Intern Distraction

Intern Distraction

The best way I could have imagined spending my last semester of college and completing a degree in Art Studies was in a museum. I am lucky enough this semester to get hands on experience with the art in the Gregg Museum by conducting an inventory on the objects in the permanent collection. What amazed me when I began working at the Gregg, was that not only were the boxes I was opening to inventory full of art, but every inch of the walls and countertops are covered with items in the collection, as if the building itself was an exhibit. For an art junkie like me this could serve as distraction from completing my daily tasks at the Gregg!

Walking through the hallway of Brickhaven (the Gregg’s off site storage facility), I came upon one of these “distractions;” a series of three portraits each placed in elaborate decorative gilt and velvet frames. It was clear to me these images were photographs but also appeared quite old and I assumed must have been created around the beginning of widespread usage of photography. Through further research I discovered all three of these images were created using the calotype process, one of the first processes of photography and the first to allow for portraits. William Henry Fox Talbot first introduced the calotype process to the world in 1841, making these photographs (which are dated roughly around 1840) some of the first examples of photographic portraits.

Unlike the previous forms of photography that had been used, the calotype process used negatives made of writing paper rather than glass. To prepare the paper for the image it is soaked in both silver nitrate and potassium iodide. The calotype process allowed for the paper negative to be exposed to the scene or the sitter for 10 seconds, which was a fraction of the time needed for prior methods, taking anywhere from minutes to days. It is because of this technological feat that photography spread. It allowed for quick images and could be used by amateur photographers, as seen in the series of three calotype portraits at the Gregg Museum. Thanks to the calotype process Lucy Ross Thompson (one of the figures in the portraits) was able to have her portrait taken on what appears to be her wedding day.

I didn’t realize at first but the stories and discoveries I have made looking into the three portraits, which I pass every time I am at the Gregg, is exactly the kind of knowledge I was hoping to gain through this internship. Now… time to go explore and find more “distractions”!

-Rose Cuomo, Spring 2014 Intern


Portraits in Photo (from Left to Right):

Accession Number: 1997.015.001

Title: Lucy Ross Thomson

Technique: Calotype Photograph

Credit Line: Gift of David Findley

Year: ca. 1840


Accession Number: 1997.015.002

Title: Junius Washington Thomson I

Technique: Calotype Photograph

Credit Line: Gift of David Findley

Year: ca. 1840


Accession Number: 1997.029.001

Title: Portrait

Technique: Calotype Photograph

Credit Line: Gift of Dr. Max Rogers

Year: Mid-Late 19th Century




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  • North Carolina State University

  • ARTS NC State

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