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Closeups enhance historic Baker-Barber photo slideshows on Thursdays

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The indefinite-lasting series remains on Thursday afternoons, in the Henderson County Public Library’s Kaplan Auditorium at Third Avenue and Washington. The free sessions start two hours earlier, at 1:30 p.m., and typically last an hour and a half. This is the heat of the day during winter chill.

The time change begins this Thursday, Jan. 22. This marks the 44th regular session, since the series began 11 months ago on Feb. 27, 2014.

The Feb. 5 slideshow will be skipped. A special one Tuesday, Feb. 3, 5-6:30 p.m. will show more than 100 images of local African-Americans in accordance with Black History Month.

The “closer look” happens now that presenters can zoom in to clearly detect tell-tale details on buildings, faces to better identify people or car license plates to see the years and narrow down the era, volunteer organizer Ron Partin said.

The project is a form of public service to preserve local history, as well as fun viewing of local heritage, Partin added. “The slideshows offer a great opportunity to view images from the collection and to share information about the people, places and events in the photos.”

A newer special treat is “we can zoom in on pictures,” Partin said. For instance, in a group shot at Mountain Home Baptist Church, “we could zoom in on the face of every one of 100 people.”

More photos are going onto the library website for free viewing, after they are substantially identified or to confirm data or seek more details. “We’ve tripled the number of pictures available,” Partin said. “These photos were useless before, sitting on the shelf” in the library.

Better-resolution versions of what are online can be purchased for non-commercial use, at an affordable $5 for an 8×10 print.

Partin is a Bowling Green professor emeritus, retired high school social studies teacher and an avid genealogist. He coordinates the photo-identifying project with Special Collections Librarian Mark Burdette. Partin chairs the Community Foundation of Henderson County’s Communications Committee.

The library stores and maintains the Baker-Barber collection. Egerton “Jody” Barber (1923-2001) willed it to the foundation to “provide cultural, educational, historic, and civic enrichment for the community.”

More than 100 project volunteers take turns “helping with different pieces of the project,” Partin said. “Some follow up tips we get in the meetings, such as by contacting a family in an old photo.” They research identified photo subjects, in the main library and genealogy library.

A dozen to 20 people turn out each week, on average. “That’s a good size for discussion, so we don’t lose interaction,” Partin said. “If it’s too big a crowd, they’re less likely to chime in with their story” that relates to the photo on the big screen.

Partin alerts families listed in Baker-Barber notes as customers ordering the photos when the photo is to be shown so they can provide details, or if is shown again after “we get a tip on which family it is” from a prior session. He even networks print-outs of photos with basic notes, distributing them at slideshows for attendees to show to others. He emails some.

Slide-show pacing is deliberate, allowing onlookers to discuss the content. “We get through 60 or more pictures every week,” Partin said. There may be a time or topic-related theme or two.

“We need to preserve the information,” Partin said. He and Burdette compile spreadsheets. They estimated about one in five photo gets identified significantly as at least a start, providing names of contacts for further details. Partin added, “we didn’t anticipate such a huge volume of data.”

The ongoing project chips away at printing and identifying the more than 40,000 historic Baker-Barber Collection acetate negatives and dry plates. Merely 10 percent were already identified and/or scanned then catalogued, in the dozen years preceding the new project, Burdette noted.

Clusters of negatives are scanned into super-high resolution prints. Very few prints were part of the collection, at first, since most were bought by customers.

“Every week there is a surprise” identification, Partin said. Partin likes the adventure of piecing together clues about who, what, when, where and even why. “It’s like a three-dimensional crossword puzzle.” Often, someone in the audience recognizes the place in the photo, perhaps the person — especially if it’s a relative or classmate. In a later session, someone else might provide a further clue. These tidbits go onto a spreadsheet.

A woman now in her eighties was startled to see her studio portrait, Partin noted. It was taken when she was 18. She never before saw the print, and “she forgot it was taken.”

People recognized by others at a young age, decades ago, include 1942 Hendersonville High drum major Billy Cox, Dr. Ronald Moffitt, the late Morris Kaplan’s wedding, and Lonnie Clay who runs Tie Palace at 124 Sixth Ave. East. “Several recognized his smile,” Partin said. Next, Partin showed Clay the print.

He relishes stories behind the photo and people in them, from them or their descendants. He tracked down Cox, who is in Florida and said he worked on radar in World War II in NASA’s control room when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

Civic samaritan Kaplan (whom the auditorium is named after) got married wearing his Army uniform since “he couldn’t afford a suit,” Partin found out. He got oodles of details on the Smythe family, whose descendants recently bought Mountain Lodge in Flat Rock. The family owned Connemara, before Carl Sandburg bought it in 1945.

Two-thirds of photos from negatives have notes in the envelope. Jody Barber (1923-2001) typed customer order data — who placed the order, who paid for it, and the date. “We can turn our researchers loose. access Census up through 1940. city directories. copies of birth and death records, obituaries.

Notes are mostly for photos from the Thirties through Sixties. There are no notes for images on glass plates, from 1884 once Arthur Farrington (A.F.) Baker opened his studio through 1915. The studio was full-time starting in 1900. Baker apprenticed under Alessandro Bassano, leading royal society portrait photographer in Victorian London, historian Tom Orr noted.

“Uncle Baker” took on Armitage Farrington “A.F.” Barber Sr. (1889-1980) as a partner, then handed the keys to him in 1930 amidst the Great Depression.

Baker’s London Art Gallery sprouted at First Avenue East and Main Street, upstairs in the M.M. Shepherd general store hailed as the first local store. The photo shop moved along Main, to Fourth Avenue West then Sixth Avenue West where First Citizens Bank and the new fountain are now. There, A.F. Barber’s three sons ran adjacent photo-related stores. They were Town Office Supply (“Unk” Barber), Barber’s Book Store and Camera Shop (Jody), and Barber Photography (Don). Each move along Main put a shop on downtown’s north end. Orr noted this enabled soft natural light to sift through a large window, to light the studio.

Jody Barber willed the photo collection to the foundation. His obituary hails him as an “historian, lecturer and revitalizer.”

The 50th regular slideshow is slated for March 12, and there likely will be a celebration with refreshments then, Partin said.

For more about the slideshows or to help identify local historic photos, call Ron Partin at 698-2763. Call Mark Burdette at 697-4725 about the collection, and rotating displays in the library. To view photo samples, check http://library.hendersoncountync.org/bakerbarber.html.

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