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The Allen Sisters: Pictorial
Photographs of New England, 1885 - 1920
September 17, 2005 - January 8,
Wall text from the exhibition
- Frances Stebbins Allen and Mary Electa Allen's photographs
are among the greatest visual reminders of old New England. Beginning in
the 1880s, Frances (1854-1941) and Mary (1858-1941) Allen of Deerfield,
Massachusetts, joined other women drawn to the newly accessible field of
photography after progressive hearing loss forced both to give up their
chosen careers in teaching. The Allen sisters learned their craft through
photography journals and photographers summering in Deerfield. The rural
landscape of western Massachusetts provided artistic vistas for the Allen
sisters to work with, and Deerfield's impressive eighteenth-century homes
and furnishings offered the perfect environment for their colonial re-creations.
Book and magazine publishers soon commissioned photographs of children,
country life, and costumed figures realizing Colonial Revival interests.
Between 1896 and 1916, the flourishing of the Arts and Crafts movement
in Deerfield played a critical role in Frances and Mary Allens' careers.
Summer exhibitions, national press coverage, and large numbers of tourists
provided the Allens with audiences not found in most rural communities.
In 1901 Frances and Mary Allen were praised as being among "The Foremost
Women Photographers of America."
- Frances and Mary Allen's idyllic photographs, portraying
a world of beauty and harmony, were allied with turn-of-the-century Pictorial
photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen who advanced
public perception of the medium from a record-making craft to a fine art.
Indeed, in 1901 a writer applauded the Allens' artistry: The Misses
Allen use their camera in the same spirit with which a painter uses his
brush, and their sense of composition, of the dramatic moment, is as eminent
a qualification for their art as for his. Their photographs were included
in major salons such as The Washington Salon and Art Photographic Exhibition,
1896; Third International Congress of Photography, Paris, 1900;
Third Philadelphia Photographic Salon, 1900; and Art Crafts Exhibition,
The Art Institute of Chicago, 1908.
- The Allens took their cameras with them on trips to Great
Britain in 1908 and California in 1916, where they created majestic views
unlike their New England landscapes. Frances and Mary Allens' active work
in photography stopped around 1920, but they continued to sell photographs
from the front parlor of their home until 1935. The Allen sisters' photographic
collaboration thrived for close to fifty years. Despite their former renown,
their photographs remained out of view for much of the last century. This
exhibition, drawn from the collections of Memorial Hall Museum, celebrates
Frances and Mary Allen's artistic vision and pays homage to their extraordinary
- This exhibition was organized by Memorial Hall Museum,
- (right: Frances S. and Mary E. Allen, Forest Pool, 1905-1911,
platinum print. Courtesy of Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield, MA)
"The Period Eye"
- In the 1970s, the art historian Michael Baxandall introduced
the highly influential concept of "The Period Eye." People in
a particular culture, and at a particular time, Baxandall argued, share
experiences and ways of thinking that influence how they perceive, understand,
and appreciate images. In Renaissance Italy, for example, a growing emphasis
on arithmetic and geometry may have encouraged the development of linear
perspective; in sixteenth-century Germany, where calligraphy was given
special emphasis, artists favored sinuous curves instead. Art, in other
words, reflects more than individual genius. It is a mirror of all that
society holds dear.
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