Historic Hood River
Grandma ‘Flo and Fritz
Today you learn the history of the 600+ glass plate negatives in the W.F. Laraway collection. It’s hard to think of this little girl as “Grandma ‘Flo,” but that’s who she would become, and she would play a critical part in helping this collection survive the years.
Florence Adah Cooper was W.F. Laraway’s grandaughter (daughter’s daughter). She was, in turn, Grandmother to Dean Fletcher (her son’s son). Sometime in the 1960s or 70s “Grandma Flo” supported her grandson’s interest in photography by giving him a box of her Grandfather’s negatives. He didn’t do much with them at the time, (old negatives aren’t easy to print with “modern” photographic paper) but about 30 years later he became interested in family genealogy. He learned there were many more Laraway negatives, and he was able to pull them together. I am told many of them were in boxes packed with sawdust in a barn. One of Laraway’s descendants admits to using some for target practice. But eventually Dean had about 670 negatives and other family documents.
He thoroughly researched the images he had collected, and then worked with a skilled photographer to print a selection of the negatives for a book he self-published in 2000. It was through this book I became familiar with the collection (the museum has a copy). I learned Dean was looking for a permanent home for his collection, so I met with him in 2017. He was looking for a place where the negatives would be shared and appreciated, and he was especially interested in seeing the images shown so the public would learn about his great great Grandfather’s artistry.
I was able to show Dean how we cared for the other photographic collections in our custody, and agreed we should do a major museum exhibit on Laraway’s images. Dean was also interested in getting the consent of some of the other Laraway descendants, so our museum director started talking with family members. Unfortunately, before we could finish making the arrangements Dean Fletcher passed away. Then Covid hit and museum activities slowed to a crawl, but eventually we were able to get back to work. The family members dropped by the museum this week with two very heavy totes full of glass plates. We discussed how the collection would be cared for, and they graciously agreed to donate the collection to the Museum.
Dean Fetcher did a great job organizing the collection. Each negative has a serial number, and his book is a guide to his extensive research. This negative is number A-548, and in Dean’s book bears the caption, “Florence Adah Cooper and Fritz. W. F. signed the negative (lower left).” This makes my job easier, though there are still plenty of mysteries for us to work on.
You’ll notice I am presenting these images “full frame” including the edges of the glass plates. I usually crop out rough edges on this site, especially since the format width is limited, but Dean believed these images were intended to be seen as contact prints in an era before enlargers. I think you’ll see that’s a good call with this collection. Laraway knew exactly what his camera would capture, and that’s what his family and neighbors would see, so that’s what I’ll share with you. That won’t stop me from sharing some amazing details hidden in some of the frames, but you’ll always get to see the frame as W.F. intended it.
Thanks to Grandma Flo and Dean Fletcher and many other family members we get to start the process of sharing the photography of W.F. Laraway with a worldwide audience.