An Idaho Photographer
The remarkable photography of Benedicte Wrensted (1859-1949) lay in obscurity for decades until brought to light by the detective work of Smithsonian anthropologist Joanna Cohan Scherer. In 1984, while researching photographs for the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians, Scherer found a collection of
glass plate negatives
at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC. Labeled only as "Portraits of Indians from Southeastern Idaho Reservations, 1897," the images were so compelling that Scherer had prints made for the Handbook - a 20 volume encyclopedia summarizing the anthropology and history of Indians and Eskimos of North America north of Mesoamerica.
Soon after, Scherer recognized some of the photographs in the collections of the Bannock County Historical Society. These were in their original cardboard mounts, which bore the name of the photographer, Benedicte Wrensted. Scherer then began a ten-year investigation of the life of this photographer - from her birth in Denmark to her photographic career in
, Idaho - and to identify many of her subjects.
Portrait of Benedicte Wrensted taken in Horsens, Denmark, about 1891, when she was 32 years old. Credit: Smithsonian Institution, Handbook of North American Indians Project: Sherwood Collection.|
Photograph taken 1897-1898. Seated, left: Helen Edmo; standing, left: Bessie Edmo; seated, center: Lizzie Randall Edmo (b. 1869 d. 1968) holding Eugene Edmo; standing, right: Jack Edmo. Credit: * National Archives and Records Administration, Still Picture Branch: 75-SEI-93
The 148 glass plate negatives had been housed in the NARA since the 1930s, unattributed and unidentified, these evocative images had nevertheless been widely reproduced. We know today that they are the work of Benedicte Wrensted, taken between 1895 and 1912. An additional 148 glass negatives housed since the 1940s in the Idaho Museum of Natural History, Pocatello were also unattributed. A number of these were taken by Benedicte Wrensted as well.
One of the goals of this exhibition has been to demonstrate the ways in which photographs, even those a century old, can be placed in historical context. Only 1% of the Wrensted images at the NARA were identified at the onset of the project. Once they were shown to the descendants at the
Fort Hall Indian Reservation
, the families of origin were discovered. Individual names were recovered from written records, and today 84% of Wrensted subjects have been identified.
Many of the photographs in this exhibit are modern enlargements from copy negatives made from the best possible prints, which were in turn made from the original dry-plate glass negatives. A few of the reproductions are made from vintage prints. Enlargements made directly from original glass negatives are indicated by an asterisk (*).
This exhibition was supported by:
Idaho Humanities Council
Idaho Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution Special Exhibits Fund
Smithsonian Institution, Natural History Rotunda Fund
The CHC Foundation
Bannock County Historical Society and Museum
Smithsonian Institution Suzanne Liebers Ericksen Danish
Joanna Cohan Scherer, Curator
Anne Merkley, Assistant Curator
Don Szymansky, Exhibit Design
Bonnie C. W. Wadsworth, Consultant
Exhibit produced by Idaho Museum of Natural History
Web page designed by BillieSue Sawyer, Smith College
This web site was constructed with the assistance and support of:
Gayle Yiotis, Smithsonian Institution, NMNH Repatriation Office
H. A. Kurt Luginbyhl, Computer Specialist, Smithsonian Institution, NMNH
Carl C. Hansen, Branch Chief, Smithsonian Institution, NMNH Office of Imaging, Printing and Photo Services
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