Archive for the 'Behind The Scenes' Category

The Dawn of Technicolor: a new book from George Eastman House (Part One)

Posted by on Jan 13 2015 | Behind The Scenes, Exploring the Archive, Motion Pictures

The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915-1935 is a new book written by myself and David Pierce, and published by George Eastman House. It is the cornerstone of the museum’s 100th anniversary celebrations of Technicolor—the pioneering company that successfully brought color to the movies.

This lavishly-illustrated book recounts the first two decades of one of the most widely recognized names in the American film industry. As authors, David and I have painstakingly reconstructed Technicolor’s early years from a wealth of previously untapped internal documentation, studio production files, firsthand accounts, and unpublished interviews. The book features more than 400 images, and includes a comprehensive annotated filmography of all two-color Technicolor titles.

This is part one of two blog posts delving into the book, giving you a glimpse into its scope and contents. Part two, which will follow in a few weeks, will introduce the work that went into creating the filmography and sourcing the accompanying frame enlargements.

Left to right: Frame enlargements from Melodie (Martin Justice, Colorart Pictures, Inc., US 1929), It’s a Great Life (Sam Wood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., US 1929), Redskin (Victor Schertzinger, Paramount Famous Lasky Corp., US 1929), and Manhattan Serenade (Sammy Lee, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., US 1929).

Left to right: Frame enlargements from Melodie (Martin Justice, Colorart Pictures, Inc., US 1929), It’s a Great Life (Sam Wood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., US 1929), Redskin (Victor Schertzinger, Paramount Famous Lasky Corp., US 1929), and Manhattan Serenade (Sammy Lee, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., US 1929).

The Dawn of Technicolor investigates the people and technology behind this pioneering motion picture corporation. And these are supplemented with production histories and further context on the state of the motion picture industry, competing color technologies, and exhibitor and audience response to color films on the screen.

The book is broken down into ten chapters, covering the years 1915 to 1935 in depth. Although Technicolor was formally incorporated in 1915, the story really begins in 1912 with the company’s predecessor, Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott, Inc., an industrial research firm from Boston, Massachusetts. Over the following twenty years, Technicolor developed a series of two-color processes as necessary steps toward full-color photography and printing. But despite success in the laboratory and in small-scale production, the company was plagued by repeated disappointments. The feature films The Gulf Between (1917), The Toll of the Sea (1922), Wanderer of the Wasteland (1924), and The Black Pirate (1926) each showed tremendous promise in photography and color design, but implementation flaws resulted in technical problems and commercial failure. With the support of patient investors and the visionary leadership of Herbert T. Kalmus, Technicolor eventually prevailed against daunting odds to create the only commercially viable color process for motion pictures.

Technicolor’s president and co-founder Herbert T. Kalmus, 1930.

Technicolor’s president and co-founder Herbert T. Kalmus, 1930.

The Dawn of Technicolor investigates these vital make-or-break years, as the firm grew from a small team of exceptional engineers into a multimillion-dollar corporation. Color provided new creative tools for filmmakers, but also introduced new challenges on set, in the laboratory, and during projection. We chart the making of pivotal films in the process, from the troubled productions of Ben-Hur (1925) and The Mysterious Island (1926-29), to the early short films in Technicolor’s groundbreaking three-color process: Walt Disney’s animated Flowers and Trees (1932) and the live-action La Cucaracha (1934). The book spotlights the talented engineers and filmmakers associated with Technicolor, and the remarkable technical innovations that finally made color films practical, changing the film industry forever.

Researching this under documented period of Technicolor’s history was both challenging and rewarding. The backbone of the book is drawn from documentation in the Technicolor Corporate Archive and other collections at George Eastman House, including research notebooks by the engineers behind the company’s early processes. These were supplemented and contextualized with important but untapped collections from other institutions and private individuals, including previously unaccessed court files, Herbert Kalmus’s unedited autobiography notes and memoranda books, and a series of unpublished interviews with former Technicolor personnel conducted in the 1970s. These provided an unprecedented glimpse into the activities of Technicolor’s operations during the 1920s and 30s from the men and women directly responsible.

The Technicolor collections at George Eastman House include internal memos, research notebooks and work diaries from the 1920s and 30s.

The Technicolor collections at George Eastman House include internal memos, research notebooks and work diaries from the 1920s and 30s.

One of the strengths of The Dawn of Technicolor is the emphasis it places on wider context. Technicolor never operated in isolation; the firm was an active part of the film industry, influenced by business and audience trends, and a string of technological advancements, such as the introduction of sound. Studio files from some of Technicolor’s most important clients during this time, such as M-G-M, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney, reveal the struggles the company faced in scaling up its operations and providing consistent quality.

The wealth of documentation consulted during the research for this book is matched by the quality and diversity of its illustrations. Crystal Kui was the book’s research and illustration coordinator and was responsible for locating and selecting the best images from a potential pool of thousands. She worked with a host of museums, libraries, and archives around the world to secure high quality reproductions of photographs and original film elements. Our goal was to faithfully reproduce the look of two-color Technicolor prints from as many surviving examples as possible. We are proud that of the 428 illustrations in the book, 217 are made directly from nitrate prints and negatives.

he book is available to purchase from the Eastman House store.

The book is available to purchase from the Eastman House store.

The Dawn of Technicolor can be purchased now from the Eastman House store, and will be available from Amazon, and other good online retailers in February.

 

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The Films That Never Were

Posted by on Jan 07 2015 | Behind The Scenes, Motion Pictures

Conceptual artwork for The 13 Clocks

Conceptual artwork for The 13 Clocks

One of the joys of processing paper collections in the Moving Image Department is seeing some of the truly astounding work that was done before a film made it to screen (for example, the conceptual artwork above). But occasionally the story of a movie ends with this pre-production work.

Those with an interest in film are well aware of the concept of “lost films,” which are films that have no known existing copies in either archives or private collections. In most cases these films are from the earliest decades of film production and all we have go on are the promotional materials and production correspondence.

But what about those proposed film projects that were never completed, for which there was never any filmed evidence? In these cases the paper materials are all we have to document this phase of a filmmaker’s career and interests. Correspondence with collaborators, draft scripts, preliminary budgets—these paper items give us all we know about what might have been.

I am currently employed as a Project Archivist in the Moving Image Department, processing the manuscript collections of four independent filmmakers: Leo Hurwitz, Douglass Crockwell, James Reese, and Lothar Wolff. This project has been funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) as part of their Hidden Collections program. “Hidden collections” are collections housed in repositories that have no basic inventory, no online presence, and no way for potential researchers to discover them. CLIR’s program funds projects that help make such collections more easily discoverable in an online environment.

Wolff at The March of Time

Wolff at The March of Time

Wolff, the first filmmaker I worked on, started his career as a publicity agent in Germany in the 1920s. He emigrated to America prior to World War II and was the chief editor and assistant producer for the newsreel series The March of Time, before working as an independent producer from the 1960s to the 1980s. Towards the end of his diverse career he focused on a scientific interest that had lasted throughout his work (he referred to himself a “scientific moron”), producing projects for the National Geographic Society and others, many of which were made for public television.

As is often the case in dealing with filmmakers, the films that Wolff actually produced are dwarfed by those that never made it out of the planning stages. In these collections, one gets a sense of the whole of a filmmaker’s career—topics that interested them, hurdles they had to cross, and just simply how amazing it is that anything ever gets produced in the first place.

Wolff’s collection is full of material like this, allowing us to see the process from start to finish as well as what problems could potentially kill a project (usually financial). For example, in Wolff’s collection there are three proposed series of particular note. One is Then and Now, a suggested retrospective of The March of Time comparing and contrasting then-current events with archival footage. Such a production would have recontextualized the newsreel for a more modern time.

Then and Now proposal

Then and Now proposal

Then there is The TV Bible, a proposed German television dramatization of The Old Testament for which Wolff was hired as a script editor. After completing his work, Wolff was no longer involved in the project, and a note in the collection materials indicates that he was unsure of its status or if it ever was completed. This project – which consists of 94 folders – shows the vast amount of paperwork that can be behind an uncompleted project.

The TV Bible materials

The TV Bible materials

These materials for unproduced works not only encompass scripts and screenplays, but other material as well, such as artwork for a proposed adaption of James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks (photo at top). The story had been adapted for The Motorola Television Hour in 1953, but in the 1960s there was a proposal to do a feature length version. The project went through preliminary stages, and at one point Alec Guinness was approached for a role (when he turned it down he cited, in part, potential commitment to David Lean’s similarly unproduced Gandhi).

Alec Guinness letter regarding The 13 Clocks
Guiness-2

Alec Guinness letter regarding The 13 Clocks

Completed films do not represent the full scope of a filmmaker’s career. It is through the paper materials that we discover not only lost films, but ideas that never quite made it. Some of them may have evolved into other, later projects, and some may have been briefly considered and then tossed aside for one reason or another. The information these manuscripts contain is essential to a proper understanding of a filmmaker’s life and work, and with this project we hope to bring these paper collections—covering both produced and unproduced material—back into the light.

RELATED EVENT:
Stacey Doyle & Ken Fox on Manuscript Collections in Moving Image Archives
Saturday January 10, 2015 from 12:15 to 1 p.m., Curtis Theatre

Stacey Doyle and Ken Fox, project archivists in the Moving Image Department, will discuss the essential role of manuscript collections in a moving image archive and how these items are handled by archivists. This discussion will be framed by their work on the project “Documenting Their Films: Hidden Collections of Four Independent Filmmakers.” Free to members; incl. w/ museum admission, or $6/$3 students, talk only.

 

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What Does Identity Mean?

Posted by on Aug 27 2014 | Behind The Scenes, Exhibitions, Exploring the Archive, History, Other, Photography

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose — by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare wrote these lines for Juliet to speak in the play “Romeo and Juliet” and the question they pose is sometimes relevant to the cataloguing of a photograph.

Images such as “Migrant Mother,” “Powerhouse Mechanic,” and “Afghan Refugee Girl” are familiar to us by these acquired names, sometimes merely descriptive, sometimes alliterative and even poetic ones.

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 - 1965). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, printed ca. 1973. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Gift of Robert J. Doherty.

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 – 1965). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, printed ca. 1973. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Gift of Robert J. Doherty.

But it is also human nature to want to look behind the curtain, to know the narrative behind the iconic image, “just the facts, Ma’am” (as Sgt. Friday on the TV show Dragnet would say), the who, what, when and where of that image.

In the past year or so, new information about the identity of a solemn, bearded man in a brimmed hat in a Lewis Hine photograph has brought both clarity and resolution as well as prompting some consideration about the significance of a title and of inscriptions and the overall meaning and impact of certain historical photographs.

The portrait, now titled by Eastman House “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine” and dated 1926 in the exhibition Lewis Hine-from the Collections of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film was the springboard of these discussions. The image is a powerful one and like the familiar saying it “speaks a thousand words.”

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874 - 1940), A Yemenite Jew from Palestine, 1926. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine.

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874 – 1940), A Yemenite Jew from Palestine, 1926. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine.

In the case of this man’s portrait however, this road led to conflicting pieces of information for the cataloguer, creating, for a time, more confusion than clarity.

In 1901, Hine was one of several mid-westerners that progressive educator Frank Manny brought with him when he took over the position as supervisor of the Ethical Culture School in New York City. Hine began to photograph at Ellis Island in 1905 and wanted his pupils “[to] have the same regard for contemporary immigrants as they have for the Pilgrim who landed at Plymouth.”

As former Eastman House curator Alison Nordstrom tells us, “he was not on assignment in those years and he did not expect to make a living at it. His photographs were not “mug shots,” he strove to enoble-and not to accuse. He established a connection with his subjects and wanted the resulting images to tell their stories.”

We also know that in response to the new US government imposition of immigrant quotas, he returned to Ellis Island to make the same kind of portraits of new-arrivals in 1926.

The Eastman House’s Lewis Hine archive contains over 7000 photographs and 4000 negatives, along with manuscript and other materials and is generally acknowledged to be the most comprehensive collection of his work in the world. However, one should not be surprised that his work is widely represented in other museum collections and at historical sites, including the New York Public Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the University of Maryland and other places. Photography is, after all, a reproductive and a disseminating medium, and one negative can yield up many prints. What gives significance and value to most photographs is not that it is the only one, but that it is a vintage one, made by the photographer himself or under his close supervision, around the time the negative was exposed. And, not incidentally, a good print in fine condition will be valued over a poor one.

There are 2 small negatives of the bearded man at Ellis Island in the Eastman House Collection, each taken from a slightly different angle, probably moments apart. There are also 2 vintage photographs that correspond to each of these negatives.

This particular image is generally known through past exhibitions and their catalogues by the title “Armenian Jew, Ellis Island” and is sometimes dated 1905 and sometimes as 1926. An enlarged image in the second floor Great Hall at the Ellis Island National Monument bears the evocative caption, “Armenian Jew, Ellis Island” 1926, followed by: “This Armenian Jew probably left his native land to escape the Turkish persecution of the post-war period.”

Eastman House cataloguers were contacted in April 2010 by a visitor to Ellis Island, a man with an interest in Turkish history, who questioned this caption information on multiple fronts and argued dispassionately and persuasively that all of these facts could not be right at the same instance: nationality, religious affiliation, date, and historical events in the sequence and timing of last years of the Ottoman Empire.

The information written on the 4 portraits of this man by Hine in the Eastman House did little to resolve the issue and his concerns, since the information Hine had written on the prints was indeed “Armenian Jew Emigrant at Ellis Island 1926” but in contrast, he had written on the envelopes containing the negatives “Syrian Jewish Immigrant, Photograph by Lewis W. Hine, Ellis Island, 1905” With 2 nationalities and 2 dates, one is left with 4 distinct possibilities for the title. We knew from experience with Hine’s conflicting notations on the material at Eastman House that this was not unusual: The same portrait of an elderly woman could be identified as “Slovakian Grandmother”, “Jewish Grandmother” or “Polish Grandmother for instance and all could be variously dated from his two forays into Ellis Island. Hine did not recorded the identity of the subjects he photographed, although in some cases (as with children working in factories), he noted their height or other physical attributes.

The question of the identity of the portrait of the bearded man was raised again from a different source in late 2013. A family from New York City who had long believed that the Ellis Island enlargement was a relative (and even posed under it for snapshots), decided to come forward after seeing the image used in a review of the Eastman House exhibit on Lewis Hine at the International Center of Photography, published in the Wall Street Journal. The Goldzweig family contacted the newspaper and one of the staff writers, Angela Chen recognized a good story and took on the project.

Naomi and Yitzchak Goldzweig seated, with Ariella, far left, and Mazal Goldzweig, look at photos and information about their loved one Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal.

Goldzweig family look at photos and information about their loved one. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal.

Cataloguing staff were naturally cautious. An identification made on a resemblance alone is often a subjective judgment and people often disagree, perhaps especially when the stakes are high (think… a portrait that “looks like” Abraham Lincoln). But in the end, all of the information provided by the family lined up nicely, and the “mug shot” (in this case) on a May 6, 1926 “Document of Identity to an Applicant who cannot obtain a National Passport” was compelling.

His passport picture. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal

His passport picture. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal

So, much was gained through this communication. The bearded man was Rabbi Shalom Haim Nadoff. He was the son of Rabbi Meir Elnadaf of Jerusalem and his wife Bedur who had immigrated to Palestine from Yemen around the time of his birth in 1901. His family had produced generations of Torah scholars, some of whom had worked to preserve Yemenite Torah and religious works and heritage during the early waves of immigration to Palestine.

He was trained in the customary Yemenite order of Torah study before pursuing advanced studies at Yeshivat Etz Chayim in Jerusalem, with its emphasis on the analytical methods of the Eastern European yeshivot. He was ordained there in 1922.

He was also a graduate of Bezalel Art Institute in Jerusalem where he trained as a silversmith. He was an accomplished designer and craftsman of jewelry and religious articles, who exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembly, England in 1925.

Hine had noticed and photographed an educated young married man, an ordained Rabbi and a graduate of a prestigious school for craftsman. One might add that Rabbi Nadoff exhibited his works in silver at the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1933. He and his wife Mazal Sofer Nadoff and their five children initially resided in Brooklyn, New York before moving to Chicago, Illinois where in 1933, he displayed his work at the Century of Progress Exhibition. In Chicago, he established himself as the senior rabbi of the Sephardic Congregation of the Portuguese Israelite Fraternity, where he served for the next forty years. During this period, the congregation grew to include Sephardim of Middle Eastern and Northern African extraction, in addition to the original Spanish-Portuguese constituency. Although of Yemenite heritage, he was familiar with Sephardic and Ashkenazic culture and practice. He did not favor Yiddish and conversed only in Hebrew, English and Arabic. He was also able to use some Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) with his congregation.

He was a dedicated proponent of the establishment of a Jewish State and in 1974, he and his wife became residents of Bayit VeGan in Jerusalem, where they lived for the rest of their lives. He died there in 1986, four months after the death of his wife.

All of this information is now in the catalogue record of the Eastman House Data Management System.

However, as noted above, the title of the photograph is “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine” rather than the name of this man. The cataloguer’s reasoning was that this was also Lewis Hine’s photograph and the photographer was taking these images not as “mug shots” as stated above, not even as individual portraits (though he surely sought out an evocative face), but really to “ give a face” to the experience of an Immigrant to America in 1926.

The conflicting captions needed to be resolved, of course, as well as the misleading narrative used in the Ellis Island Caption. Both of the correspondents, the man with interest in Turkish history and the family of Rabbi Nadoff expressed satisfaction over these decisions. This information was shared with both the New York Public Library and the Ellis Island site. The Wall Street Journal published Angela Chen’s article, illustrated with photos of the Goldzweig family and using quotes from Eastman House on December 15, 2013 under the heading ”Rightly Identified – At Last.”

As a final note, the world was intrigued by the National Geographic documentary when photographer Steve McCurry returned to Afgahnistan after the removal of the Taliban government by American troops and local allies in 2001. He eventually located the subject of his compelling photograph, Sharbat Gula, then around the age of 30. Nevertheless, the photograph itself will probably never be known as “Sharbat Gula.” Like other iconic images, it stands for our collective, human identity, which in the best cases, transcends the identity of an individual.

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950). Afghan Refugee Girl, ca. 1985, printed later. Chromogenic development print. George Eastman House. Courtesy Steve McCurry. © Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950). Afghan Refugee Girl, ca. 1985, printed later. Chromogenic development print. George Eastman House. Courtesy Steve McCurry. © Steve McCurry



 
The exhibition Lewis Hine is on view though September 7, 2014 George Eastman House. This major retrospective of the celebrated documentary photographer, reformer, and educator features more than 150 original prints dating from 1905 to 1937, including “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine.”

 

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Music Cue Sheet Digitization Project

Posted by on May 28 2014 | Behind The Scenes, History, Motion Pictures, Other, Student Work

The experience of watching a silent film has never been truly noiseless. From the early teens well into the late 1920’s, silent films were almost always projected with some form of musical accompaniment, the nature of which varied according to the individual film and the scope of the theatre and clientele. Special releases premiering in big cities at important theatres were often accompanied by original scores performed by 40-plus piece orchestras, while screenings of the same film in smaller cities and towns might be accompanied by a single musician, usually a piano player or organist, improvising the musical accompaniment. Compiling, not to mention learning, enough appropriate music for countless reels of film was a formidable task that was resolved with two essential documents for the musician: music cue sheets and photoplay music.

Music cue sheets are highly detailed lists of musical suggestions, tailored to the narrative sequencing of a specific film. They were first produced by the Hollywood studios, but were also sold by musical entrepreneurs outside the studio system. Some, such as the “musical synopsis” for Across the Continent, simply listed the names of these musical suggestions along with their proper place in the film. Others, such as the “thematic music cue sheet” for Abraham Lincoln, featured the beginning melody of each suggested piece on a musical staff under the “cue” of an intertitle or action seen on screen.

Across the Continent

 

Abraham Lincoln

The second important element, photoplay music, is a sort of umbrella term. It is used to describe a series of compositions or musical arrangements, sometimes original but more often lifted from popular classical melodies, used to accompany a film. Photoplay music includes everything from venue and orchestra specific original scores for larger releases, to musical arrangements simple enough to be played by a single accompanist, but substantial enough to be fleshed out for small ensembles or large orchestras. Cue sheets suggested specific arrangements of photoplay music for a film but it was the conductor or accompanist who ultimately decided which photoplay music to purchase and what to play during the film.

Photoplay Example

Here at George Eastman House we have a valuable collection of both cue sheets and photoplay music, donated by the estate of the late Theodore Huff, a collector, archivist, professor, biographer, and silent film accompanist. Perhaps even more impressive than the sheer volume of this collection is the intersection between the two elements. An active silent film accompanist and music collector himself, many of Huff’s photoplay music scores correspond directly with the musical suggestions listed on his music cue sheets. And that’s where I come in.

Kate Scanning

I am a Masters student here at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and the University of Rochester and I have spent the past few months initiating the process of digitizing this important collection. Cue sheets are still used to accompany screenings of silent films, but they are also incredibly useful research tools for archivists and scholars by virtue of their meticulous cataloging of running times, footage counts, projection speed, cues between scenes and more. Take for example the cue sheet for The Famous Mrs. Fair, which on just the first page offers up a wealth of information about the film. This is especially important for lost films for which music cue sheets constitute an important point of access, both in terms of technical specifications and narrative atmosphere as indicated by the musical suggestions, to films we might otherwise know nothing about.

Famous Mrs. Fair 1 Famous Mrs. Fair 2

The scope of the current project addresses the collection of music cue sheets for nearly 900 films. Once completed, we hope to continue into a second phase of digitizing over 1,600 pieces of photoplay music – the actual music pieces suggested in the cue sheets – for a comprehensive digital library of silent film music that will be accessible to archivists, scholars, musicians, and others. It’s a daunting but an exciting project and I’m grateful for the opportunity to get the process started.

 

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’12 Years a Slave’: Solomon Northup’s Descendants Gather for Photo Shoot at Eastman House

Posted by on Mar 01 2014 | Behind The Scenes, Motion Pictures, Other

The Hollywood Reporter recently brought together five generations from the family tree of the real-life Solomon Northup portrayed in the film 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, US/UK 2013). Eastman House had the great honor of hosting the photo shoot for Northrup’s 26 upstate New York descendants. Similar gatherings were held for Northrup’s other family members in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
 
Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Northup, a New York State–born free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana, suffering extreme cruelty and brutal torture for twelve years before his release. The film is based on a book of the same name written by Northup in 1853.
 
The Hollywood Reporter wrote:

It’s one of the most visceral depictions of American slavery ever committed to the screen. But it’s the fact that 12 Years a Slave is based on the real-life events of Solomon Northup’s kidnapping and eventual escape that makes the film truly powerful — especially for his descendants.

Eastman House was honored to be chosen as the venue for these Rochester-area family members to gather and reflect on Northrup’s powerful legacy. Here are the resulting photos and video testimonials captured in the Dryden Theatre:
 



Northrup_family

More photos and stories from the other cities can be found here.

 

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