August 24, 2022 505 PM
MARFA — A years-long effort to properly catalog and store the original archives of regional photographers Nancy and Jimmie Keith at the Marfa and Presidio County Museum is now complete, with Museum Board Member Terry Norman transferring the last remaining negatives from old, deteriorating envelopes to new storage sleeves and binders last week.
“Where they were stored before, they were all in these dirty envelopes that had been in that file cabinet for I don’t know how long,” said Norman. “It’s not a good way to store something you want to keep.”
The Keith archive is a collection of around 25,000 negatives shot in Marfa from the 1940s to the 1980s and includes studio portraits of military personnel, events such as school sports and ceremonies, ranching scenes, landscapes, storefronts of local businesses and more. While Jimmie passed away in 1953, Nancy continued to photograph the local community into the 1980s.
Negatives are now held in archival storage pages in weatherproof binders which will allow viewers to examine an image without having to handle the negative itself. The upgrades should help ensure the historical photographs last well into the future, said Norman.
“You can just take a sleeve out and look without having to pull the actual negative out, and that way they’re protected from the dirt and being stuck together and from scratches,” said Norman. “This way it’s a lot more organized.”
The museum’s other photographic collection, that of Frank Duncan, which consists of over 2,200 early 20th century glass negatives, has been fully digitized and is stored in fireproof cabinets at the museum. The Keith archive is currently only somewhat digitized. Norman estimated around 5,000 of 25,000 images have been scanned.
The inventory of the Keith archive, which Norman has been working on modernizing since 2020, is available for download on the museum’s website. It is sorted by numerical and alphabetical order, making it searchable by business or individual name.
Through working closely with the Keiths’ archives, Norman became very familiar with their routine subject matter but said a handful of pin-up style images he came across that appeared to be shot in the 1940s were a little out of the ordinary for the otherwise wholesome, community-focused documentarians. Norman surmised the glamor shots were likely taken in order to be sent to boyfriends or husbands serving overseas during World War ll.
The museum is currently not operating at full-capacity and has had to close rooms out of concerns for the building’s structural integrity. The city is in ongoing discussions regarding the status of the historic adobe and is assessing the building for future repairs.