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Grant number like: FT-57813-10

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Melissa Wolfe
St. Louis Art Museum (St. Louis, MO 63110-1380)

Summer Stipends
Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2010 – 9/30/2010

Proving Up on a Claim in Custer County, Nebraska: Identity, Power, & History in the Solomon D. Butcher Photographic Archive

Between 1886 and 1892 Solomon Butcher photographed over 900 residents of Custer County, Nebraska. Though ubiquitous as western illustrations, the archive also offers a rare case study of how a specific community negotiated Plains settlement during a transitional period when progressive and agrarian ideologies, the Plains environment, and a fledgling regional identity all increasingly put pressure on settlers' beliefs and identities. Through rigorous visual analysis I identify visual patterns that manifest these dynamics, as well as sitters' strategies to convey visually their accommodation, assertion, or opposition to them. I conceptualize the photographs as a nexus, a specific site where the convergence of various competing beliefs and activities are given a visual record. This book project offers a critical structure that accommodates settlers' complicity and disempowerment, while considering the very real pressures on them that resulted in their decisions to enable such dynamics.