Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996 Page: 27
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Researchers speculate that Frank Duncan took this photograph of a fire at Ernest Williams' Tire Shop from a rooftop in 1924. There are several interesting things
to notice about this photo. First, the man in the white shirt leaning over the tripod in the lower left is another photographer identified as Mr. Share. (Share, an Anglo
photographer, set up his studio on the southside of Marfa and took photos primarily of the town's Mexican-American population.) Also, note that there are no women
in this image. Photo from the Duncan Collection, Marfa-Presidio County Museum. Printed from the original Duncan negative by Lori Brown McVey.
includes a few dozen cut rollfilm nitrate
negatives. At some time, the whole collection
had been lent to the Humanities Research
Center at the University of Texas in
Austin, and workers there had contactprinted
about 1,000 of the 5x7 negatives.
These prints are also part of the Marfa
All the 5x7s were in Kraft envelopes, so
the first order of business was to transfer
them into archival sleeves. Now I finally
got a chance to really look at the images. I
had expected that the vast majority would
be unidentified portraits; this is common
for a professional photographer in a town
or small city. While there are a few such
portraits, the vast majority of the images
depict military, ranching, mining, farming,
and town-life scenes, in addition to
the rugged mountains and canyons of the
There was a great deal of work to be
done and, fortunately for me, about half
way through the project I received some
help. Lori McVey, a doctoral tudent at UTAustin,
who is researching the photographers
of the border, arrived and offered her
assistance. Without her efforts, the project
could not have been completed in the
An equally important part of the project
to conserve the collection in archival
sleeves and boxes was to design and produce
a cataloguing system that would make
the images easily accessible to the Museum
staff and visitors. The Museum purchased a
computer for this purpose, and I designed a
small database to hold the information.
Working with the finding aids that the
Museum had developed during the years,
Lori and I described each negative using
both broad categories and specific detail.
Such a finding aid is especially important
for a negative collection because the negatives
are the originals and are also hard for
most people to "read".
After working with the Duncan material
for six weeks, I am more convinced
than ever that it is an important resource,
not just for Marfa and Presidio County but
for the whole country. The images capture
and document the transition of one of the
last frontier areas in the United States from
the boom times of mining and open-range
cattle ranching to a slower, but more stable
economy based on improved-breed livestock
operations and small business. The
coverage of the last days of the horse cavalry
is unexcelled, and the collection is full
of exuberant pictures of small town and
rural life during the 1920s. All in all, the
existence of the collection and the
Museum's continuing efforts to preserve it
and make it more available to the public is
a tribute to the entire community.
David Haynes is a historian who lives in San
HERITAGE * SUMMER 1996 27
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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/m1/27/?rotate=90: accessed October 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.