Friday, June 01, 2018

Our frayed caballero revisited ...

This gentleman resurfaced again the other day in a museum storeroom, being emptied now and its contents moved elsewhere because the room occupies prime display space just off the Vredenburg Gallery.

We call him the "frayed caballero" because he looks (to us) like a Spanish or Mexican gentleman with a sash around his middle. And he's had a hard life.

He was donated to the museum apparently without a backstory by a gentleman named Dick Kirkham back in 1968. Kirkham was city treasurer and assistant city manager at the time and moved elsewhere in pursuit of his career with his family the next year.

We speculate that the Kirkhams bought the photograph somewhere with designs on its frame, removed the image, but were reluctant to throw it away because it's interesting.

The image is roughly 16-inch by 20-inch in size and is of a type sometimes called imprecisely "crayon" or "charcoal" portraiture. Many of us have similar images, although generally life-sized head shots, of ancestors hanging around somewhere.

They were produced by exposing a glass negative at about four times its original size onto drawing paper coated with a weak photographic emulsion. The faint image that resulted then was drawn over with charcoal, pencils, crayons, pastels, watercolors, even oil paints sometimes.

It was, in its time, a very popular and relatively inexpensive form of portraiture, often handled via mail order or through a local photographer.

Our caballero is about to move into archival storage in the library and may not be seen again for a while. If anyone recognizes this as an ancestor, feel free to comment. 

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