"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Friday, January 11, 2008


Rare Photo Finds Home in KC
Nelson-Atkins Will Add John Brown Daguerreotype to Hallmark Photo Collection



The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is planning to add a rare daguerreotype of abolitionist John Brown this spring after announcing last month that it was the unnamed institution that purchased the photo at auction.

The photograph was auctioned by Cowan’s Auctions Inc. of Cincinnati. Owner Wes Cowan estimated its initial value at $60,000 to $80,000, but the final price was $97,750.

According to a news release from the museum, the Hall Family Foundation purchased the work, one of only six know daguerreotypes taken of Brown and possibly the earliest, on behalf of the Nelson-Atkins.

“We are honored to have this portrait join the Hallmark Photographic Collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art,”

photographic curator Keith Davis said. “This work has tremendous meaning for out regional community, and it is a pivotal daguerreotype for the period. It is important to us that the public will be able to come see this work in the context of the greater photography collection in the months ahead.”

The museum plans to begin displaying the John Brown piece in March, and it can be viewed free of charge.

Brown lived in Osawatomie before the Civil War and led a raid on proslavery men in 1856, killing five. His action brought retaliation from border ruffians, and in what’s known as the Battle of Osawatomie, five of Brown’s men, including one of his sons, were killed.

His later raid in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., was designed to unite enslaved African-Americans in 1859. That raid led to his execution, but it also escalated the tensions that some historians say led to the Civil War.

According to the museum, the photograph was passed down from Brown to his daughter, Annie Brown, then on to her granddaughter, thence to her grandson and his wife.

Cowan, who leads one of the nation’s top auction houses, said the piece was the most important photograph his company had handled.

But its value is almost as much about the photographer as it is the subject.

“This extremely rare and riveting portrait is double significant,” said Theresa Leininger-Miller, associate professor of art and history at the University of Cincinnati. “Not only as one of the earliest daguerreotypes of the revolutionary abolitionist, but also because the long-lost image was made by the remarkable African-American photographer, Augustus Washington.”

Washington ran one of the most successful daguerreotype businesses in Hartford, Conn., and a collection of his works is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.
By Jeff Gulley, jgulley@miconews.com

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