Jerusalem’s American Colony and Its Photographic Legacy

Jerusalem’s American Colony & Its Photographic Legacy

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(Click on title to open the file.)

The American Colony was a Christian community that arrived in the Holy Land in 1881. Setting up shop in Jerusalem, this unusual and colorful group grew to have a wide-ranging impact on their adopted city, aspects of which continue to the present day. Beginning in 1897, the Colony operated a thriving photographic enterprise for almost four decades; afterwards, one of the photographers, G. Eric Matson, inherited the archive and added to it his own independent work up until 1946. The resulting corpus of some 20,000 negatives — donated to the U.S. Library of Congress and now in the public domain — has come to hold an important place as a documentary record of Palestine and the region in the early 20th century.

This article was written to accompany a digital publication project of the so-called “Matson Collection” photos, produced by a friend of mine, teacher and photographer Todd Bolen. Selecting over 4,000 of the most interesting images, which he then cropped, cleaned up and organized thematically, Todd has compiled eight volumes which present the photographs in a variety of formats, accompanied by informative annotations. I was very pleased to have the article included in the project, as background on the American Colony (which, indeed, I find endlessly fascinating) and the important contribution made by their Photo Department to the visual history of the Holy Land.

NOTES on two special resources:

The Matson Photograph Collection represents the 22,000-plus surviving images of the American Colony Photo Dept. and the later independent output of Eric Matson. It is held by the U.S. Library of Congress, who make the digitized, searchable archive available online.

The American Colony in Jerusalem Collection, U.S. Library of Congress. This is the portal to the impressive LOC holdings of American Colony materials (many in digital form), plus background articles, related collections and more.


10 Responses to Jerusalem’s American Colony and Its Photographic Legacy

  1. Furman S. Baldwin says:

    Mr. Powers: As a son of one of the photographers ,(Furman O. Baldwin) mentioned in your book I was very interested in your excellent presentation of life in the American colony in Jerusalem. The story of the photographers and their contributions, often ignored in other books, was great. I was especially interested considering the fact that both of my parents grew up in the American colony and saw it grow from a beneficial entity into a real cult. Furman S. Baldwin

    • Outremer says:

      Mr. Baldwin, hello: Thanks so much for getting in touch with your comments. How absolutely fascinating to hear from you, a direct link to the early days of the American Colony! As my research unfolded, one of my goals indeed became to give some of the early photographers their due, since it became clear that, after creating perhaps the bulk of the images that would wind up in the “Matson” archive, some of those fellows had been more or less “airbrushed out” of the Colony’s history.

      If you’re not already aware of it, an excellent resource — one which I used heavily in my research — is the book by Mia Gröndahl, The Dream of Jerusalem: Lewis Larsson and the American Colony Photographers, (Stockholm: Journal, 2005). Another well-researched telling of the larger American Colony phenomenon is Anna’s House: The American Colony in Jerusalem by Odd Karsten Tveit; this one just came out in English translation (from Norwegian) a couple of years ago.

      Thanks once again for writing! Please accept my warmest regards…


  2. Outremer says:

    Mary, hi — Anyone can open the document from this page and download it as a PDF file for free. It has never been published in book form. I am frequently gleaning more information and hope to expand and update the work someday. Thanks for your interest. –TOM POWERS

  3. Martha Morrison Pineda says:

    Dear Mr. Powers,
    Thank your for writing on this subject. My father (David Richard Morrison)was the second son of Ruth Whitting Goldenthal, later changed to Morrison. My brothers, sisters and I grew up never knowing much of our fathers past, till after his and our mothers passing. So any little bit that we can get is greatly appriciated. Thank you.
    Martha Morrison Pineda

    • Outremer says:

      Martha, hello, and many thanks for your very interesting comments. I recently corresponded with another Whiting-Goldenthal descendant, Mary Roberts. I will contact you by e-mail with some additional information and to point you to other resources.

  4. patricia morrison connolly says:

    I am a granddaughter of Ruth Whiting Morrison. I find Mr. Baldwin’s comment very striking, as my father (son of Ruth Whiting Morrison), who lived in the American Colony as a boy and young man, made the same observation.

    • Furman Baldwin says:

      Hi Tom: it’s good to hear from you again and I wish to thank you for your recent letter. I have been in touch with several Colony descendants recently including Maggie Green and Katyana Grady Hickson. both lovely ladies with deep interest in the history of the Colony. I wonder how things are going with you since your return to the States. Thanks again for your recent contact. Furman

  5. Outremer says:

    Patricia, hello… Thanks for your very interesting comment. Last year I corresponded several times with your sister Mary and with your cousin, Martha Morrison Pineda– all of which added greatly to my understanding of the Whiting-Goldenthal (Morrison) history. Many fascinating stories! All the best…
    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC

  6. Outremer says:

    The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as part of their 2018 Christmas special televised on PBS, presented a 16-minute dramatized and musical version of the story of the Spafford family, Horatio’s famous hymn, and the impact of the American Colony in Jerusalem. Offered as an inspirational piece, the stage action is narrated live by British actor Hugh Bonneville. For all the tear-jerking sentimentality, it’s rather well-done and worth a look:

    TOM POWERS.   

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