Posted by: cherylyoung | August 29, 2012

You know before there were digital cameras there was life!

MATTIE GUNTERMAN PHOTOGRAPHER AND

CAMP COOK

 

Welcome to beaton and the Lardeau Valley in the

Kootenay District of British Columbia at the turn

 of the twentieth century.

 

From dish washing to berry picking, community

picnics to masquerade balls, Mattie’s photographs

reveal spontaneity directness and a lively sense of

moments that afford the viewer an unique glimpse

 of pioneer life.

 

 

Mattie Gunterman was born sometime during the

spring of 1872 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a

waterfront town that became a major boat building

centre for Mississippi River packet steamers.

 

The official proof of Mattie’s existence emerges in

the 1880 United States census where she appears as

eight year old “Ida A. Warner” living with her

maternal grandmother.

Mattie is described by her friend Kathleen

 Goldsmith as “delicate” suggesting that she was

often sick as a child but from her earliest days

she exhibited an extremely strong sense of

self-identity choosing to be known as Mattie as

opposed to Ida or Madeline.

 

The most convincing evidence of her sense of self

appears through her photographs; she appears in

more than half of them.

 

In some she is alone, sitting astride her horse or

standing with rifle in hand, and in others she is

inconspicuously present within a group of people.

 

She seems to have regarded herself more as a vital

 component of the life she photographed than as a

photographic observer detached from real

participation in the activities of the community.

 

Mattie became caught up in the Kodak craze early

in life, learning about the photographic process

from an uncle who had a studio in La Crosse.

 

When, in the late 1880s, Mattie left her home town

and headed west for the booming city of Seattle, she

took her Bull’s Eye, snapshot camera with her.

 

In Seattle, where she found work as a hotel maid,

Mattie met Emma Gunterman who introduced her

 to her brother Bill.

 

Mattie and Bill soon married and spent the next

forty-five years together. Henry, their son, was

born in 1892.

 

Mattie developed trouble with her lungs due to the

 constant rain and dampness of Seattle so in the

 spring of 1897 she, Bill and Henry headed for the

 semi-arid climes of eastern Washington.

 

It was during this trek to better health that Mattie

took the first photographs attributed to her.

 

With her Bull’s Eye camera, commonly known as

a box camera, she snapped pictures of friends, her

family’s campsites, trappers; prospectors; miners;

packers; pioneer dreamers; and wilderness activities

along backwoods trails.

 

Mattie and her family returned briefly to Seattle

 when news of the Klondike gold strike reached

them because Bill’s mother needed extra help

running her hotel. Later in 1897, when Mattie

suffered a relapse in her health, she contacted

 her cousin Hattie Needham in Thomson’s

Landing (later known as Beaton), British Columbia

to determine if she and Bill could find work

 there instead.

 

Fortunately, rich silver-lead deposits had been

found in the area so there was plenty of work

 throughout the West Kootenay district and the

family moved again.

 

As they travelled, Bill worked in sawmills and

 Mattie took in laundry; they finally arrived in

Thomson’s Landing in June 1898 after walking

 more than six hundred miles.

 

By early 1898, Mattie’s interest in photography

expanded; she purchased a 4″x5″ plate camera

that offered ground glass focusing, and a multispeed

shutter thereby allowing her to keep a more detailed

photographic journal of her new life.

 

Curiously, Mattie appears in many of her own

photographs.

 

She made this possible by using a long piece of

rubber tubing which was attached to her camera’s

pneumatic shutter at one end with a rubber bulb

at the other.

 

Squeezing or stepping on the bulb released the

shutter and made an exposure.

 

Mattie usually spent winter months developing her

 plates and making prints.

 

She kept two albums: one for herself and one for

 Henry, a practice which she continued until he

 was a grown man.

 

It is partly thanks to Henry’s album that examples

of Mattie’s early work exist today.

 

Mattie’s own copies were destroyed in a fire when

 the Gunterman family home burned down in 1927.

 

> Search the Historical Photographs Database

FOR A BETTER IDEA OF HOW MATTIE VIEWED LIFE

CHECK OUT MY FACEBOOK PAGE

www.facebook.com/cherylcyoung or

http://twitter.com/CherylCYoung  plaxo,linkedIn and

my space.

Cheryl Young, REALTOR

SAANICH PENINSULA REALTY

SIDNEY B.C

www.cherylyoung,ca cbythesea@shaw.c

 

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