An Unexpected Celebrity

image_1.jpg^ Karl Struss (1886–1981), Lower Broadway, New York, 1912, gelatin silver print on Japanese tissue, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

We had the honor of welcoming family of artist Karl Struss to the museum archives recently. Struss was one among the pioneering group of photographers in New York who popularized fine art photography. He teamed with the famed Alfred Stieglitz, practitioner of the soft-focus Pictorialist style, to create a body of work that the museum features periodically in the galleries. Struss also had a second career following World War I, in the motion picture industry as a cinematographer. The Amon Carter holds the Struss archive, which includes not only his photography but his letters, memorabilia, and scrapbooks from both periods of his career.

image_2.jpg^ Craig Rhea, Struss’s grandson, and his partner, Allen Kieffer, viewing Struss photographs

image_3.jpg^ Program of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, vol. 1, no. 1 (November 1927), Amon Carter Museum of American Art

The visit revolved around Rhea’s continued interest in and commitment to the work of his grandfather. He and Kieffer came to review prime examples of his photography and look through the manuscript collection, but the ultimate goal was to enrich the archive with a further trove of materials. The additions included key pieces from both parts of Struss’s career, such as an important commercial assignment for the Bermudan government and stills taken on the movie set of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). The most significant gift, though, is a series of letters from Struss’s much idolized older brother, Will, who died tragically at age twenty-two. It was Will who encouraged his brother to start making the photographs that would ultimately be his life’s work. The archive did not have anything from this important influence on Struss.

image_4.jpg^ Rhea and Kieffer presenting additions to the museum’s Struss Archive

What we did not know was that the family had one final surprise for us. Casually, and with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, Rhea fished out of his bag a small wrapped item. We gathered around as he unwrapped a gleaming gold statuette showing only the slightest hint of tarnish after eighty-nine years. It was the Academy Award (Oscar) that Struss won in 1929 for his cinematography in Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927). The award is all the more special in that it was the first given for cinematography. The statuette returned home with the family, but we were all grateful for such a unique experience.

image_5.jpgimage_6.jpg^ Karl Struss’s Academy Award (Oscar)

We extend our warmest thanks to Craig Rhea, Allen Kieffer, and the Karl Struss Family Trust not only for the amazing experience they delivered, but for their wonderful gifts to the museum’s archives.