A Journey through History

A Journey through History

In early 2010, members of the Paul Krot Community Darkroom at AS220 embarked upon a visual journey through history and the evolution of the photographic process. Over the course of five months, they unearthed 1,250 glass photographic negatives in the Providence Public Library's Special Collections. Images of local history came alive...scenes emerged of Kennedy Plaza before mass public transportation was a part of everyday life...local farms and the families who tended to them showed a time gone by. They rediscovered the product of a now lost method of photography.

Through careful cataloging and recapturing in digital form, these images are now available once again for the people of Rhode Island and beyond who seek a glimpse into an era that, before now, was only preserved in memories and yellowed memoirs.

Old Mortality -- James N. Arnold
James N. Arnold was his name, and he was Rhode Island’s unofficial statistician of the dead and compiler of neglected historical records. But in the latter years of his little understood devotion they called him "Old Mortality," after the character in (Sir Walter) Scott’s novel of that name, and he wore the sobriquet like a badge of courage for one of the strangest tasks a man has ever performed. Thus labeled, bearded, bent and lame, he hobbled on his crutches down the racing years hurrying ever faster lest death, which had preceded him wherever he went and would follow him wherever he might go, should strike him down before his task was done. -- Providence Sunday Journal, January 24,1932

As a prolific collector, James N. Arnold left a legacy that is still being uncovered. He left four truck loads of records and artifacts to the Elmwood Public Library after his death in 1932. The 1,200 glass negatives are just a small fraction of what he left behind, but is arguably among the most fascinating collections we have left to discover, study and admire. Arnold was dedicated to preserving the past. The records he compiled give us the opportunity to better understand our own history, and inspire us to document our existence in a world that is always changing.

These images are snapshots of an era; depictions of a time we rarely see in this much detail. This exhibition is a contemporary retrospective of a living past; a modern interpretation of history, seen through camera lenses, glass slides and silver.

Our Research
With the generous support of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, we were able to enlist the help of Rhode Island Historical Society Graphics Project Archivist James DaMico, who dove into this collection of images and helped us decipher not only the approximate time they were taken, but often where they were taken, who is depicted in them and how they are connected to the rich history of the smallest state in the Union.

From Narragansett beaches to forgotten farmhouses and right back to the Providence Public Library, the wealth of information in these photos offer an unrivaled insight into the lifestyles, past times, work weeks, daydreams and playtimes of people and places frozen in glass.

The collection includes images of:
July Fourth Parade, Downtown Providence 1910
Providence Library Children’s Room, 1900-1920
Ice Skating at Roger Williams Park, 1915
Rhode Island National Guard, 1914-1918
Charles W. Morgan Whaling Ship, 1900-1920
“Old Man in the Mountain,” New Hampshire 1900-1920
Brown University Football Game, 1900-1920
Rhode Island Community Gardens, 1918
...and many others

View and order prints from the Paul Krot Community Darkroom at AS220.

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