A Life In the Studio: Jane Margaret Mumbrauer

Robert C. Mumbrauer’s granddaughter, Jane Margaret Mumbrauer (1919-2010), grew up in Hermann and went to work in the Mumbrauer Studio after her father Charles G. Mumbrauer’s death in 1935.

Charles G. Mumbrauer’s  widow Amanda and two of their children stayed on.  “Janet [Bremer Mumbrauer] told me,” says Andrew Hahn, “that in the 1930s Amanda, Jane and Charles lived above the studio on Schiller.” Jane continued to work in the studio downstairs until the family sold the business in 1944.

Portrait of Jane Mumbrauer, ca. 1932, courtesy of Andrew Hahn.

Portrait of Jane Mumbrauer, ca. 1932, probably taken by Amanda Schuermann Mumbrauer; courtesy of Andrew Hahn.

Building on her early experience, Jane developed into a master retoucher and finisher, and enjoyed a long career in studio photography.

Between 1944 and 1951, she worked for the Jules Pierlow Studio in St. Louis. She then moved east to be near her mother, Amanda Schuermann Mumbrauer, and sister, Ruby Mumbrauer Hasenritter.

“By late 1952, she began a 32-year career with Wilmington, Delaware’s most prominent photographer, Willard Stewart, as his assistant, creative retoucher, and heavy-oil portrait artist. Mr. Stewart held the degree of Master of Photography awarded by the Professional Photographers Association of America, bestowed on the basis of technique and craftsmanship, significantly enhanced by the manipulation of the final product by the artistic use of creative retouching, including redrawing of facial features and expressions on the original negatives by Jane’s hand (in the years before digital editing). Those ‘Best of Lifetime’ photographs, exhibiting the joint perfection of photographer and finisher, are on permanent exhibition at the Photography Hall of Fame in Santa Barbara, Calif.” (obituary, paper unknown, courtesy of Andrew W. Hahn)

Jane Mumbrauer died in Howard County, Maryland, and is buried in Hermann City Cemetery, Hermann, Mo. Willard Stewart’s trove of 10,000 negatives, many of them retouched by Jane, was entrusted to Wilmington, Delaware photo finisher Jim Donahue of Donahue Color Service. James L. Donahue died in 2013, but it appears that the business continues.

Stewart also photographed hundreds of buildings for the WPA and the Historic American Buildings Survey, and these are preserved at the University of Delaware.

Note: The Photography Hall of Fame is now the International Photography Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri. I am grateful to Andrew W. Hahn for generously sharing family photographs and memories.

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Published in: on September 28, 2013 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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  

Frank Becker and his Tuba, Schuster Studio, Hermann

Portrait of Frank Becker, Schuster Studio, Hermann, Mo.

Portrait of Frank Becker, Schuster Studio, Hermann, Mo.

Martin A. Schuster (1871-1952) and his son Jerome G. Schuster opened a photography studio in Hermann sometime between 1930 and 1940. The father and son team may be better known for its many real photo postcards of Hermann, its people, environs and celebrations.

Schuster postcards , such as this of St. George’s Catholic Church, Hermann, or this view of Hermann are easy to find on internet auction sites and have been published in a number of books.

According to his obituary in Professional Photographer magazine, Martin Schuster began practicing photography professionally in Brookfield, Missouri. In Hermann, the family lived at 307 Schiller Street, a small frame cottage now occupied by a gift shop called Back Home Again.

I haven’t been able to learn for certain Frank Becker’s identity. A Frank Becker, railroad section hand, lived in Gasconade County in 1920, but he doesn’t seem to have been related to the Beckers in the area.

With all the celebrations and attendant parades in Hermann, there certainly would have been many opportunities for Becker to exercise his tuba talents.

Martin A. Schuster (1871-1952) and his son, Jerome Glennon Schuster (1906-1961), are buried in the cemetery of the church they photographed, St. George’s, in Hermann.

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Published in: on May 27, 2013 at 2:24 pm  Comments (2)  

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)  

The Face That Piloted a Thousand Steamboats?

Could this be a portrait of William L. “Steamboat Bill” Heckmann?

Reverse of carte de visite portrait of an unidentified young man.

Sometimes you buy photographs in ignorance and only later realize their significance.

This carte de visite portrait of a young man, taken at the studio of Robert C. Mumbrauer, was not identified. But when I sat down to look at it, the face reminded me of someone I had seen in another Mumbrauer photograph.

It was the face of one of the four young men who posed with an African-American boy in a Mumbrauer and German  card photograph belonging to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection.

That photo was taken at Chamois in 1895. It came from the William L. Heckmann Jr. scrapbooks at the WHMC.

Only three complete names are given, and it is unclear which name goes with which individual. The names written in the scrapbook are “George Patton, Bill Heckman, Pumpkin Patton, and Andy.”

The man in this photo looks an awful lot like one of the two men on the left side of the photograph. Could it be that I have stumbled upon a portrait of the well-known steamboat pilot, “Steamboat Bill” Heckmann (1869-1957)–author of the classic 1950 memoir of river life, Steamboating: Sixty-Five years on Missouri’s Rivers?

I wrote to  The Museum at the German School in Hermann, which has significant holdings on steam boat history on the Missouri and Gasconade rivers, including a complete pilot-house in their River Room.

They referred me to the Gasconade County Historical Society. Here is my correspondent’s response:

“I asked a colleague to look at two group family photos that we have, which I did not identify to her, to see if your subject, at another stage of life, might be in either of the group photos. In both cases, she picked out the man identified as William Heckmann, Jr. In her words, ‘It was the nose.’ “

I’ve also sent the photograph to the Herman T. Pott National Waterways Library, to which Dorothy Heckmann Schrader, daughter of steamboat Captain Ed Heckmann, has donated a substantial archive of texts and images.

Stay tuned.

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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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Spring Sisters

Cabinet card of two white-clad young women (found by Kathy Wieland).

This cabinet card from the Mumbrauer studio in Hermann, Missouri depicts two young women clad in flowing white. The girls wear what appear to be real flowers at the waist and throat. Their intimate pose, the older girl’s arm reaching protectively toward the younger, suggests they might be closely related.

The fluid, natural style of their loose, flowing gowns, without bustle or corset, marks a decided break with 19th century fashion. Their hair style is, however, quite old-fashioned: bangs of frizzed curls, hair pulled back and pinned low on the head behind that had been popular from the 1880s on.

Mumbrauer uses a relatively subdued, tasteful painted background, and eschews the gimmicky props of the past decades. The only vestigial trace of 1880s faux rusticity is the fake grass on the floor.

The photo definitely has an air of occasion about it. Could it have been taken as a part of one of Hermann’s annual Maifest celebrations?

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Published in: on March 23, 2011 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Girl With Papier Mache Urn: Lydia J. A. Bade Rohlfing

Cabinet card portrait of Lydia Bade Rohlfing, found by Kathy Wieland of FamilyWe Search.com.

This portrait of an awkward teenage girl teetering on the edge of womanhood was identified as “Lydia Bade (Mrs. Arnold Rohlfing).”

Born 20 March 1880 in Franklin County, Missouri to German immigrant farmer William F. Bade and Johanna Elizabeth Peters Bade, Lydia married Franklin County farmer Arnold P. Rohlfing about 1900. The Rohlfings had three children: Florence, Oliver L., and Irwin W. Rohlfing.

The awkwardness of adolescence is magnified by the incongruous setting: Tall, skinny Lydia, in a black  dress stretched tight over her thin  chest, stands by a papier mache faux urn that is just beginning to tip from the pressure of her hand.

Her dress’s fashionable standing-puff sleeves place the photo ca. early 1890s. Contemporary fashion advice for young ladies advised that “frocks . . . should increase in length with advancing years until at age twelve they should reach the ankle” (Ladies Home Journal, May 1891, quoted in Severa, Dressed for the Photographer (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995). Her hair is done in up-to-date fashion, pulled back tightly into a knot, with a curled fringe of bangs.

The white card mount with blind-embossed decorative edges and a more subdued advertising design also locates this cabinet card photograph in the 1890s.

Lydia Bade Rohlfing died “six miles south of Berger,” in rural Boeuf Township, Franklin County, on 19 Nov 1943. She and her husband are buried in Senate Grove Cemetery, Berger.

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Youth and Age: Two Hermann Couples

Another batch of card photographs by the Robert C. Mumbrauer Studio arrived this week, courtesy of the intrepid Kathy Wieland.

These two cabinet cards of wedded couples–one at the start of married life, one in middle age–are both quite conventional but display some interesting affinities and differences.

The two men resemble each other–perhaps father and son? Kathy acquired these from the same source, so it is possible these photographs came from the same family album.

Card photograph collector and historian William C. Darrah notes that the pose of the middle aged couple became a convention. In his comments on portraiture poses, the first discussed is that of husband and wife:

“Among the more abundant surviving carte de visite portraits are those of newly  married couples and husband and wife at various ages. The most striking convention is the almost universally used pose of the husband seated and the wife standing, with one hand on her husband’s shoulder. Mayall photographed Queen Victoria in this position, her hand on Prince Albert’s shoulder” (Darrah, Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth Century Photography, p. 36).

Newlyweds, by contrast, were fairly often photographed “with the partners standing, the husband usually to the right of the wife” (Darrah, Cartes, p. 36)

The reverse of the cabinet card of the middle-aged couple  has advertising (see center image), while that of the young couple does not. The mount of the newlyweds’ photo is a dull green with beveled edges and gilt lettering.

Based on Darrah’s dating of  backmark styles, the advertising on the reverse of the middle-aged couple’s photo might be ca. 1875-1878.

I’m a novice at dating dress, so take the following with a big grain of salt. My reference text is Joan Severa’s Dressed for the Photographer.

The dress of the dignified and still-slim woman, with its long, buttoned bodice, white silk bow and elaborately cut overskirt finished with deep knife pleats might be ca. 1878- early 1880s.

The bride’s wedding dress, by contrast, appears to lack an  over-skirt. It has tight sleeves with just a hint of a shoulder puff, and a high, frilled neckline. Her hair is a close cap of tight waves parted at the center.

Both couples are posed against interior backdrops. It’s unclear whether the grass that appears in the middle-aged couple’s photo is real or fake. Mumbrauer spent a number of years as a traveling photographer during the 1870s.

If I had to guess, I’d say the wedding portrait is later than the middle-aged couple, but I am not at all confident this is accurate.

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