NORWOOD – Once an internationally known art photographer, F. Holland Day has fallen into obscurity since his death in 1933. Although it is difficult to imagine that Day, a photographer who in 1898 dressed up like Jesus and staged crucifixion scenes over several weeks in the countryside between Norwood and Walpole, could soon be forgotten.
A recent exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and a current exhibit at the Davis Museum in Wellesley are prompting a new look at Day’s life and work as a pioneering photographer, book publisher and advocate for local history. Upcoming events include a symposium at Stonehill College in Easton, an exhibit at Brockton’s Fuller Museum of Art and a display at the F. Holland Day House, home to the Norwood Historical Society.
This renewed interest in Day could not have come at a better time, according to John Grove, archivist for the Norwood Historical Society, since Norwood is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding. The Day family hosted a reception in the parlor of the house on the day that the charter was signed and both F. Holland Day and his father, Lewis, had lifelong interests in the local history of Dedham and Norwood.
The Norwood Historical Society is working with Arcadia Publishing to publish “Images of Norwood,” which includes a few of Day’s photographs, as one in a series of books of local history.
Click here to purchase a copy of “Norwood, Massachusetts (Images of America Series)” and help support the Norwood Historical Society.
“We’re inviting people to come to the Day House between noon and 4 p.m., April 13, and we want them to bring their old photos [of Norwood] and to look at ours to help us identify some things,” said Grove. He expects some lively discussions about the wheres and whens of the photographs. Free tours of the house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be available.
“Lots of people say, ‘I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never been in the house,’ and we want to change that,” said Grove, who has lived in Norwood for 13 years. Grove’s face lights up when he remembers the excitement of his first visit to the 17-room mansion, which has a three-story-high center hall some say is reminiscent of the Gardner Museum.
And that enthusiasm has lasted for more than 10 years. “If you have several hours available, John can fill them,” said Maureen Graney, secretary. of the society, adding that he gives a great tour.
But for Patricia Fanning, the society’s Day archivist, the symposium is a chance to dispel some myths about Day, whom she calls Fred. Fanning has worked closely with Verna Curtis, curator of photography at the Library of Congress, to provide information about the 675 photographs in the Day collection. Fanning also worked with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art to catalog the thousands of letters in the Day collection.
For example, Day was known as a recluse because he stayed in bed for at least the last decade of his life. Standing in what had been Day’s bedroom, Fanning said that Day may have been ill because of exposure to chemicals used in the photographic process. “But as I get older,” she said, “the idea of limiting who I see and what I have to do is very attractive.”
Fanning said that Day was still very active in his correspondence and close friends would visit. He supervised the planting of his gardens. Almost every Sunday his neighbor, Mrs. Baker, would visit and sing. Day later gave his beloved house in Maine to the Bakers.
“Of course it makes good copy … to quote his doctor as saying, ‘Yes, I got him to go downstairs in 1924,’ but we don’t know how active Day was.”
Fanning says she is distressed that Day’s employee and confidant, Alfred Tanneyhill, has been misidentified as one of Day’s models. “Fred was very careful in his relationships,” said Fanning, who said he was generous as well. Day gave his large and very valuable collection of writings by Keats to the Keats homestead in England as a gift.
Curtis agrees. “Day gave everything free and clear, without any restrictions,” she said in an interview from the Fuller Museum. Curtis was delivering photographs on loan for the Fuller’s exhibit, which is curated in part by students at Stonehill College. “The students were amazed to see the original photographs,” said Curtis, who adds that the images are much better than reproductions generally available.
“And Day would have loved the fact that students were doing this exhibit,” Curtis said, “because he always took an interest in helping young people.”
06 Apr 1997, Sun The Boston Globe
By Cynthia Stanton GLOBE STAFF