My great-grandmother kept this hand-colored photograph of her mother in a small, red velvet frame on her writing desk. Anna Leota Fenton of Ashton, Osceola County, Iowa married in the spring of 1902 when she was twenty-two years old.1 She may have had her photograph taken at the time of her marriage.
Anna Leota Fenton, who typically went by her middle name or the nickname “Ota,” poses demurely in this photograph. The hand-colored copy comes with no suggestions as to the photographer or the original medium, but it seems to have been a typical portrait of the day. Did Leota request that the photograph be colored, or was this arranged later by her daughter?
The photograph has been colored in a way that looks quite natural.2 Leota’s eyes are blue-green, and her hair a light brown. Her dress has been colored a deep mauve or soft burgundy, perhaps the original color of the dress, perhaps not, and she wears a matching ribbon in her hair. There is a small gold-colored brooch at the side of her throat.
Leota’s hairstyle is one that was popular at the turn of the twentieth century. It is full and soft around her face, with a tendril or two escaping, and it is fastened in a high bun in the back. Although few details of her dress can be seen in this head-and-shoulders pose, her dress does have a high collar to the chin and full sleeves. The bodice appears to be “pouched” with soft vertical pleats.3
How do you feel about colorized photographs? This week, I read here about the Subreddit page History in Color, which features historical photographs colorized by both amateurs and professionals. Some of them are really beautiful, making scenes from the Civil War or the Great Depression look like they took place yesterday. These photographs could be great for engagement in the classroom – some students might relate more to history if all of the pictures weren’t in black and white!
1 “News of Osceola County,” Sibley (Iowa) Gazette, 27 March 1902, p. 8, col. 1.
2 Maureen A. Taylor, Family Photo Detective (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2013), 62.
3 Taylor, Family Photo Detective, 112.