Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996 Page: 26
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Lights, Camera, Action in Marfa
By David Haynes
Coming out of Paisano Pass and driving
past the Marfa Lights viewing site on U.S.
90, I pondered what other wonders lay
ahead of me for the next six weeks. I had
been hired by the Marfa-Presidio County
Museum to catalog and conserve a collection
of photographs made by Frank Duncan
in the early 1900s. The project was funded
by the Texas Historical Foundation, and I
had been unable to hide my excitement
when I had been asked to be part of it.
I had traveled to and through the area
many times in the past, and it is one of my
favorite places in the world. Marfa is the
southwestern point of a triangle of towns
(Alpine and Fort Davis are the others) in
the middle of the Trans-Pecos area of
Texas. Fort Davis is older and Alpine is
larger, but Marfa has played a significant
role in the economic and military history
of West Texas since its founding in the
1880s as a water stop on the Galveston,
Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad.
During the duration of the project the
Museum was located in a house on the
western edge of town. It is now in the
process of moving to a much better loca
Business or Product
for Pennies a Day!
7 3/4" x 9 1/2"
5"x 9 1/2"
7 3/4" x 5"
4 3/4" x 5"
3 3/4" x 4 3/4"
2 2/8" x 4 3/4"
3 1/2" x 2"
For more information,
call (512) 453-2154.
Photographer Frank Duncan is shown at Casa Piedra on a hunting trip with Dr. Clay Slayton, a Marfa dentist
who also took this shot. The Marfa Museum recently began efforts to preserve Duncan's collection of 2,200
images. Photo from the Duncan Collection, Marfa-Presidio County Museum. Printed from the original Duncan
negative by Lori Brown McVey.
tion: a historic house on the highway. Exhibits
on the history of Marfa and Presidio
County fill all of the rooms except the
kitchen. The kitchen is where I spent the
Very little is known about the life of
Frank (Francis King) Duncan. It is believed
that he was born in the Midwest, and he may
have learned photography there. He had
studios in Missouri and Oregon and was in
West Texas by the 1910s. While photography
seems to have been his main business, he
also tried to develop mining claims in the
Terlingua area. He was living in Presidio in
1968, and it is thought that he died in Big
The Frank Duncan Photographic Collection
was discovered in the basement of a
Marfa building and given to the people of
Marfa by Duncan's daughter in the 1970s.
During the years, it has been housed in a
variety of locations: offices, garages, and
finally the kitchen in the Museum.
As one might expect with fragile items
stored for a half century in less-than-ideal
conditions, most of the negatives show
some damage. The whole collection had
apparently gotten wet at one time or another,
and most negatives have lost about a
half-inch of image along one edge. With
perhaps a hundred negatives, the emulsion
is so degraded that very little usable image
information still remains. The rest of the
images, however, are in remarkably good
shape, and the information they contain
can be easily retrieved by printing on platinum
or palladium paper.
After meeting with Lois Howard, president
of the association that operates the
museum, and other board members, I spent
the first few days inventorying the material
so we could order archival supplies as soon
as possible. The collection contains approximately
2,200 negatives. Most of these
are 5x7 inches and on nitrate base, but
there are also about 500 5x7 glass negatives
and nearly 150 6-1/2x42 inch nitrate-based
panorama negatives. The collection also
26 HERITAGE *SUMMER 1996
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996, periodical, Summer 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45405/m1/26/: accessed October 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.