Kathy Connor's Posts

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.

Restoration Project: The Palm House

Posted by on Sep 27 2011 | History, House & Gardens

The Palm House at George Eastman House is a glass-roofed, greenhouse room built in 1905 as a unique component of this National Historic Landmark. Also called the Solarium or Sun Room, it serves as an essential connecting space between the museum galleries and the historic mansion. It has a distinctive design, historic character, and is bright year-round— which we really enjoy during those gray and gloomy Rochester winter months.

Remarkably, the Palm House glass roof has stood the test of decades of our rigorous climate, but it is now deteriorated to the point where the room cannot be used for anything but a pass-through.


Aerial View showing the Palm House from the exterior.


Palm House interior today with signs of deterioration and temporary repair.


Palm House used as a Member’s Lounge in the early 1950s shortly after Eastman House became a Museum.


Greenhouse interior during George Eastman’s day.


A view of the Palm House exterior during George Eastman’s day.

As you may notice in the historic images above, there were four green houses and an orchid lean-to located next to the Palm House. The lean-to was connected to a potting room, which was connected to the Palm House where tropical plants were grown.

The restoration process is underway with several goals in mind: to restore the safety and comfort, to develop usability of the space, and last but not least—  to make it more energy-efficient. As the gateway between the historic house and the modern museum, it serves as both a first glimpse to the legacy of the man who lived here and his impact today.

Editor’s note: The Palm House Restoration is one of the projects featured in our Photo Finish 5K  Philanthropy Challenge fundraiser.



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Honoring Eastman biographer Elizabeth Brayer

Posted by on Oct 15 2010 | History, House & Gardens

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.

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 kconnor@geh.org.

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Celebrating Kodacolor

Posted by on Jul 30 2010 | House & Gardens, Motion Pictures

Today marks the 82nd Anniversary of the now famous Kodacolor party,  in which George Eastman and Thomas Edison announced “home movies in color” to the world.

One of the more frequently asked questions at the George Eastman House is about the relationship between Eastman and Edison. Were they friends or just business associates? Answering the question usually includes a description of the July 30, 1928 Kodacolor party— as it is one of the major press events both attended.

Eastman regularly used his own home and garden as a site for major press announcements but this was one of the grandest he ever orchestrated. Everyone who was anyone in the media at the time and scientists, educators and community leaders were invited to George Eastman’s Terrace garden to learn about his company’s new product Kodacolor (the first amateur color home movie system).

Eastman and Edison, who collaborated on the invention of motion picture film, stood side-by-side in the Terrace Garden filming their guests during the event. After dinner, screens were erected and the new Kodacolor images shot earlier that day were projected. The impact of the screening made headlines around the world. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, click here to roll it again!

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As we head into Memorial Day Weekend…

Posted by on May 26 2010 | Other

A tribute from our Kodak Advertising Collection from the 1910s, 1940s and 1970s:

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20 years later … George Eastman House

Posted by on May 18 2010 | House & Gardens

This post first appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle’s Arts Community Blog, written and maintained by arts and cultural organizations in the Rochester NY area.

As I walk through the first and second floors of George Eastman House each Monday, to do my weekly inspection, it seems amazing to me that it was 20 years ago that a crew of artisans, contractors and volunteers just completed a massive restoration of George Eastman’s National Historic Landmark home.

The Conservatory today, 20 years after restoration.

Under the leadership of Georgia Gosnell, museum trustee and member of the House Restoration committee the entire exterior of 900 East Avenue and the first floor of the mansion was returned to the splendor Mr. Eastman enjoyed when he lived here from 1905 until his death in 1932.

Most visitors today are surprised when they learn the house had to be restored. They think the house always looked like it does now. Nothing is farther from the truth. But first some history …

When George Eastman died he left his home and all of its contents (that his relatives did not want) to the University of Rochester in his will. The university used the house as the residence for two of its presidents.  The 50-room Colonial Revival home was extremely expensive to maintain so eventually the U of R looked for another use for the property. A group of local businessmen and community leaders decided it would make a great museum of photography and film.

Converting a historic home to function as a museum meant removing doors from all the bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets and making gallery space to show cameras and photos.

Plumbing and plaster ceilings were removed, original light fixtures replaced, and much of the furniture ended up in museum offices or, worse yet, thrown out onto East Avenue.

The museum’s growing collections created a space problem in the house, which eventually led to the building of the 75,000-square-foot archives facility in 1989, leaving an almost empty Eastman House ready for restoration.

The goal was to create a three-dimensional biography of George Eastman — the man who founded Kodak and made photography easy enough for everyone to do.

The Conservatory during the renovation project in the late 1980s.

Using all of the photos GE (as his friends called him) had left behind of his home and all of the letters his secretary was smart enough to save, a “picture perfect” restoration was possible. Craftsmen worked for 14 months to repair the marble and wood floors, reproduce the plaster ceilings, rebuild or repair original furnishings.

Paint analysis and scrapings revealed all of the original colors and they were reapplied. Draperies were remade and hung on the same rods as Eastman had used. Even the hardware door knobs, hinges, and shutter pulls were carefully cleaned and reused or reproduced to match the ones still intact.

As I reflect on so many other changes that have occurred over the past 20 years — including the economy, the revolution we have experienced in hand-held technology, and even my own hair color — I am amazed how well 900 East Avenue has stood the test of time.  It is  truly a testament to the classic design and high quality materials GE selected many years ago and the extraordinary  skilled craftsmen and woman hired two decades ago to restore it.

Repairing and painting the elephant head on Monday, May 17.

With that said, restoration and repair still continue today. As I write this, the reproduction elephant trophy that hangs in the Conservatory is being cleaned and repaired by craftsmen from the Jonas Bros. Studios in Brewster N,Y. (No relation to the popular singing group) I noticed hairline cracks in the trunk and near the ears so I asked them to make a house call.  Why bring in a company from Brewster, NY?  Well they were the taxidermy company GE used in 1928 following the African safari, and they were also the ones that we went to to create and install the reproduction trophy for us 20years ago as part of the original restoration process.]

Everything comes full circle.

To learn more about the restoration process you can stop by the George Eastman  Archive & Study Center or email Kathy Connor at kconnor@geh.org.

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