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Through Mabel's Eyes: A Photo Diary (ONLINE EXHIBIT)

DECEMBER 11, 2023 - ONGOING

Mabel Beckman’s (née Meinzer) photo diary offers a rare glimpse into the early years of her life from birth to 1925, showing the people, activities, and memories that left an impression and became most important to her: family and friends, country and service, love and marriage. Each image was lovingly arranged, sometimes cut carefully into shapes, and then glued to its page. About half received handwritten inscriptions from Mabel that described who they were, what they were doing, when, or where. Set mainly against a New York backdrop before, during and after WWI, Mabel illustrated her own coming-of-age story as a photographic journey of young life through her own eyes.

Online Exhibit Video and PDFs

The online exhibit is accessible below for viewing here, or on its host platform. Its mp4 file format was rendered in high definition (1080p). Sounds runs throughout (“Because I Think You're Still In Love With Me” music track) but can be muted, if preferred. The viewer can also pause the presentation to allow for additional time reading photo interpretations. A progress bar near the bottom indicates the viewer’s journey through the slides. Run time is 1:54 minutes.

Viewing tip: Enlarge the video to the size of the browser, or switch to the host platform and select HD.

Except where noted, all images depicted in the Through Mabel’s Eyes online exhibit were sourced from the Beckman Foundation Collection and are property of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. As such, they may not be copied, reproduced, used, stored, or sold without written permission.

Viewers can also access PDFs of the online exhibit slides in 3 parts using the following document links:

Selected Highlights

Family and Friends

3
5
6

Country and Service

9
10

Love and Marriage

14
18

Curatorial Notes

The opportunity to explore an album with 100-plus-year-old images and handwritten inscriptions is a dream come true for an archivist and curator, and at the same time, there’s an acute awareness that the object is extremely vulnerable and requires extra special handling. The initial approach to Mabel’s photo diary was a cautious one because there was visual evidence of its deterioration before the first page was ever turned. Black paper photo albums were popularized in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. Given the time period spanned by Mabel’s photo collection, her use of a black paper album was an expected choice. This type of album allowed the user to affix images with photo corners or paste adhesive. Mabel used paste adhesive with a brush applicator. In some instances, images were detached from their pages and the brush strokes of the paste adhesive were yellowed and visible on the backs. In others, they had torn from their pages and displayed remnants of the black paper.

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Vulnerable Conditions

The first effort for a remarkable piece such as this is always to preserve it, intact, typically in an archival box with acid-free tissue in a cool, dry, light-controlled (dark) environment. However, the album was so severely deteriorated that its century-old pages were crumbling away into the box that held it and the images themselves were fading into oblivion from both the acidic paper and adhesive. One risk was that the pages would continue to disintegrate but with the images still affixed, tearing or crumbling them. Another was that the images, many of which were turning to a very pale sepia, would soon fade beyond recognition. The vulnerable nature of the album and its contents necessitated dismantling, typically a last resort, but a plan of action affirmed through consultation with additional archive professionals at Science History Institute in Philadelphia.

To conduct this careful process, white cotton gloves were worn at all times and the album was first digitized. Every page was documented using a digital camera and flat bed scanner, and an index created. This enabled the order of the images to be preserved, as well as their inscriptions, in case any additional wear or damage occurred at a later time. Images were gently removed (in many cases already detached from the pages) and placed into preservation, archival-quality sleeves in the same order they appeared in the album. Just under 100 photographs, five newspaper-style illustrations, and one article clipping comprised Mabel’s album. Not all were fully visible due to degradation. Of those that were, approximately two dozen were selected for this online exhibition to represent the themes and spirit of Mabel’s efforts. Wherever possible, Mabel’s own words were included to show how she remembered each entry and what it meant to her. These were the moments that shaped Mabel’s adolescence and young adulthood.

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Connect-the-Dots Fun for Kids

Introduce kids to the importance of service with this connect-the-dot activity sheet. See Mabel Meinzer in her Red Cross volunteer uniform from 1918. Follow the numbers in order, drawing a line from one to the next, until the picture is complete. Then, color it in!

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Coloring Graphic

Additional Resources

About Mabel:

  • Read about Mabel (Meinzer) Beckman’s early years and her relationship with Dr. Arnold O. Beckman here.
  • Take in the history of Mabel Beckman, her impact on Dr. Beckman, research, and philanthropy in this news feature from Jenna Kurtzweil and the Beckman Institute at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
  • Discover the story of how Mabel and Arnold started a family and a philanthropic organization in this book by Thackray & Myers.

About the time period:

Postscriptum

From the Library of Congress, a look at the East Marion B.C. Tuthill Store and Post in Long Island around the time that Mabel was born (ca. 1900). On the porch, patrons sit near farm tools displayed for purchase, and ads decorate the front windows. In the foreground, a man waits in horse and buggy.

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Long Island Store and Post Office around 1900

Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-40413, black & white film copy neg.

From the U.S. Army, public domain video footage of the 1919 Parade of the 2nd Division in New York, attended by Mabel.

Keywords: Mabel, Meinzer, Beckman, photo, album, antique, vintage, archive, archival, exhibit, Brooklyn, Bayside, Long Island, New York, Gilded Age, Progressive Era, WWI, World War I, women’s suffrage, roaring twenties, AMBF, Arnold and Mabel, Arnold O. Beckman