It’s about time we reported to our readers on the state of the Notman collection of nineteenth-century photographs which was housed at McGill University's McCord Museum of Canadiana with the financial assistance of Maclean's some eighteen months ago. We checked with the people at McCord the other day and they tell us that the job of cataloguing the collection won't be complete for at least fifteen years. It's a mountainous task, for it involves more than five hundred thousand photographs dating as far back as 1856.
However, by the end of the summer, Barbara Chadwick, the cataloguer, expects to have sorted out the sixty-five hundred outdoor scenes that William Notman, the first great Canadian photographer, made on his cross-Canada tours. They'll be of immense interest to scholars. This leaves the Notman
portrait collection, some examples of which are shown beginning on page 25. That won’t be fully catalogued and cross-indexed until 1973.
Last summer the museum put on a four-month exhibition of some of the most spectacular Notman pictures. Five thousand people saw it, and since then there have been scores of requests for reprints, portraits of dead relatives, identifications of people in old photos and so on. Many Montrealers, wandering into the exhibit, saw themselves or their forebears on display; one staid and respectable businessman became "dangerously excited,” the museum people tell us, when he spotted himself in the back row of a McGill football team of the Nineties.
The St. James Club. Lncyclopædia Britannica, Atlantic Advocate, and Department of External Affairs are just a few of the institutions that have made use of Notman’s photos recently and the
museum has had some intriguing mail. An eighty-year-old doctor in Akron. Ohio, wrote in to identify most of the snowshoers in a famous Notman composite. He's got a memory as clear as a photograph. A woman wrote in to say that she'd worn her great grandmother's wedding headdress and had always wanted to know what the rest of the gown looked like: would a Notman photo be able to show her? It would. Several scholars have been in to the museum to look at the photos and get the feel of the era, while CBC designers have found that it's a good place to go for costume ideas, for the collection faithfully records the changes in dress over the past hundred years.
Maclean's will continue to publish further interesting examples of the collection. Coming up: a portfolio of Notman beauties, with comments and some photographs of his own by Yousuf Karsh; an intriguing album of Canadian scenes taken seventy years ago; a lively collection of portraits of men and women in fancy-dress costume (when the fancy-dress ball was the social event of the season).
Meanwhile, cast your eye over the Notman collection of beards in this issue. Mustaches were big in those days, too, as the accompanying photographs show.
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