Genesis: A Photographic Essay
Curator’s Statement by Emanuel Cooper, Jr.
Welcome to Euphrates first digital exhibition.
We celebrate our twelfth anniversary as an organization by premiering the electronic version of our first conventional exhibition, Genesis: A Photo Essay Of The Black Community In Kansas City, Missouri From 1885. Reflective of the team that has produced this online site, a small exhibition team was formed twelve years ago to develop the original free standing photographic essay. The team consisted of myself, Carol Cooper and Lonnie Powell, my former high school art instructor at Lincoln in Kansas City, Missouri. This small three person team later co-founded Euphrates Gallery Incorporated, in December 1984.
From all aspects of the original exhibition’s development, research, design and marketing, we learned valuable lessons. During the course of our search for original photographic documents, we encountered two images (above) which are central to the exhibition, circa nineteenth century. One of the photographs was that of an infant, Tecytle Gardner and a second of her neighbor, Mr. James Lobb. Tecytle and Lobb were second and third generation settlers of slaves who had walked from Kentucky to the Independence, Missouri settlement which preceded Kansas City, Missouri, located on the state’s western border.
In the late mid-1800’s this border was a dividing line of high tension. The land (Kansas) just across the Kaw and Missouri rivers represented freedom for many who had been born into slavery. At this time, Kansas was a free state and Missouri was a slave state. Keep in mind that the Kansas City area was a half day’s walk west of Independence. One half day’s walk to the edge of freedom. Just across the river in Kansas, John Brown operated one part of the famous Underground Railroad. On the Missouri side, the Bushwhackers ruled.
An alleged occasion in 1859 has John Brown leading a group of slaves north to Michigan. At some point during his journey, he stopped at the fruit market and home of William Webb in Detroit. At Webb’s Detroit home, John Brown secretly discussed with Frederick Douglass, George de Baptiste, William Lambert and other abolitionist leaders his plan to free slaves by raiding the armory at Harpers Ferry. The other abolitionist leaders did not care for Brown’s plan; too risky. John Brown followed through, however, and his actions shook the consciousness of the Union. (Please see the IPL’s history resource called POTUS for further details of John Brown at Harpers Ferry.)
Back to the core images of the exhibition. The original images and stories of Tecytle & Lobb’s lives had been preserved by individuals in two different families, both of Kansas City, Missouri. These individuals served as informal historians for their families. It is our hope that this electronic version of Genesis, A Photographic Essay will inspire you to research and care for your family’s old photographs, as well as to make proper archival storage plans for the images you are taking now. Our original interest in developing Genesis was based on the love of the beauty of the photographic image. That focus remains. However, as you can tell from the story about John Brown and the Underground Railroad, the original interest quickly evolved to include the crystallized historical information held within or loosely connected to the photographic image. Twelve years following the exhibition’s original development, the meaning and significance of the exhibition continues to evolve.
Interactive Exhibition Design
In the spring of 1994, I was fortunate to be provided the time to concentrate on the final details of my thesis Museum As Classroom: Art Education & Interactive Exhibition Design. At the time I did not realize that concepts which I was researching and discussing in my paper would be significantly developed and realized in less than two short years for use by such a large audience. The technical development of the Internet (which had been in place for 20 years) and the very important aspect of accessibility, made possible by graphical web browsing software, has changed our lives forever. These new tools make it possible to rethink the way we interact with exhibitions.
Thanks to Internet Public Library team member, Linda Jackson, to Exhibit Hall coordinator, Kendra Frost, and to Euphrates advisory board members and friends across the country and overseas, we are able to present the exhibition Genesis, in a new way to a larger audience. We invite you to study the images for their esthetic and archival meaning.
Emanuel Cooper, Jr., July 1996
Genesis: A Photographic Essay, Copyright Euphrates, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Hosted by the Internet Public Library.