Lampasas, TX: ca. 1890-1892. Cabinet card photograph mounted on thick studio paper (163 x 105 mm). Faded and slightly scuffed, otherwise very good condition. Very good. Item #3327
A beautiful and important photograph executed by the first professional female photographer in Texas, which in addition may be linked two other early women photographers of the American West.
¶ Miss Virginia A. Ribble is the subject of a detailed investigation by Scott Fitzgerald, who reports that she was born in Indiana in 1852; she moved with her father to Lampases, Texas in 1888; by 1890 she was established as a professional photographer with her own studio, which was at that time unprecedented in Texas and in most other Western territories. We do not know how or where she learned photography, but she continued working as a photographer until 1897. After marrying John Hall in 1903, she lived a life of leisure and was active in many social groups. She died in Lampases in 1929. Fitzgerald remarks: "While not long compared to her lifetime, her stint as a photographer likely provided an income and stability at a time where both were elusive for single women." (Source: "Who’s Behind the Camera? Miss V. A. Ribble, Lampasas, Texas" in: Journal of the Texas State Genealogical Society, vol. 57, no. 1, March 2018, pp. 70-73. See also: Lawrence T. Jones III, "Lens On The Texas Frontier," and David Haynes, "Catching Shadows: A Directory of 19th Century Photographers").
Shockingly, not a single photograph by Virginia Ribble can be found in the Harry Ransom Center, the Wittliff Collection, the Amon Carter Museum, and the Briscoe Center of American History (UT Austin).
The subject of the present photograph is a young "Willa Fellbaum" (according to a penciled note on the verso, but see below). She is wearing a fashionable hat, and exhibiting what can only be described as a "Mona Lisa smile." This individual was either identical with -- or certainly related to -- the Elizabeth ("Bess" / "Bessie") Fellbaum who soon became a photographer in her own right in partnership with Mae Sterns, in Cove, Oregon, ca. 1900. NB: judging from the fact that the sitter is no more than a girl, it is unlikely that she was Bess Fellbaum's mother "Willa" as is suggested by the (later?) penciled inscription. We know that Bess Fellbaum (1877-1943) married Mae's brother James Edward ("Ed") Stearns in 1912, and in the 1920s the three moved to La Grande where Mae continued working as a professional photographer.
Mae Stearns and Bess Fellbaum are only as a footnote in Lee McIntyre's "Early Women Artisan Photographers: Narrative Nuances, 1840-1930" (AHA 33rd Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois January 4, 2019, note 10: "Women who ran studios with an unrelated female partner"). See also "Mae Stearns, Union County Resident for 79 Years: An Oral History as told by James Bennett, her grand nephew." Bennett believes that their established their photography studio in Cove in 1905.
IN EVERY WAY A REMARKABLE PHOTOGRAPH.