Faces of Appalachia: Photographs by Albert J. Ewing

Photograph of a group of workmen by Albert J. Ewing.

Photograph of a group of workmen by Albert J. Ewing.


Ohio-born photographer Albert Ewing traveled the countryside at the turn of the 20th century and captured the daily lives of those who lived and worked in southeast Ohio and central West Virginia and along the Ohio River. Opening Jan. 9, 2013, at the Ohio History Center in Columbus, Faces of Appalachia: Photographs by Albert J. Ewing, is the first exhibit of his work.

“Ewing is an impressive, thoughtful photographer whose collection tells the story of several Appalachian communities at the turn of the century,” says Sharon Dean, director of museum and library services for the Ohio Historical Society. “We must remember that photography was still a novelty and a luxury for many communities across the nation. Without Ewing’s efforts, we would not have this superb visual record of Appalachian life.”

Features More Than 200 Images
On exhibit at the Ohio History Center through Dec. 29, 2013, Faces of Appalachia will feature:

• More than 200 images from the Ohio Historical Society’s Ewing collection that document the everyday lives of people in the region.

• Ewing’s original glass-plate negatives, which have never been exhibited before.

• An interactive 1890s photography studio with props and vintage clothing, where you can create your own old-time photographs using your own phone or camera.

• A hands-on storyboard area where you can search through photos mounted on magnetic sheets, post them on a board and create your own captions or stories.

Portrait of two women in a prop boat by Albert J. Ewing.

Portrait of two women in a prop boat by Albert J. Ewing.


Some Things Change, Others Don’t
“What’s fascinating about this exhibit is that it offers a chance to ponder everyday experiences and how they’ve changed and not changed since the 1890s,” says Lisa Wood, curator of visual resources for the Ohio Historical Society. “Ewing took the type of photos that we see today on Facebook and in family albums: family reunions, school groups, landscapes and pets.”

Over 4,000 Glass-Plate Negatives in Collection
In 1982, the Ohio Historical Society acquired more than 4,000 of Ewing’s glass-plate negatives. They arrived with little information, packed in the boxes in which Ewing had bought his undeveloped plates. A small number of the plates have information etched in the emulsion that offered clues as to when and where he worked. Additional research in census records and city directories has helped in piecing together Ewing’s life story.

From Lowell, Ohio
His family lived in Lowell, a community on the Muskingum River north of Marietta. As a photographer, Ewing worked mainly in central West Virginia, particularly Wood, Pleasants, Calhoun and Ritchie counties. The earliest dated photo in the collection is from 1896, while the latest dates to 1910. An 1896 photo depicts Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan speaking in Parkersburg, W. Va. Names of most of Ewing’s other subjects have been lost to history.

In addition to portraits, Ewing captured the built environment, including homes, farms, businesses and schools. The material culture of the region is also on display in his photos. People frequently posed for him with handmade quilts as backdrops and held treasured possessions like Bibles, musical instruments, toys and guns, making his archive a remarkable documentation of life in the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ohio History Center Museum Hours and Admission
The Ohio History Center museum is open:

Wednesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sundays noon-5 p.m. Ohio History Center

Museum admission is:
$10 for adults — $9 for seniors (age 60+) — $5 for youth (ages 6-12)

Free/Ohio Historical Society members and children 5 and under.

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