"Tapestry" at the Grand Encampment Museum
May 29, 2007
“Tapestry: An Introduction to the Lora Nichols Collection” has just opened as a special exhibit at the Grand Encampment Museum. This exhibit features some of the 22,000 photographs that are a part of the Lora Nichols Collection. It will be in place throughout the summer before being used as a traveling exhibit. It is just one part of the Tapestry to be presented at the museum this year; a second will be a program on historic quilts by South Dakota poet and quilter Yvonne Hollenbeck that will be part of Living History, July 15.
The Lora Nichols Collection exhibit includes photographs that depict homesteads and ranches, and live in early Grand Encampment, from 1897 to 1908 the center of a copper mining district. Among the images in the exhibit are photographs of the 16-mile-long aerial tramway that transported copper ore from the Ferris Haggarty Mine on the west side of the Continental Divide to the copper smelter at Grand Encampment, a wooden pipeline that provided water power for the smelter and for the city’s first electric lights.
There are images of women and children, ranchers and cowboys, teamsters, tie hacks, cowboys and prospectors. In essence the “people who created the tapestry of life in the upper valley,” according to exhibit curator Nancy Anderson. “Women who pose with an air of jaunty, infinite optimism blossom in all their assigned roles, giving evidence to Lora’s adage of the old days, ‘All that holds Wyoming is baling wire and capable women,'” Anderson said.
“Lora and her companion weavers, other photographers chosen because they shared her vision, took a walk in the light. It was a walk under an immense Wyoming sky and the result became a tapestry of texture firmer and colors brighter than any fiction could create,” Anderson added.
This exhibit is supported by Ezra Nichols, Lora’s son; Nancy and Victor Anderson, curators; Gene Tucker, project consultant and photograph restorer, The Grand Encampment Museum staff and volunteers, and innumerable others who gave ideas, labor, interest, and encouragement.
Additional funding provided by the Carbon County Visitor’s Council has enabled the museum to prepare this exhibit and to eventually take it to other venues.
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Lora Nichols’ ancestors came across the plains in covered wagons and settled in Boulder Valley, Colorado, where Lora was born on October 28, 1883. A year later her father Horace moved the family “up north,” eventually to a homestead on the North Fork of the Encampment River. This, “the dear old ranch-Willow Glen” was the home of her childhood and coming of age. In 1897 Lora became a diarist, a role she was to continue for 65 years.
Her beau and future husband, Bert Oldman, gave Lora her first camera in 1900. Her “Pop” followed with a developing outfit. First, she focused on the ordinary, her family and the neighbors on the creek: homestead life. Bert, prospector and miner, enlarged her vision to include the mines and camps, the fortune seekers flocking to Grand Encampment City and Mining District. Thus, Lora’s written archive became complimented by images, which she faithfully cataloged as to time, place, and content, Anderson said.
Just prior to the Depression Lora Nichols created Rocky Mountain Studio where she offered Kodak services, portrait work, cameras, and supplies. Later, she owned the Encampment Echo, the local weekly newspaper. She persevered through the hard times, combining the roles of housekeeper and mother, shop owner, photographer, and editor.
Although she spent time in California, she was home in the valley for her final years of life, where she completed the first volume of her memoir “I Remember,” which ends with events in 1905. Lora Nichols died in August of 1962 having faithfully made her diary entry in the morning prior to her death.
The Lora Nichols Collection at Grand Encampment Museum contains Lora’s personal papers including correspondence, the diary and memoir, and her digitized negative file, which includes her work and that of other photographers. Also, the museum contains innumerable items, from the size of a button to that of a log house, associated with Lora and her family.
To continue with the theme of a tapestry, the Museum will host “Weave Of The West” (featuring five generations of quilts) presented by Clearfield, South Dakota, rancher’s wife Yvonne Hollenbeck.
This busy ranch wife and poet is from a long line of quilters, and her grandmothers were also poets. She inherited the two skills from them. Both hobbies have taken her to national levels, as her quilts have won local, state, and national contests, and her poetry has garnered her a spot on the largest cowboy poetry gatherings in the nation, including the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, in January of each year.
“Reflections of our lives occur as one sees the quilts made by loving hands at a time when there was no running water, electricity or modern conveniences that we enjoy today,” Yvonne says. Her poetry, mostly of humorous nature, sheds light on today’s little problems while being ever mindful of the hardships and big problems faced by the women of yesteryear.
For her program, “Weave of the West,” Yvonne unfolds and shows five generations of quilts spanning 135 years, which were made by herself, her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother, and recites poems about quilts and quilters. By the end of the presentation, one will be able to see the progression of style, fabric, and methods of quilting through the last 150 years. This is a very heart-warming and entertaining presentation that has become one of the most requested programs in the Heartland.
The Grand Encampment Museum, in conjunction with the Grand Encampment Cowboy Gathering is pleased to sponsor this program by Yvonne Hollenbeck which begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 15 at the Grand Encampment Museum.
Hollenbeck also will be performing at the Cowboy Gathering on Saturday, July 14.
The Grand Encampment Museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is by donation. The facility features 14 original buildings including a tie hack cabin, one-room school, homestead house, original towers from the aerial tramway, and a forest fire lookout tower. The museum website is http://www.grandencampmentmuseum.org.
For more information on either activity contact the Museum at (307) 327-5308, by e-mail at GEMuseum@aol.com, or call the Saratoga-Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce at (307) 326-8855.