A Mumbrauer Baby: Rufus Rudolph Kessler on a Rug

Cabinet card photograph of Rufus Rudolph Kessler, aged 5 months, by R. C. Mumbrauer

Cabinet card photograph of Rufus Rudolph Kessler, aged 5 months, by R. C. Mumbrauer

This cabinet card portrait of Rufus Rudolph Kessler, aged five months, is just the sort of photograph mothers love to show their sons’ girlfriends. How it ended up all alone on an internet auction site is a mystery, but I rescued it and present our hero for your review.

Rufus Kessler was born on 12 June 1894 in Hermann, Missouri to teacher Bertha Durer (1864-1949) and stock dealer and veterinarian Rudolph Kessler (1851-1929). His paternal grandparents, Elisabeth  (1820-1885) and Sylvester Kessler (1822-1901) were part of that great 19th century immigrant movement from Germany to Missouri . They farmed in Roark Township, Gasconade County.

If young Rufus were five months old at the time of the photo, the date would be around November 1894.

Rufus did not hang around Hermann very long. He got work as a stenographer in Kansas City, Missouri, then served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Louisiana and the U.S.S. Peary from 1919 to 1926.

After he left the Navy, he worked as a clerk on the U.S. Government Army Corps of Engineers Missouri River Fleet, based in Charette Township, Warren County, Missouri. As far as I can tell, he remained single.

Kessler died in 1946, and is buried in Hermann City Cemetery, Hermann, Missouri, as are his parents; his grandmother Elisabeth Kessler is buried at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Warren County, and Sylvester Kessler, are buried in the cemetery of St. George Roman Catholic Church, Hermann.

Babies were notoriously difficult to photograph because of their inability to keep still. There is an entire literature on photographing babies, and galleries often advertised it as a specialty. In 1894,  James H. Smith and Co., Chicago, even advertised a “baby-holder” as an attachment to its posing chair.

One typical technique involved having the baby’s mother hold the child in place from behind a curtain.

“The first good feature here is to prevent the child from falling; the second is to get the mother out of the way in a diplomatic manner by having her behind the curtain and not out in front ‘retarding action’ on the part of the operator and finding fault with every exposure he makes on the grounds that the baby is not smiling or laughing” (Felix Raymer, “Photographing the Babies,” Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, v. L, no. 674, February 1913, pp. 77-78).

Mumbrauer seems to have solved the problem by posing the infant in a prone position, instead of artificially sitting up. But how did Mumbrauer get little Rufus to gaze so solemnly into the camera?

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View a collection of baby photos featuring “invisible mothers.”

Update: Recently I was contacted by a Kessler descendant who lost this and other Kessler family photos some years ago. I am thrilled to be able to return the precious original to her.

Published in: on June 2, 2013 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Perhaps Permilia Strothmann by Charles German

Portrait of Permilia or Louise Strothmann by Charles German (image courtesy of Susan Strothmann Brooks)

This cabinet card photograph, taken by Hermann photographer Charles German ca. 1900, may be either Permilia Johanna Strothmann or her younger sister Louise Margaretha Strothmann.

Permilia and Louisa were two of the five children of Franklin County, Mo. farmers Frederick Strothmann and Maria Drewell Strothmann (click on link to compare).

Charles German was born in July 1864 to German immigrant carpenter Henry German and his Missouri-born wife Eliza Summers German. Charles was set to learn the cooper’s trade, but sometime between 1880 and 1900, Charles learned photography.

For a time, Hermann photographer Robert C. Mumbrauer and Charles German were partners, but thanks to contributions by  Susan Strothmann Brooks, it’s become clear that German operated Mumbrauer’s studio at 4th and Schiller streets under his own name for an unknown period.

Since Mumbrauer had another career as a sheriff and railroad detective, it seems plausible that he either rented or sold the studio to German for a time. The Western Historical Manuscript Collection has one cabinet card marked “Mumbrauer & German, Berger, Mo.” that is dated 1895.

By 1910, German had put aside professional photography and became a Hermann saloon keeper. In later years he worked as a janitor. He died in 1947 at the age of 82 and is buried in Hermann City Cemetery.

Unfortunately, three of this image’s four edges have been cut off during scanning, but at right one can see that the card mount has a scalloped or serrated edge. This edge, along with the less obtrusive green printing of the photographer’s mark, places the mount ca. 1890-1899.

The more subtle background, too, sans the old false painted backgrounds and papier mache tree stumps, marks a turn-of-the-century shift to a simpler, less gimmicky portrait style.

According to costume historian Joan Severa, the young woman’s dress, possibly black silk, featuring a wide, ruffled bertha collar, dates to the mid- to late-1890s (Severa, Dressed for the Photographer).

Carefully lit to highlight the still-babyish lips, large dark eyes and turned up nose, German’s sensitive portrait captures a girl poised on the edge of young womanhood.

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The Stroethmann Children

 Cabinet card of the children of Frederick and Maria Drewell Stroethmann, ca. 1895,  by R. C. Mumbrauer, Hermann, Missouri (found by Kathy Wieland)

This ca. 1895 example depicting the children of Franklin County, Missouri farmers Frederick Stroethmann (b. 1847, Germany) and Maria (Drewell) Stroethmann  (b. 1857, Berger, Franklin Co., Mo.) displays features common to cabinet cards produced during the 1880s and 1890s: the gold-hued photo appears to be an albumen print, mounted on cream press-board. The name and location of the studio appear on the bottom of the card, without artwork on the back, and the edges are decoratively scalloped.

Stroethmann descendant Susan Strothmann Brooks has been able to give tentative identifications to these children:

“I do not have the photo that you sent me of the Strothmann children.  However, I do have a photo of the family with the children older.   As I look at the Strothmann children [in this] photo, I would say Royal (1887-1966) is the boy in back, on the right is Johanna Permelia (1881-1971), on the left is Louise Margaretha (1879-1937), Johanes Oscar (1885-?), and Hermann Karl Wilhelm (1892-1958) is in the center.”

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Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 11:42 am  Comments (1)  

Portrait of a Young Child by Robert Mumbrauer

The usually workmanlike Robert C. Mumbrauer created an unusually sensitive portrait of an unidentified young child in this cabinet card photograph.

Although faded and marred with foxing, the child’s face, dramatically lit from the side, remains clearly discernible. Her large eyes and sad expression are haunting.

The card mount’s pink back and elaborate advertising are typical of the 1890s. Note the conventional association of photography with reflected nature (fern fronds; clustered swirls representing a stylized mirror of water) and with painting (the easel and palette).

Also notable: the spelling of the town’s name has been anglicized from “Hermann” to “Herman.”

 

 

 

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Robert C. Mumbrauer: Hermann’s First Photographer

Mumbrauer Studio 1892

Robert C. Mumbrauer’s Photography Studio in Hermann, Missouri, 1892. Note displays of photographs.

Robert C. Mumbrauer’s photography studio on Schiller Street, in Hermann, Missouri, was built in 1892. An 1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the location of the studio at Schiller and East Second streets (see link at right). The building  has been continuously occupied by photographers for 110 years.

After Mumbrauer’s sudden death in 1917, son Charles George Mumbrauer took over the photography business until his death in 1935. The Mumbrauers’ small  home on East Second Street, built about 1887, is just around the corner and still in use as a bed and breakfast called the Mumbrauer Gasthaus.

Hermann Photography Studio 1950s

The studio as it appeared in the 1950s under the Powers name

From 1935 to 1952, it was known as the Powers Studio. William Fricke bought the business from Powers and ran it until the 1980s, when his son, Brad Fricke, stepped in.

The current owner, photographer Bryon Raterman, took over the Fricke name in 1993.

Fricke Studio, Hermann Missouri

The Fricke Studio Today

Although the building facade, entrance and display windows were drastically altered over the years, Mumbrauer’s initials remain visible.

Robert C. Mumbrauer was born in a place called Schelda, in the Kingdom of Hannover, in 1851. He arrived in Hermann with his parents, Karl and Friederike Sophia Thiene Mumbrauer, before 1860.

Mumbrauer's Initials in Building Facade

Robert Mumbrauer’s initials and the date he built the studio

Karl Mumbrauer was a tailor. During the Civil War,  Karl served in Company B of the 4th Missouri Infantry. He survived, returned home and took up tailoring again.

Friederike died in 1901, and Karl followed in 1903.

Reverse of an R. C. Mumbrauer carte de visite, on green card stock, of an unidentified woman and children (found by Kathy Wieland).

Reverse of an R. C. Mumbrauer carte de visite, on green card stock, of an unidentified woman and children (found by Kathy Wieland).

Robert’s path was different.He taught himself how to use a camera, trained in St. Louis for a year,  and traveled  the Missouri River valley with  a mobile studio, taking photos of Gasconade, Osage, and Franklin County settlers.

In 1873, he married Amelia Carey. After continuing to do peripatetic portrait work for several years, he was able to settle down to business in Hermann around 1876.

His stock in trade would have been the cabinet card–a roughly 4″ x 6″ paper photograph mounted on a variety of pressboard or cardboard backgrounds, usually with the studio name and location on front, back, or both.

Reverse of cabinet card photo of a middle-aged couple, Mumbrauer Studio.

Reverse of cabinet card photo of a middle-aged couple, Mumbrauer Studio.

The studio business made it possible for. Robert and Ameiia to build a home on Second Street, where they raised seven children: Albert, Margaret Mumbrauer Epperson, Charles, Walter, Rosa Mumbrauer Locher, Ella Mumbrauer Petrus, and Frances Mumbrauer McCarty.

Albert attended the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, then came back to Hermann. Walter and his wife, Emma Kurrelmeyer Mumbrauer, moved to St. Louis.

Robert,  Robert’s parents, Robert’s wife Amelia, and their children Albert, Walter, Charles, and Ella are buried in Hermann Cemetery. Margaret is entombed in the mausoleum.

Reverse of an R. C. Mumbrauer cabinet card portrait of a young child.

Reverse of an R. C. Mumbrauer cabinet card portrait of a young child.

Robert, and then his son, Charles George Mumbrauer, documented the people of Hermann and environs for about 65 years. Some of his photo cabinet cards are marked New Haven and Chamois, nearby villages on the Missouri.

Their work is scattered in a thousand family albums–cabinet cards, cartes de visite, and photographic postcards portraying the life of the people around them, indoors and out. What happened to their vast collection? If you know, I’d like to hear. Contact me at waldonia2000 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Infinite thanks  to Bryon Raterman, who shared photos of the Hermann studio building with me and told me about the history of the building. Deepest gratitude to Kathy Wieland, of FamilyWeSearch.com, who has found a number of Mumbrauer photographs and shares my interest in this project.

Read an 1888  biographical sketch of Robert Mumbrauer.

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You can view Bryon Raterman’s work at www.frickestudio.com.