April 15, 2014 | 10:29 a.m.
By Tricia Theurer, Communications Specialist
Bethel University is hosting an art exhibit in April and May, “Dr. George C. Poundstone: The Elements of a Picture,” with selections of the work of this noted pictorialist photographer from Bethel’s permanent art collection. Bethel is one of just three institutions worldwide housing Poundstone works, and this marks the first time in 35 years that works from the archive have been publically displayed. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Smithsonian Institution are the only other institutions in the world with Poundstone works in their collections.
A dental surgeon and professor of dentistry at Northwestern University in Illinois in his later years, Poundstone was also a noted pictorialist photographer in the 1920s and 30s. Among his successes were numerous publications, exhibitions around the world, and a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In describing Poundstone’s style of photography, Michelle Westmark, associate professor of art and gallery director of Bethel’s two exhibition spaces, writes that “in the 1890s, a group of photographers called pictorialists began making images that were often soft focused, romantically lit, and more often than not, made with multiple images to create the most aesthetically pleasing composition possible.” She continues, “These photographers did not see themselves as deceiving the public by creating landscapes and moments that weren’t necessarily real; they simply believed that photography had the ability to be a hybrid combination of real-life detail and the artistic license of painting.” In short, Westmark says, Poundstone “believed the perfect image should be constructed by the photographer.”
Poundstone was known for his masterful use of paper negatives, soft focus, and combination printing to create a more compelling composition. Westmark writes, “In this digital age, Poundstone’s archive offers a unique look into our photographic past while simultaneously paralleling our understanding of photographic truth in our digital present.”
While Bethel houses the entire Poundstone photographic estate, the exhibit, which runs until May 24, consists of a selection of his works, including vintage photographs, travel journals, paper negatives, Autochromes (an early color photography process), and 16mm films from the early 1930s. Poundstone died in 1938. In 1979, his widow Ethel gave Bethel the archive of his photographic works, writings, journals, films, negatives, and Autochromes. Mrs. Poundstone wanted her husband’s archives to be housed in the permanent collection of a Christian university with an art department, which, at the time, was rare. The long-standing excellence of Bethel’s art department, coupled with Mrs. Poundstone’s connections to several Bethel professors, led to her decision to give the archives to Bethel.
The archive includes 18 exhibition prints, 139 proofs and work prints, 3,473 negatives, 664 Autochromes, an Autochrome projector, journals and publications where the artist’s work and articles appear, salon certificates and awards, handwritten lectures and descriptions of his films, seven black and white 16mm films documenting his journeys around the world, and nine journals containing thousands of black and white photographs documenting his travels to Japan, China, Korea, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hawaii, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Europe, and the United States.
In 2013, Westmark and student Grace Krussow ’14 received an Edgren Scholarship—a program that supports faculty-student research teams as they collaborate on a research project—to research and digitally archive Poundstone’s work. Through their efforts, the collection is now accessible to the public as a digital archive through Bethel’s online library database. The pair weren’t the only ones who made this exhibit happen; they received support from a national authority. Christian A. Peterson, an expert in pictorialist photography, helped with the exhibit and contributed an essay to the exhibit catalog. A curator of photographs at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for 31 years, Peterson has several books to his credit. He mentions Poundstone’s work in After the Photo Secession: American Pictorial Photography, 1910-1955, and his newest book, Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: A History ofExhibitions, Publications, and Acquisitions with Biographies of All 243 Pictorialists in the Collection, includes a biography of Poundstone.