Bowdoin College Museum of Art Acquires Antique Camera Owned by Winslow Homer

14 Mar 2014 11:18 AM | Anonymous

Late 19th-century Mawson & Swan camera expands BCMA’s extensive Winslow Homer Collection and will be featured in 2015 exhibition on Homer and photography


The Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) has acquired a late 19th-century Mawson & Swan camera originally owned by the renowned American artist Winslow Homer (1836–1910). The quarter-size dry plate camera, manufactured around 1880, is a significant addition to the Museum’s robust collection of archival material and over 100 vintage photographs related to Homer’s life and work. It will also serve as the centerpiece for the BCMA’s upcoming special exhibition on Homer and photography, planned to open in August 2015. The camera was donated to the BCMA by Neal Paulsen, a long-time resident of Scarborough, Maine.


“We are so pleased to receive this exciting gift, which complements our current holdings of Homer’s work and documentation perfectly,” said Frank Goodyear, Co-Director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “The camera highlights Homer’s varying artistic interests, and helps to illuminate a lesser-known side of one of America’s greatest painters.”


Sold by Mawson & Swan, a photography business in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, the camera was designed for the serious amateur rather than the studio professional, and was notable at the time for its portability and ease of use. The camera produced images that were approximately 3 x 4 inches. Homer purchased this model in 1882, during a two-year residence in Cullercoats, a small fishing village in north east England that is less than ten miles from Newcastle-on-Tyne. The date – “Aug 15, 1882” – and the artist’s initials are inscribed into the camera’s wooden plate holder, likely by Homer himself.


Homer spent his final decades living with his extended family on a large estate in Prout’s Neck, Maine. He constructed a studio on the estate as well, and it was here, where Homer painted some of his most iconic works that capture the beauty of the Maine coastline and the power of the sea. The Winslow Homer Collection at the BCMA includes photographs taken at the artist’s home in Prout’s Neck, Maine that are similar to those produced by the Mawson & Swan camera. The BCMA’s exhibition will bring forward many of the photographs in Bowdoin’s collectionundefinedtogether with loansundefinedand will allow scholars to continue to investigate the compelling and complex history around Homer’s work in photography.


Paulsen acquired the Mawson & Swan camera from his grandfather Weston H. Snow in the 1950s, and exhibited the camera at Scarborough High School for more than two decades. Snow, an electrician and a great admirer of Homer’s work, acquired the camera from Homer’s nephew Charles L. Homer in exchange for electrical work. The Museum’s acquisition follows a major recent gift to the BCMA from the celebrated collection of Dorothy and Herbert (Herb) Vogel earlier this year and further strengthens the Museum’s dynamic acquisition program.

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