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Leo J. Beachy Manuscript Collection, 1871-2001, MS 3087
Leo J. Beachy Manuscript Collection
Beachy, Leo J., 1874 -1927
Summary: Collection of manuscript items relating to Garrett County photographer Leo Beachy. The collection includes published material by or about Leo Beachy, books and periodicals in the possession of Beachy, notebooks, and correspondence.
H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Historical Society
201 W. Monument St.
Baltimore, MD 21218
There are no access restrictions
Permission to quote must be received in writing from the Special Collections Librarian.
Library Purchase, 1999.
Processing begun by Mary Markey ca 2000; Processing completed by Damon Talbot, June 2011.
Leo Beachy (1874-1927) was one of the ten children of Jonas and Anna Beachy of Mt. Nebo Farm, Garrett County, Maryland, near Grantsville. He attended normal school, and taught at one-room public schools in the area from 1895 to 1905.
A mysterious illness, posthumously diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, began to affect him as a teenager and eventually caused him to give up teaching. He lived on the family farm, augmenting his income with bee keeping and selling E.L. Kellogg’s educational magazine and books.
As a schoolboy, he was noted for his artistic ability. While teaching, he received a small Kodak camera with darkroom chemicals as a premium for selling books, but did not take up photography until the summer of 1905. He was immediately enthralled, “I had given more attention to fine art before than I realized and when I turned to the medium of the camera to give expression to my thoughts, it was so easy and delightful for me…” He avidly studied the work of contemporary photographers in periodicals such as American Photography and identified with the Pictorialist Movement.
As Beachy’s photographic skills grew, he “dreamed day dreams of a studio, with sky light, office, dark room, a large camera and a painted background.” A relative helped him build a darkroom in the farm’s springhouse; the spring provided water for washing the negatives and prints. He estimated that he processed 13,000 photographs in the last year that he used this little darkroom. He eventually achieved his dream—“The Mount Nebo Studio”, a simple frame building with skylight and glass wall. Family members recall the local population lining up after church on Sunday to have their portraits made at the farm studio.
Beachy inherited the devotion to nature that passed down from Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites to American writers such as Gene Stratton Porter (both Ruskin and Porter were included in his library.) He incorporated these ideas a book he produced, Letters and Pictures for Isabelle. Illustrated with his photos, this little volume addressed a cousin who had moved to St. Louis, extolling the virtues of the rural life over the urban. Beachy’s photos won several awards during his lifetime and were published, once in National Geographic magazine. Beachy’s illustrated articles were also published in local newspapers, as well as in magazines such as Motor Travel.
Over his career, Beachy returned again and again to the same subjects: the National Pike, the stone arch bridge over the Casselman River, the mountain vistas and groves of trees of Garrett County and Southern Pennsylvania. The best of his landscape photographs possess a gently graded tonal range and use of atmospheric perspective that capture perfectly the misty, subdued light of morning or evening in hill country. He also printed his landscape plates on postcard stock to sell at Grantsville stores.
In his studio, he posed his friends and neighbors, often in everyday clothes, before neutral backdrops or a wall of pressed tin. The studio furniture-chair and pedestals-that feature frequently in the portraits, are homemade. Although it is clear that Beachy’s heart was in his landscape work; his portraits, especially of children, have a charming spontaneity and folk art quality. The photographer’s empathy with his subjects shines through.
Scope and Content
Series I: Published Material (Box 1)
This series consists of published material by or about Leo Beachy. Included are four copies of Letters and Pictures for Isabelle, a book by Beachy consisting of his letters and photographs, extolling the virtues of rural life over the urban. There is also a complete set of four volumes containing Leo Beachy’s photographs and writings compiled by his niece, Maxine Beachy Broadwater and Matthew Novak. Volume I contains an autobiography by Leo Beachy. Beginning in 1982, the Beachy family began printing calendars with photographs by Leo Beachy that were on sale at the Grantsville Library and Main Street stores. Included in this collection is a copy of the 1992 calendar. This series also has a Life magazine article from 1990 containing a photo essay on Beachy which includes images and quotations. There is one unpublished item in this series: A 2001 masters thesis by Beth Ann Holler, entitled Leo J. Beachy’s Creation of the Rural Ideal in an Age of Conflict: A Study of a Small Town Photographer, which argues for Beachy as ”an interpreter of the impact of modernism on rural life.”
Series II: Books and Publications (Boxes 2 – 3)
This series consists of books and periodicals that were in the possession of Leo Beachy. Authors include: Beatrice Harraden; Thomas De Quincey; Moncure Conway, abolitionist and Unitarian clergyman; John Ruskin, English art and social critic; naturalist Gene Stratton Porter and Scottish Evangelist Henry Drummond. There are also works on religion, photography, and education. Leo Beachy sold the educational books published by E.L. Kellog & Co., contained in this series to supplement his income.
Series III: Correspondence, Notebooks and
Ephemera (Box 3)
This series consists of nine of Beachy’s notebooks, an account book, correspondence; primarily postcards, newspaper clippings, ephemera, and a map of Fort Riley, Kansas.
See also the following related photograph collection:
Leo J. Beachy Photograph Collection, 1889-1931, PP 235