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Release: July 5, 2001

Newly discovered historic farm photos to be displayed at Terrace Hill July 14-15

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and First Lady Christie Vilsack will host the first public viewing of a newly found collection of photographs of Iowa farming during the early and mid-20th century.

A selection of photographs by A. M. "Pete" Wettach (1901-1976), a self-described "agricultural photographer" from Mt. Pleasant, will be open to the public at Terrace Hill on the weekend of July 14-15. The black-and-white photographs date from the mid-1930s to about 1960, and include images from the Depression, World War II, and the postwar years.

The Wettach collection, estimated at about 50,000 images, was discovered by editor Leslie Loveless and some of her colleagues at the University of Iowa's Institute for Rural and Environmental Health (IREH) during a 1999 office move. A small selection of these images had been used in the early 1990s for an academic presentation at the IREH, which is a part of the UI College of Public Health.

Loveless, who has since played a key role in bringing the collection to public view, remembers the find. "The negatives were huge, many of them 5 by 7 inches in size. We had a few developed and they were just breathtaking, both in terms of their compositions and their historical value. These photographs chronicle a time of tremendous change in the lives of people in farming communities."

A. M. "Pete" Wettach worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), administering loans to farmers. He was also an avid, self-taught photographer and brought his camera along on his visits to farm clients in counties all over southeast Iowa. He sold his pictures to many publications, including Wallaces' Farmer, Successful Farming, and the Des Moines Register. In 1948, Wettach left the FSA to take pictures full-time, traveling throughout Iowa, the Midwest and many other states. He continued his work as a photographer until shortly before his 1976 death.

Christie Vilsack, a Mt. Pleasant native, and Gov. Tom Vilsack were acquainted with Wettach and remember him as a warm and amiable man. "As a photographer and journalist, I find Pete Wettach's photos revealing, especially the photos featuring children," Mrs. Vilsack said. "I want to display them here at Terrace Hill to show the contrast between the everyday lives of urban families, like the Hubbells, who were living at Terrace Hill during the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

"This exhibit is a way to highlight a Mt. Pleasant artist and three generations of his family who continue to make Iowa their home."

Robert Wettach, M.D., a Mt. Pleasant physician and the photographer's son, kept most of his father's prints and negatives. With the rediscovery of A. M. Wettach's work, Dr. Wettach has donated most of this collection to the State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City, where they will be preserved for use by future generations.

Mary Bennett, coordinator of special collections at the State Historical Society of Iowa, is overseeing the process of archiving Wettach's prints and negatives. She sees the Wettach photographs as a great resource for understanding rural history in Iowa and the Midwest.

"Almost all of us have a connection to farm life, either personally or through our parents or grandparents," Bennett said, "and we all depend upon farming to put food on our tables. The Wettach photographs allow us to remember our connection to the land and to a way of life that has changed dramatically over the past century."

Since the rediscovery of this collection, Loveless has been working on a book about A. M. Wettach. The book, which is due out in 2002, will be published by the UI Press and will include some of the photographs that will be on display at Terrace Hill. A selection of Wettach's photos will also be displayed at the UI's booth at the Iowa State Fair in August.

The exhibit at Terrace Hill will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, July 14, and 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 15. Admission is free. The exhibit is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Iowa.

At 5 p.m. Sunday, July 15, Scott Smith will perform for "Jazz in July" on the Terrace Hill lawn.

NOTE TO EDITORS: A private reception will be held from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, July 15, at Terrace Hill. Attendees will include First Lady Christie Vilsack, members of the Wettach family, and people who were photographed by A. M. Wettach years ago. Reporters are welcome to cover this event, but should R.S.V.P. by calling (515) 281-7205.

Additional contacts for this event include:
Mary Bennett, State Historical Society of Iowa, (319) 335-3916
Cyndi Pederson, Assistant to the First Lady, Terrace Hill, (515) 281-6565
Kristen Mackey, Governor's Office, (515) 281-0176