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  

Portrait of Herbert Tschappler

Farmer and engineer Herbert John Schappler (personal collection of Karen Barton).

Herbert John Tschappler (personal collection of Karen Barton).

Young Herbert Tschappler (1890-1945), had his portrait taken by Robert C. Mumbrauer ca. 1908. The photograph exhibits features more common after 1900: larger, black card mounts with the studio’s name  blind embossed instead of printed, for a more subtle effect.

Farmer, engineer and carpenter Herbert Tschappler was born to Osage County farmers Samuel Tschappler and Ernestine Marie Auguste Gnadt in March 1890. With his wife, Ella Deppe, Herbert settled in Carlsbad, Eddy County, New Mexico, where they had two children, Sam and Roy.

Herbert and Ella Tschappler are buried in Carlsbad Cemetery, Carlsbad, New Mexico.

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Published in: on May 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm  Comments (2)