For more than 28 years I have been educating the world about George Eastman and his contributions to the world of photography and film, as well as his philanthropic efforts. And while I am the curator of the Eastman Legacy Collection at George Eastman House, the one and only person I can turn to, to answer questions on Eastman that I cannot, is George Eastman historian and biographer Elizabeth “Betsy” Brayer.
She is the one who elevated Eastman’s legacy in Rochester, decades after his death in 1932, by researching archives at Eastman Kodak Company to bring his story to life—first in newspaper stories and ultimately in a 637-page book George Eastman: A Biography.
Betsy has also humanized Eastman, the father of popular photography and motion picture film and for decades the greatest benefactor of American education — beginning with dozens of local newspaper articles she wrote in 1979 and 1980 and ultimately the biography published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in 1996 and reprinted in 2006 by the University of Rochester Press. Betsy’s research on Eastman began as a newspaper reporter writing about the architecture along Eastman Avenue. When she set out to write about historic Eastman House, she learned there was not a lot that was known. The more she learned about Eastman, she uncovered one fascinating story after another, and was encouraged to write his biography.
Betsy has told me she is pleased Eastman’s legacy has been fostered through her research and writing, noting there was a long period where Eastman was “sort of out of vogue, and the focus was on new photography and he was considered old hat.”
Betsy’s association with Eastman House began in 1980, when Museum representatives appointed her historical consultant to guide in the renovation of the house and gardens. And over three decades she has kept Eastman’s Legacy alive through her continued research, publications, and speaking engagements, and by serving on the Museum’s George Eastman Legacy and Landscape Committees.
To honor Betsy for her community contributions as an author and historian, George Eastman House will bestow the title of George Eastman Honorary Scholar upon Brayer during a Dryden Theatre ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22. Past recipients of the prestigious George Eastman Honorary Scholar title include directors Ken Burns and John Frankenheimer; actors Dennis Hopper and Jeff Bridges; and writer Roger Ebert.
Although Betsy is formally being honored by Eastman House, representatives from other local organizations will be in attendance to recognize her writing career, as she has authored a book on each:—the Institute for Oral Health, University of Rochester, Friendly Home, Genesee Valley Club, The Chatterbox, and Brighton Historical Society. Her current project is a book about the Eastman Theatre, coming out in December.
The event honoring Betsy Brayer is open to the public. The award ceremony will be followed by a reception in the historic house. Samples of her publications will be on display. Betsy has requested that any donations in her honor be made to the George Eastman Legacy Acquisition Fund. Tickets for this special event are $25 ($20 for Eastman House members), with patron level tickets $50. You can purchase them by calling me at (585) 271-3361 ext. 242 or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathy Connor is the Curator of the George Eastman Legacy Collection. She oversees the care & maintenance of George Eastman's 50 room Colonial Revival mansion & the George Eastman Archive which contains over 162,000 other artifacts that tell the history of the Eastman Kodak Company and its founder George Eastman. Connor joined the museum staff in 1982 as the museum's Education & Volunteer coordinator.