Portraiture and the H. Sarah Howard Album (1874)

By Hilary Dow

In the past, photographic albums were used not only as mementos of loved ones and treasured events. They also declared the social identity and status of their owners, and they were forms of artistic expression. Sarah Howard’s 42-page album includes 123 photographs and was created in 1874. The H. Sarah Howard Album is an example of how women in that era used photocollage to express and represent their personal and social identities. An album does not deliver a conventional portrait, but this one reveals much about Howard and her life. It communicates dimensions of her personality and identity that could not be captured through traditional painted or photographic portraits.

An album page with photographs of three men and a woman, surrounded by coloured maple leaves

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

Sarah Howard (1843–1911)

The words “H. Sarah Howard” are imprinted in gold embossing on the cover of the brown leather volume. This inscription refers to Hannah Sarah Howard, a Canadian woman born in Buffalo, New York, on December 25, 1843, to parents Marianne (née Wallbridge) and Hiram E. Howard. In 1861, Sarah Howard began studying science at the Buffalo Female Academy. Later, in Canada, she was involved with the Ottawa Agricultural Society and The Canadian Horticulturist, publishing articles and giving lectures on floriculture. In addition to her scientific pursuits, Howard was involved in the arts. She was trained as an amateur pianist and performed during the years that she lived in Buffalo. Howard also wrote and published poetry throughout her life, and she was regarded as a talented “sketcher” in Ottawa newspaper reports from the period.

Despite these accomplishments, Howard’s primary duty was to her family and domestic life, during a period when the social mobility of women was restricted. Following the death of her parents, Howard and her younger siblings Frances, Caroline, Henrica and Lewis immigrated to Belleville, Ontario, in 1868. They resided in the “Wallbridge White House” with their uncle Lewis Wallbridge, who was the last Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. In her early years in Canada under her uncle’s influence, Howard had access to elite social circles. She regularly attended upper-class functions and balls in Ottawa, such as Governor General Lord Dufferin’s Fancy Dress Ball of 1876. Three years after moving to Canada, Sarah purchased a home on John Street in Belleville for herself and her siblings; as the eldest of the Howard children, she was their legal guardian. During the time she lived there, from 1871 to 1878, she was the sole head of the household and acted as such. As an extension of her domestic duties at this time, she produced two decorative photo albums documenting her family life and social connections.

The H. Sarah Howard Album (1874)

Album-making was a common activity for upper-class and upper-middle-class women of the period. The craft was seen as an extension of domestic duty and reaffirmed women’s dominion over the family realm. Like other Victorian albums, the pages of Howard’s scrapbook contain photographic prints of the owner’s family and friends, which are surrounded by colourful paintings and drawings. The types of imagery used in the photocollages in Howard’s album include designs of flowers, animals and plant life, copies of European artworks, and comedic caricatures. The use of photocollage, a technique that creates a composite picture by assembling fragments of photographs in combination with other artistic and natural materials, results in compositions that are comical and imaginative. One page, for example, features caricatures holding picture frames, likely drawn from comedic stock characters illustrated in the British periodical Punch.

An album page of coloured images that include a man beating a drum, a man holding a poster, a man sitting in a chair reading a newspaper and a man blowing a horn with a banner attached. There are four photographs, embedded in the drum, poster, newspaper and banner.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

An album page with a large photograph of a man in the centre, surrounded by six smaller photographs of women and men. There are also coloured drawings of flowers, birds and a squirrel.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

Photocollage albums, which are often referred to as “scrap albums” by photo historians, initially became popular in Europe with the invention of the carte-de-visite by the French photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in 1854. Sometimes referred to as cabinet cards, these types of photographs were small 54-mm by 89-mm paper prints mounted on cabinet card backings and easily reproduced, shared and collected. Cartes-de-visite were sold in Canadian photographic studios by photographers such as William Notman and William James Topley. Howard had her portrait taken by Topley on numerous occasions, and several of his works appear in her albums. Most of the photographs in the album are portraits of Howard’s siblings, parents, schoolteachers, fellow students, cousins and friends. The photographs are sourced from Buffalo and Belleville. Photographs of her husband and children do not appear in it, so the album represents her life as a young woman until 1874, prior to her marriage to the Honourable Octavius Lambart in 1878.

Howard’s album can be interpreted as a portrait that shows her family life and how she wanted to be seen in society. Given her interest in maintaining her public appearance, it is likely that Howard used her album to uphold her public image and class status, factors central to her identity. It was standard practice for albums to be displayed in the parlour room of homes; they functioned as tools of social performance that told outsiders who the owner was and what he or she represented. Several pages in the album feature Howard’s portrait prominently.

An album page with a photograph of the album’s owner, Sarah Howard, in the centre of the photocollage. Her image is surrounded by paintings of morning glory flowers, and an individual and two group portraits of people who are likely Howard’s family and friends.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

Howard is typically pictured in profile view with a stern expression, and her clothing and jewellery are emphasized. These are features of the solemn Victorian portrait that was believed to represent one’s virtue, status and moral character. While Howard’s album, on one hand, shows her public image, it also conceals her private sentiments and feelings about specific moments in her life. A good example of this is a memorial page dedicated to Sarah’s parents. In the collage, the portraits of Hiram and Marianne Howard are placed inside a forget-me-not plant.

An album page with photographs of a man and a woman in the middle of two green leaves and surrounded by purple flowers.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874: a memorial page to Sarah’s parents, Hiram and Marianne Howard (e011201205)

Flowers had distinctive symbolic meanings in the Victorian era. Throughout the album, paintings of flora are used to visually communicate emotions and experiences attached to specific individuals and photographs. The album, though not a typical portrait, thereby expresses public, intimate and personal aspects of Sarah Howard’s identity.

 Collaborative albums: portraits of women by women

The H. Sarah Howard Album not only functions as a self-portrait, but also serves as a portrait of Sarah Howard by a professional woman artist. It may appear at first glance that Howard is the sole creator of her album; however, the Howard album bears a remarkable resemblance to the C.W. Bell Album, illustrated by Caroline Walker in 1875 and now in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection. Select pages of both albums have exactly the same photographs of sitters (Howard and Bell were relatives), and the same design templates and styles of paintings are used.

An album page with photographs of eight men and women in the middle of green leaves and surrounded by white flowers.

A page from the H. Sarah Howard Album, 1874 (e011201205)

Caroline Walker (1827–1904) was a professional artist who exhibited watercolours and ink sketches at the Upper Canada provincial exhibitions between 1859 and 1865. Walker made albums for other influential settler families in Ontario during this time, including the lawyer Charles W. Bell, Sarah Howard’s cousin.

It may seem peculiar to contemporary viewers that something as mundane as a family photo album could have been a commissioned work produced by an artist. However, albums represent cultural values and signifiers, as do conventional portraits. A portrait’s ability to represent power, status and social class is central to how art historians have defined this genre of art. Owning a family album in the 1870s was a marker of one’s social status, just as having one’s portrait made indicated one’s social importance. With the advent of photography in Europe and North America, gone were the days when portraits were confined to the medium of painting. While the development of the cartes-de-visite enabled the mass circulation of photographs, with lower prices and greater accessibility for the middle class, handmade albums containing hundreds of photographs were expensive and signified elevated individual and familial social rank.

Despite the album’s similarity to the artistic style of Caroline Walker, the album is mostly likely a product of collaboration between Howard and Walker. The album includes two distinct painting styles, and the photographs selected were evidently selections from Howard’s photograph collection. Regardless of the album’s attribution, the H. Sarah Howard Album represents biographical elements of Howard’s life and displays characteristics of portraiture such as identity, social status and self-representation.

The H. Sarah Howard Album is a Victorian photocollage album created in Belleville, Ontario, in 1874. The album comprises 42 pages and contains 123 photographs in total. It is in Library and Archives Canada’s holdings as part of the Lambart family collection.

© Hilary Dow


Hilary Dow is a young professional and emerging scholar and curator based in Ottawa. She recently graduated with an MA in Art History and a Graduate Diploma in Curatorial Studies from Carleton University.

Images of Fashion Plates now on Flickr 

A black-and-white drawing of a woman wearing a gown with a plain skirt edged with five rows of velvet along the hem and a pleated bodice draped like an apron over the front. She is wearing a hat with feathers and carrying an umbrella.

The Charneville Toilette from “Le Moniteur de la Mode” (C-115935k)

Fashion plates, or prints of popular clothing trends, have been available for a long time. However, they really became popular in the 19th century due to advances in printing, increased literacy, and the rise in magazine. Fashion magazines for both women and men discussed etiquette, literature, and new style trends. An ever-growing list of magazines produced their own plates or borrowed from other magazines. Some even included sewing patterns. The plates in this album were taken from magazines published in England (The Lady’s Cabinet), France (Le Bon Ton : Journal des Modes, Journal des Dames et des Modes, Le Moniteur de la Mode, and Le Follet : Courrier des Salons), and the United States (The Season, and Peterson’s Magazine).

A colour plate of a woman in a pink dinner dress with a pleated off-the-shoulder bodice and ruffles along the hem. She is wearing a pearl hair net, and holding a fan in her gloved hand.

“Dinner Dress” from “Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance” (e010863096)

The plates are works of art in their own right. They represent changes in art throughout the century from romanticism to art deco. Producing plates for magazines often involved an artist to draw the image and an engraver to print the plate. Popular magazines were able to hire some of the best illustrators of the day. Some prints were black and white, while the more high quality examples were hand coloured after printing. Printing changed too with the colours becoming more vibrant and the lines more crisp as the technology improved.

A colour plate of a seated women wearing a long cream skirt and a green shirt patterned with cream ovals. The shirt is belted with a red scarf. She is also wearing green high heel shoes, a long pearl necklace, and rings on her fingers.

“Robe d’intérieur” [Indoor dress] from “Journal des Dames et des Modes” (C-115396k)

Many plates were separated from their magazines and are now sold separately to art collectors or other interested buyers. This is probably how they ended up in our collection. Most were found in individual art collections, or in a costume designer’s collection.

A colour plate of two women standing in a living room. One is wearing a blue dress with ruffles at the sleeves and hem. The other is wearing a striped black and grey dress with a long bustle and ruffles at the hem.

Illustrirte Frauen-Zeitung [Women’s fashion illustration] (C-115400k)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

A novel with soul (or at least half!)

By Kristen Ann Coulas

Part of our job at Library and Archives Canada is to keep up with the trends and changes in publishing. Of these trends, one of the most interesting has been crowd-funded publications.

Though admittedly representing a miniscule portion of what gets published overall, what crowd-funded publications lack in prevalence, they more than make up for in cultural capital. Works published via crowdfunding are done so at the patronage of their prospective audience; they are the direct result of their community.

Crowdfunding takes many forms, but perhaps the best known is Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website that hosts projects for everything from technology to theatrical performances and more. At the time of writing this blog post, Kickstarter offered the public the opportunity to back more than 44,000 publishing projects worldwide. One Canadian author and artist who has taken on this method of funding for her publications is Kelly Chen.

A coloured photograph of stacks of the graphic novel Halfsoul.

Stacks of the graphic novel Halfsoul. Photo credit: Kelly Chen

Kelly first started publishing her work on an open publishing platform called Tapas. The site allows users to publish and read the work there and aims to create and foster an online community. It is free to use the site and though tipping the creators is an option, it is not required.

In May 2018, after updating her webcomic, Halfsoul, on Tapas for over a year-and-a-half, Kelly created a Kickstarter project to fund turning her work into the first volume of what she envisions as a four-volume graphic novel series.

According to a 2017 CBC article on Canadian Kickstarter projects, those focused on the arts were most successful in reaching their funding goals. Of all Canadian Kickstarter projects between 2010 and 2016, comics enjoyed the second highest success rate with an average of 58.4%. This number may not seem impressive at first glance, but when you consider that only about a third of all Canadian Kickstarter projects are successfully funded, it is clear that crowdfunding is a very viable medium for graphic novel authors and artists. Kelly’s successful publication of Halfsoul is physical proof of that.

A black and white hand-drawn image of characters from the graphic novel Halfsoul

A page from the graphic novel Halfsoul. Photo credit: Kelly Chen

The graphic novel is set in a world where it’s possible to trade half of your soul to have a wish granted. But this turns you into a halfsoul, a being scorned by society. As it follows the journey of four halfsoul hunters, Halfsoul asks us to consider what it means to lose a part of yourself and if it is possible to reclaim the lost parts. Influenced by the author’s own experience with mental health, Kelly Chen explains that it is a story of vulnerability, mental illness and recovery:

While the graphic novel is based in a more fictional and metaphorical setting, it was written with mental health in mind. It was important to me that it wasn’t just another story about trauma that ended up in tragedy or ended up trivializing the struggle people go through. It was also important that hope for recovery could be found at the end. There’s not a single clear view of what recovery looks like, but I hope sharing a narrative informed by my own experiences struggling with PTSD will help others cope with their own battles with mental illness.

The Kickstarter campaign aimed to raise $7,000 to fund a 500-copy print run of the tale. It exceeded its goal in just 29 days. There is clearly something about the novel’s subject matter that strikes a chord with Kelly’s audience, so much so that they dedicated funds to support its very publication. This enthusiasm speaks to the cultural importance of Halfsoul itself. It is not simply a novel for an audience, it is a novel demanded by its audience. Kelly Chen clearly has a dedicated community of readers surrounding her work and we are very pleased and excited to be welcoming this fascinating new publication into our National Collection.

A multi-coloured pie chart demonstrating how much was spent on Kickstarter fees, comic printing, shipping and other rewards.

A graph depicting the breakdown in fees in Kelly Chen’s Kickstarter campaign. Photo credit: Kelly Chen.


Kristen Ann Coulas is an acquisitions librarian at Library and Archives Canada

Images of Hand Tools now on Flickr

Black-and-white photograph of a woman using a traditional wooden broad plank snow shovel to build an igloo.

Inuit girl with a broad plank snow shovel, Stefansson-Anderson Arctic Expedition, Coronation Gulf, Nunavut [PA-165738]

A hand tool is any tool that is controlled by the human hand alone. Stone Age tools fashioned from stone (sometimes wood) were used for hammering, cutting or digging.

Black-and-white photograph of a woman standing on a dirt road holding a basket full of fern leaves and a shovel on her left shoulder.

Edna Boyd with a basket of ferns and a shovel, Bala, Ontario [PA-070891]

As societies entered the Bronze Age, tools were made by casting copper and tin alloys together. These tools were sharper and harder than those made of stone.

Black-and-white photograph of a man leaning forward and swinging an ice axe to break ice.

A man using an ice axe, British Columbia [e011175725]

Black-and-white photograph of a girl holding a sledgehammer that rests on her right shoulder.

A girl with a sledgehammer [e003895283]

Iron replaced bronze during the Iron Age. These tools were even stronger and durable than their bronze counterparts. Many tools developed during this period resemble tools produced today. A small number of craftspeople manufactured these tools, which limited their spread and use by many people.
The industrial revolution enabled tools to be manufactured in factories. Greater numbers of tools could be produced using heavy machinery. This made them more accessible to the general population, lowered their price, and became more common in households.

Visit the Flickr album now!

The prime minister as reader

By Meaghan Scanlon

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Prime Ministers and the Arts: Creators, Collectors and Muses exhibition looks at Canada’s prime ministers through the lens of their relationships with the arts. One aspect of the exhibition is an exploration of the prime minister as collector and fan. Among the items featured that explore this theme are correspondence between Sir Wilfrid Laurier and painter Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, a painting from William Lyon Mackenzie King’s personal collection, and a fan letter from John Diefenbaker to artist Alma Duncan.

But the exhibition mainly focuses on the prime ministers’ libraries. If you read enough prime ministerial biographies, a pattern emerges: almost every one contains references to its subject’s prodigious reading habits. A biography of Alexander Mackenzie (OCLC 20920624), for example, notes that Mackenzie “was a greedy reader, and never tired of poring over his books.” According to the authors, Mackenzie’s family would spend their winter evenings

“sitting round the wide, old-fashioned fire-place, cheerful and ruddy with the blaze of the big logs, reading and discussing literary subjects and authors, especially Shakespeare and Byron, two prime favourites of theirs. It was a very interesting group, and its intellectual life was a fitting preparation for the future statesman. All who have heard Mr. Mackenzie speak, know that he could readily quote from the poets, and from current literature, and that his addresses were invariably pitched on the high plane of presupposing intelligent hearers.”

Sir John A. Macdonald, too, was known for quoting from literature in his speeches, according to biographers. In his book about Macdonald (OCLC 2886256), Joseph Pope claimed Macdonald was an “omnivorous” reader, meaning that he would read almost anything, but his favourite genre was political memoirs. Sir Robert Borden studied classical languages. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto now holds a number of very old Greek and Latin books that contain Borden’s bookplate; one of these, a 1725 edition of writings by Cicero, is currently on loan to LAC for the exhibition. Mackenzie King was an avid reader who regularly commented in his diary on the books he had been reading. Many of his books are now in LAC’s collection, but a portion of his extensive library remains on view in his study at Laurier House.

Each of the prime ministers likely had favourite books and authors—Macdonald was a devotee of novelist Anthony Trollope, and King was so enamoured with poet Matthew Arnold that he began collecting books from Arnold’s own library.

A book open to the inside front cover. Attached to the left-hand page is the bookplate of Matthew Arnold. The right-hand page is blank and held down by a weight.

Bookplate of Matthew Arnold affixed to the inside front cover of The Holy Bible (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1828), from the Collection of Books from the Library of William Lyon Mackenzie King (OCLC 1007776528) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

But Arthur Meighen stands out among them all for his dedication to one particular literary figure: William Shakespeare. Meighen was known to be able to quote long passages of Shakespeare from memory. In 1934, during an ocean voyage to Australia, he composed and memorized a speech on Shakespeare, which he entitled “The Greatest Englishman of History.” Meighen delivered this speech a number of times; one address, at the Canadian Club in Toronto in February 1936, was recorded. This recording was eventually released on vinyl (OCLC 981934627), giving Meighen the unusual distinction of being the first Canadian prime minister ever to release an album.

A black 12-inch vinyl record with a yellow label.

Photograph of the vinyl record The Greatest Englishman of History by Arthur Meighen (OCLC 270719760) Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

You can hear a clip of the audio recording of Arthur Meighen delivering his speech “The Greatest Englishman of History” in the Prime Ministers and the Arts episode of the LAC podcast.

The exhibition is open at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa until December 3, 2019.


Meaghan Scanlon is Senior Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.