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Release: June 28, 2000

NOTE TO EDITORS: For more information on this collection of photographs, contact Leslie Loveless at (319) 335-4436 or Mary Bennett at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City Center at (319) 335-3916. Please note that the State Historical Society, Iowa City Center will be closed from July 24 through Sept. 4 for renovations. Staff will still be available to answer questions, but the archives will not be accessible.

UI discovery of photographs leads to story in State Historical Society publication

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A collection of historical photographs, discovered by staff members in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, is the basis for a feature story in the latest issue of Iowa Heritage Illustrated, the quarterly publication of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Tens of thousands of black and white images by "agricultural photographer" A.M. Wettach (1901-1976) of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, were recently brought to light by Leslie Loveless, an editor at the UI Institute for Rural and Environmental Health. A portion of this collection, which documents the lives of Iowa and other Midwestern farmers from the late 1920s through the 1960s, is now being donated to the State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City, where the images will be preserved for public use and research.

"We have 1.5 million items in our archives," said Mary Bennett, special collections coordinator for the historical society's Iowa City center. "But none of our collections are anything like the Wettach photos."

The images contain historically valuable information about life on the farm during the Depression and post-World War II years, cataloging different kinds of tasks, tools, animals and innovations inside the farm home and out in the barnyard and fields. Some of the photos are portraits of men, women and children at work on the farm.

Many of the images are artistically noteworthy as well as historically significant. Wettach used a 5" x 7" Graflex camera for much of his work. The large negatives, coupled with his remarkable eye for composition and texture, produced some strikingly beautiful photographs.

The Iowa Heritage Illustrated article features Wettach's pictures of children on the farm, accompanied by text written by Loveless. She and other staff members at the Institute for Rural and Environmental Health (located on the UI's Oakdale Research Campus) found a handful of Wettach's photos during an office move at the institute last year. Recognizing the images' artistic and historical value, Loveless eventually traced the pictures to the photographer's son, Robert Wettach, M.D., of Mount Pleasant, who had kept most of his late father's negatives and prints in his basement for the past 24 years.

Wettach has now donated a portion of his father's collection to the State Historical Society of Iowa. Loveless and Bennett, who have worked together to preserve, catalog and identify these images, estimated that there are at least 30,000 photos and negatives, and that the number may be as high as 100,000.

"I believe that we have stumbled across an American treasure," said Loveless, who hopes to assemble a book of Wettach photos.


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