"Rheinstein," rare, German Castle scene, taken in Germany, 12 inches by 15 inches, $3,135. Photo courtesy of Michael Ivankovich
A horse-drawn sleigh on a snowy road. A fireside easy chair on a frosty evening. A sip of tea. An age of romance.
This is the world Wallace Nutting recorded with his camera. He focused on the nostalgic and softer moments in life, moments that seemed to be disappearing on the road to progress in 20th century America.
“Beauty is wherever we find it,” he said. “There is a thousand times as much as we see.”
With the vision of an idealist, and the curiosity of a bloodhound, this minister turned photographer, author and furniture maker scoured the New England countryside with his camera to capture the heart of a fading America.
His was a simple world, and simple values ruled.
Nutting took nearly 50,000 pictures during his career. He threw 40,000 away, and estimates say only 2,000 were actually sold commercially.
Of those hand-colored pictures, Nutting sold millions between 1900 and his death in 1941, and is often considered America’s leading producer of hand-colored photographs in the early-20th century.
How could you argue with titles like, Old Fashioned Paradise, Rural Sweetness and Blossoms by the Lake? Nutting was a photographer for the masses.
In 1910, you could decorate your walls with a Nutting print for 75 cents. In 1930, the cost was still only $3. Most middle-class homes had at least one of his pictures hanging above the fireplace, or in the parlor.
Yet, the well-heeled shoppers of the era could care less. They were focusing on his furniture. Nutting also made premium bench-made reproduction furniture that was pricey even then. His furniture shop in Massachusetts reproduced hundreds of desks, cabinets, beds, mirrors, and chests of drawers.
In addition to his photography and furniture, Nutting authored more than 20 books. His Furniture Treasury is regarded as one of the finest reference books published in the field.
He began his photographic work in New England during the summer of 1897 and photographed all six New England states. This is the part of the country most often associated with his work.
With any decorative object, styles change. People tired of Nutting’s pictures after about 20-years. At best, they retired to the attic, but many ended up in the trash. The last 30-years has seen a rebirth of interest in the prints.
They’re attractive, affordable, and still easy to find at estate sales, and auctions. Untitled exterior scenes are the most common type of print, and usually the least expensive.
His head colorist rather than Nutting himself signed most of his prints, and pencil signatures are significantly rarer than pen signatures.
On June 16, The Michael Ivankovich Auction Company in Doylestown, Pa., featured a Wallace Nutting sale. Ivankovich is one of the country’s leading experts on Nutting. Let’s take a look at some highlights.
Proud as Peacocks, taken in Massachusetts, two girls sample bonnets in bedroom, 18 by 22 in., $93.50
Spring by the Lake, unknown photo location, country road along lakeside row of birch trees, 14 by 17 in., $242
Pennsylvania Farmhouse, blue stone farmhouse on tree-lined hill above stream, 7 by 9 in., $297
By the Wayside, taken in Connecticut, dozen sheep grazing beside country road, 11 by 17 in., $341
A Call for More, taken in Massachusetts, young girl finishing lunch at fireside table while mother sews beside her, 16 by 20 in., $412.50
Down on the Cape, taken in Massachusetts, Cape Cod Scene, clapboard house, and long rail fence toward distant houses, 12 by 15 in., $990
Theater at Athens, taken in Greece, 16 by 20 in., $1,705
A Yard of Dutchman, taken in Holland, featured men, women and children in traditional Dutch costume, 11 by 17in., $2,530
Rheinstein, rare, German Castle scene, taken in Germany, 12 by 15 in., $3,135