Robert Burns Stone Collection update

by Louise Jones, director, Special Collections and Library

Since mid-December, the Martin F. Schmidt Research Library has focused its efforts on processing a rich collection that documents Eastern Kentucky. We are about halfway through processing the entire Robert Burns Stone collection, which is a bit behind where we thought we would be by mid-February.  Stone was a telephone engineer who traveled the mountains on his own time as a Christian missionary and photographed many of the places and people he encountered.

“Aunt Rainey,” 84, lived on Lott’s Creek in Knott County when Robert Burns Stone photographed her between 1920 and 1940.
“Aunt Rainey,” 84, lived on Lott’s Creek in Knott County when Robert Burns Stone photographed her between 1920 and 1940.

All told eight staff, two interns and eight volunteers have labored away at inventorying each lantern slide, glass plate negative, film negative and scrapbook. Our initial accession record (made when we received the collection) indicated that there were more than 500 lantern slides. Yes, well, to date we have inventoried 1,319 items and we have another 500 or so to go.

What have we learned? We have learned that R.B. Stone gained the trust and friendship of the communities in which he preached and, as a result, was invited to photograph all manner of things that a journalist or social worker probably would not have been allowed to see. We have also learned that as a photographer, Stone was unafraid to use different techniques to achieve his aims. Some of these techniques have proven unstable over time and we have lost access to images that documented the color and the beauty of Eastern Kentucky and the people who lived there.

But we have also gained. As mentioned in our blog at the beginning of this process, this collection includes pictures of and information about Frontier Nurses, orphanages, medical clinics, libraries and radio-listening stations as well as images depicting rural poverty, road development, telephone installation and everyday life in the mountains of Kentucky. Stone hand colored many of the lantern slides he made from original black and white negatives, and the scenery and people really come alive with his additions.

If you would like to explore what we have digitized so far, you can go to the KHS Digital Collection and search for Graphic 20 Robert Burns Stone.


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