Who was Wallace Nutting?
Attend just about any antique and collectible show, wander a brick and mortar shop, or peruse the offerings online and you’ll probably find hand tinted pictures by Wallace Nutting, David Davidson, Charles Sawyer, and others.
Wallace Nutting was born in 1861. As a child and young man, he exhibited a strong affinity for preaching and became a Congregationalist Minister, which he enjoyed immensely. At age 43, his health forced retirement, and he transformed his photography hobby into a successful business.
The concept was ingeniously simple. He would choose a photo that he had taken and create a master copy with hand painted colors referenced by his field notes. A Head Colorist supervised a staff of colorists as they reproduced multiple copies of the photo. At its peak, the studio employed 200 colorists and, by Wallace Nutting’s own account, they produced about ten million hand colored photographs over the years. Although a high percentage of his photos are hand signed, it was most often an authorized signature by a Head Colorist, not Nutting’s.
The distinct style of his work and the reasonable price resulted in a huge demand for his pictures. It has been said that Nutting photographs were a popular wedding gift in the 1920’s. This popularity prompted other early 20th century photographers to produce similar offerings. The most well known are David Davidson, Fred Thompson, Charles Sawyer and Charles Higgins, and each produced work that was uniquely their own.
Nutting created a revolutionary method to bring ‘art’ into modest homes and his photographs from world travels created a pictorial history of his time.
Although most people think of Wallace Nutting as a photographer, his passions extended far beyond the popular hand-colored pictures for which he became famous. Wallace Nutting had a deep respect for history and it led him to buy historic homes and restore them to period. He furnished them with period furniture and eventually owned 5 antique houses. He used these houses as backdrops and settings for many of his photos. His quest to provide accurate surroundings and furnishings in these homes fueled an interest in manufacturing furniture. He took a purist’s approach, crafting his furniture with the same tools and materials, and in the manner of the antiques they copied. This attention to detail made his furniture just as collectible as the antiques they copied.
He also became a noted author. His first book, “Old New England Pictures”, is quite rare and was published in 1913. In 1917, he published “Windsor Chairs”. Additionally, he authored a series of 10 States Beautiful books. These books discuss his travels in eight U.S. states and two foreign countries. Each book featured a large number of pictures from the corresponding location and they proved to be very popular. He also wrote “The Clock Book” as well as a number of books about furniture and his autobiography in 1936.
Wallace Nutting died in 1941 at the age of 79. He was a clergyman, a traveler, a craftsman, an author and artist. But maybe most of all, Wallace Nutting loved history and historic dwellings. He used that passion to record and share America’s history through his various pursuits, sharing his thoughts and the beauty that surrounded him, with all of us.
About the Author
Anita is an active member of Got Vintage Shops. Please visit her store Cousins Antiques on Ruby Lane where she "is pleased to help you find the treasure that speaks to you!"