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John E. Palmer:

An Inventory of His Collection in the Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Palmer, John E., 1891-1964
Title: John E. Palmer Collection
Dates: ca. 1890s-1960s (bulk 1940s-1960s)
Extent: 25 boxes (ca. 2,600 items; 10.5 linear feet)
Abstract: The collection is comprised primarily of studio portraits and informal photographs taken by Palmer which document the everyday life and social activities of the African-American community in Galveston, Texas, from the 1890s through the 1960s.
Language: English
Access:

Open for research




Acquisition:

Gift, 1988

Processed by:

Rebecca J. Altermatt, 1997

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


John Ellis Palmer was born in 1891 in Maney, Louisiana. Around 1916, Palmer moved to Galveston, Texas, where he lived for 48 years. Here he established the Palmer Studio where many of the images in this collection were taken or produced.

Little biographical information on Palmer is available, but it is known that he was a veteran of World War I, a Mason, and an Elk. Palmer served as President of the Texas State Lodge of Elks for at least the year 1944, judging from information contained in his correspondence, and he was a member of the St. Lawrence Lodge 258. He also received the 33rd degree in the Holy Royal Arch Masons. Palmer married, and his wife's name was Cleo. Palmer died March 7, 1964.


The majority of this biographical information was obtained from Palmer's obituary as printed in the Sunday, March 8, 1964, edition of The Galveston News .


The John E. Palmer Collection is comprised primarily of studio portraits and informal photographs taken by Palmer which document the everyday life and social activities of the African-American community in Galveston, Texas, from the 1890s through the 1960s (bulk 1940s-1960s). The collection has been arranged into the following series: I. Palmer Studio, 1940s-1960s; II. Other Studios/Photographers, 1890s-1960s; III. Special Format Materials, 1900s-1960s.

Nearly one third of the collection consists of studio portraits. African-Americans make up the majority of the sitters depicted, but a few Hispanic and Caucasian individuals are also represented. Most of the individuals are not identified, but names written on the photographs have been compiled in the finding aid. Informal portraits document many activities such as weddings and funerals, as well as functions of fraternal organizations, churches, military groups, schools, athletic teams, and bands. Another one third of the images consists of candid shots of people in bars and restaurants. A smaller group of photographs documents occurrences such as automobile accidents, storm damage, and parades, presumably in and around Galveston.

The majority of the photographs are black and white gelatin silver prints, ranging in size from 1 x 1-1/8 to 11 x 14 inches, or 35.6 x 28 centimeters or smaller. Some color and hand-colored photographs are present, as are safety film and nitrate negatives. Some materials are matted or mounted.

A smaller group of early photographs, presumably not taken by Palmer, date from the 1890s through the 1930s and depict women, men, children, and families. Other photographers represented in this collection include The Teal in Houston, and Kibbes’ Studio, Wallace Studios, and Witwer Studios, all of Galveston.

Materials other than photographs in the collection include a small selection of correspondence to and from Palmer, some business and financial records, a 1955 Central High School Bearcat yearbook, clippings, and other ephemera.


Subjects

African Americans--Texas--Galveston--Social life and customs--1890-1970.

Group portraits--1890-1970.

Portrait photography--1890-1970.

Places

Galveston (Tex.).

Document Types

Gelatin silver prints--1890-1970.