone of Josy Davis and Kenneth Davis  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Josy and another child Kenneth share a tombstone
at Coverstone Cemetery, Shenandoah, Virginia.
Kenneth did not live long enough for a portrait.

Please visit the colorful artisans of the blogosphere at Sepia Saturday.



© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.



27 comments:

  1. Such a poignant post. I can see why the portraits were treated in this special way and why they meant so much. The one in the envelope is puzzling in some ways. Josy looks distinctly unhappy, but also there is something odd about the proportions of head to body; her hands seem particularly tiny.

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    1. I had noticed the hands too. This portrait appears to be an actual drawing rather than photograph, so I chalk it up to bad art.

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  2. The hand colouring certainly adds a special element to the photographs. I wonder if it was expensive to do?

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    1. I wonder that too. It does seem like it could have been a luxury more than routine.

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  3. I have some hand-colored photographs of my siblings and myself in earlier years. Fortunately, color photography came along not too much later.

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    1. Some early color wasn't all that lovely. Hope your photos were.

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  4. The facial expressions on your grandfather's and his sister's faces look happier in the colorized version.

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    1. Yes they do. In person, the sepia photo never struck me as making Josy look sad or fretful as she looks here.

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  5. I know that many early photographers advertised their skill at color portraits in crayon and paint, but I've seen very few of them. Colorizing photos must have been challenging to learn without messing up the originals.

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    1. I wonder if they made multiple copies.

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  6. I don't thing I have ever seen a colourised photo. Now we treasure them and black and white.

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  7. So sad that so many died at such an early age.
    I've never seen portraits done on glass before.

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    1. Since these photos have been in my family ever since I can remember, they are "normal" to me and I hadn't thought of them as anything special really. Until now . . . .

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  8. How sad that she died so young. I think the colorized photo on glass is dreamy looking and lovely.
    It's hard to imagine bearing up under the pain of losing children at that age.

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    1. The colorized pictures are indeed "dreamy," almost like watercolor paintings.

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  9. Such beautiful portraits Wendy. I am interested to find out more about these glass portraits.

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  10. I think it's wonderful when families regularly had portraits taken of their children. I have several of my grandmother over a number of years, one or two of my mother, but our family never did portraits (except the school photos) and we (my husband and I) didn't do but one or two portraits of our children. It must have been hard for your great-grandparents to see little Josy's photo and be reminded of all the years they missed her.

    Your photograph on glass is something I just learned about at John Tew's blog, Filiopietism Prism (http://filiopietismprism.blogspot.com/2014/10/an-opalotype-of-everett-and-ruth.html) this week. It's called an opalotype. He doesn't go into great detail about the process of creating the photo but there's a little information there.

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    1. Thanks Nancy. And I also received an email from Brett Payne who is THE expert on all things photography-related. He sent information about opalotypes too.

      We didn't do portraits either. My parents did get a special baby portrait of me and of my sister. That was it until we had wedding portraits done.

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  11. When the tinted photos are well done they have a lovely soft and misty quality.

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  12. I have some colourised photos too but these are just special as they are older and I've never seen them on glass. The one of Josy is poignant knowing that she died soon after. Little Nell is right that the proportions seem odd, perhaps that was related to her cause of death?

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    1. Oh wow -- I hadn't thought of Josy as possibly deformed. You could be right, but I suspect the proportions were due to a bad drawing by the artist.

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  13. It is so sad that families lost so many children, but I love that we are able to see what little Josy looked like.

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    1. I never thought to ask my grandfather much about Josy -- I just knew she died as an infant. My grandaunts never knew her, and I never thought to ask them about her either. It's funny how much she resembles her sisters in different ways.

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  14. You have such a great collection of family photos Wendy!

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