Faces of Rural America is a project facilitated by the Massillon Museum and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  This project will focus on two important American photographers, Belle Johnson (1863-1945) and Henry Clay Fleming (1845-1942), whose work is represented by over 1,500 images in the Museum’s permanent collection.  These photographers operated studios in the early-twentieth century in the rural cities of Monroe City, Missouri and Ravenswood, West Virginia, respectively.  The Museum will work in collaboration with libraries and historical societies in these towns to publicize and facilitate the project. 

This two-year project – which started last July – is divided into phases, the first of which was a planning phase.  Museum staff are currently preparing for the second phase of onsite visits to Monroe City and Ravenswood.  They will visit Monroe City, MO, in mid-February, conducting oral histories, digitizing photographs owned by residents, and asking residents to identify Belle Johnson photographs from the Museum’s collection.  The same will be carried out during the visit to Ravenswood, West Virginia, in June.  After returning to Massillon from these visits, Museum staff will transcribe the oral histories with the help of an intern, write scholarly articles and implement information gathered into an exhibition with a corresponding catalog as well as online educational components, to be launched in summer 2011. 

 The timeliness of this project is crucial to preserving the historical narrative of these photographic collections.  Several of the subjects in these photographs have, in the past year, died.  One great loss was missing the opportunity to interview a 106-year old man in Monroe City, Missouri, who was a friend of Belle Johnson.  He passed away in March 2008, just weeks prior to the Museum’s contacting him for an interview.  Not having the chance to document his stories of Belle Johnson was a great loss to preserving his history, Miss Johnson’s history and those of her photographs.

 The Massillon Museum has the unique opportunity to work with the residents of Monroe City and Ravenswood to help preserve the historical narratives of the cities and its residents as well as the legacies of Belle Johnson and Henry Clay Fleming.  Making these images and their stories accessible is a high priority.

Recent Project Updates

  • Interesting Facts: Ravenswood The MassMu research team is compiling information gathered while on the trip to Ravenswood.  We thought we would share a few interesting numbers from our Ravenswood research trip. Number of ...
    Posted Aug 20, 2010, 7:04 AM by MassillonMuseum
  • Exciting Ravenswood Finds Here are just a few photographs showing the wealth of information we discovered while in Ravenswood.
    Posted Aug 14, 2010, 2:37 PM by MassillonMuseum
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