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Old Crayon Portrait

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"Crayon portrait" is an umbrella term for an art approach that encompasses both free hand, and photographic renderings. Photographic crayon portraits, are large format, most around 16 x 20 inches, with a vignetted or sometimes domed oval format to the artwork. They were often originally framed in a large guilded, or ornately decorated frame. They were the commercial portrait offspring of the first attempts at photographic enlarging through the Woodward Solar Enlarging Camera, patented by Woodward in 1857. The weakly printed solar enlargement required the crayon portrait artist's touch up work in order to strengthen the image. The combining of crayon and photograph gave birth to a new commercial portrait aesthetics in both Photography and portraiture that enjoyed great success from roughly 1860 through about 1905, and in some isolated areas until the Great Depresion. These were the first "life-sized" photographic images that were available for portraiture. Artists used bromide, silver, and platinum prints as the photographic base. An out of print book (1882) by J. A. Barhydt describes the process of making the portraits, "Crayon Portraiture: Complete Instructions for Making Crayon Portraits on Crayon Paper and on Platinum, Silver, and Bromide Enlargements." Now and then a copy shows up on eBay for around twenty bucks or so. Unfortunately, the genre is not highly valued as a topic to historians of photography, as evidenced in most texts on the subject.

Concerning the dating of one of the artifacts . . . the enlargements were made from an earlier daguerreotype, ambrotype, tintype or late, any variety of the smaller prints made from glass plates. As a result, dating the image can be tricky and may require research. A daguerreotype made in 1847, for instance, might not have been enlarged until 1867. While clothing styles may have been updated on a few images, this is rare by my experience, and I have examined thousands of crayons as a photographic materials conservator who specializes in them. If there is a question regarding the date of the artifact, seek a conservator's examination--or date the artifact as closely as possible to a decade using circa; c1865, c1875, etc. To assist the dating of artifacts, there are books available showing clothing styles of the 19th century and how fashion changed from decade to decade. Attempt to date both the original and the enlargement if possible.

Concerning "Pasco and Rob't Pelan," These portraits were nearly all mail-ordered in response to ads in local papers or on the backs of cabinet cards. Some were contracted by traveling salesmen, who would take the original and then deliver the portrait back. Check for a historical society in Pasco, Washington to see if they have any information on this family or person. Robert most likely ordered the enlargement, and is quite possibly not the person in the image.

I am currently finishing my thesis work on historical and social implications surrounding the process. The thesis will be available through Boise State University sometime next year, and I hope to follow the thesis with a full book publication, which takes about two years.

Best regards, DiAnne Iverglynne

Great info Diane. I have a 16X20 crayon family portrait of a native family. Ornate frame and wood planks for a back. Letter "P" signed on bottom right. and advice about this.

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Q: How do you find information on an old crayon portrait that has a label on the back that reads Pasco and Rob't Pelan?
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