CHADRON – The historical significance of Chadron’s pioneer photographers Ray and Faye Graves will be celebrated Sunday, Jan. 13 through March 29 in the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center on the Chadron State College campus. “Photos from the Rubble” tells the story of approximately 1,100 glass plate negatives taken from 1906 to 1940 that were salvaged during the 1973 demolition of the Graves’ former studio.
A reception, including period music and food, is open to the public Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Sandoz Center. Historians, researchers, volunteers and relatives who have helped preserve the Graves legacy are expected to attend. The Center is open Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m. to noon. To learn more, call 308-432-6401.
Some prints will be on display for the first time since the glass negatives were rescued, according to Laure Sinn and Holly Counts, a 2007 CSC alumna who has digitized about 200 of the glass plates in recent months.
The exhibit commemorates the centenary of Ray Graves’ death in 1919. Plans to keep the exhibit open through Women’s History month in March are intended to honor Faye Graves.
Besides nearly 100 prints of Chadron’s early buildings, people, trains, and agricultural scenes, an image of the June 24, 1910, groundbreaking ceremony for Chadron State College, a 1912 image of Theodore Roosevelt campaigning for a third presidential term, and one portrait, thought to be the last one taken of Chief Red Cloud shortly before his death in 1909, will be on display.
The exhibit will also include other artifacts such as processing equipment, a Seneca Scout camera from the Graves’ studio and several hand tinted prints on loan by Chadron residents. The Graves’ marriage certificate and other historic documents, photos of studio registry pages, several original photos, an original postcard, copies of newspaper advertisements, and three glass plates will also be in the show.
“Only three original glass plates will be exhibited due to the fragile nature of the silver bromide emulsion. Thankfully, the entire collection of glass plates has been digitized because they continue to degrade with time, even when not handled,” said Counts, who is a former employee of the Nebraska State Historical Society and has experience preserving historical documents.
The pioneer photographers provided an invaluable service by capturing images of space and time no conventional historian could, according to Dr. Allen Shepherd, a former CSC history professor. Shepherd said other photographers preceded Graves, but apparently none stayed long or left behind such a large cache of negatives.
About 9,000 Graves’ negatives stored in a cabinet concealed by a false wall were destroyed in 1973 by a bulldozer clearing the building at 250 Main Street for new construction before the crew realized something was amiss. The late Don and Frances Huls, publishers of the Chadron Record, were notified and rescued about 1,100 plates. A few years later, the Huls family contributed their collection to the college.
Efforts to preserve the plates have taken multiple forms. A 1978 community show was focused on identifying the subjects in the photos, according to Counts. About a decade later, CSC’s Campus Historical Forum, led by Shepherd, received a grant to print at least 100 of the negatives. In the early 2000s, Octavo Corporation set up a laboratory in the Sandoz Center to capture digital images of the plates and an exhibit at the Sandoz Center in 2004 showcased 50 portraits.
—CSC College Relations