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Archives & Special Collections (ASC)

Kate Matthews Collection



Clovercroft. (ULPA 2007_014_003)

Born in New Albany, Indiana, photographer Kate Seston Matthews (1870-1956) spent most of her life in Pewee Valley, Kentucky, where she began taking photographs in the 1880s. Matthews relied almost exclusively on her own community and acquaintances as subjects -- a favor she returned by reproducing and signing her photographs for friends and family. While she is best known for her photographs depicting characters in the Little Colonel series of children's books written by her friend and neighbor Annie Fellows Johnston, Matthews also created tableaux vivants, or living pictures, based on nursery rhymes, fairy tales, poetry, and other works of art, and she captured on film an idyllic view of the people, architecture, and landscape of her in the small, rural community near Louisville, Kentucky.

Much of Kate Matthews' work was lost a few years after her death when a fire destroyed Clovercroft, the Matthews' family home in Pewee Valley. Fortunately, in the early 1960s, Robert J. Doherty, then Curator of the University of Louisville's Photographic Archives, launched a program to locate and catalog as much of Matthews' remaining work as possible. Doherty and Richard Duncan, a Pewee Valley resident and partner in Kentucky's leading photographic studio, Caulfield & Shook, Inc., initially made prints and copy negatives from glass negatives and original prints which Kate Matthews had given to friends and relatives. Over time several individuals, including Matthews' great-nephew, Matthews Fletcher, and Johnston's stepdaughter, Mary Johnston, generously donated many of those original items along with other albums and hand-tinted prints to the university's Photographic Archives. Through donation and purchase, the University of Louisville now houses the largest extant collection of Kate Matthews' work, with over 760 items including more than 362 original prints; seventy-six original negatives; one original painting; and copies of at least thirty-eight other distinct photographic images attributed to Matthews.

Images known to be the work of another member of Matthews' family, as well as duplicate images found in more than one format or accession, have been eliminated from the digital collection, resulting in a smaller item count (431) than that of the physical collection described above. Every image in the physical collection attributed to Kate Matthews is presented at least once in the digital collection. Digital images with multiple representations in the physical collection are noted, with their image numbers listed in the "Related Images" field of the corresponding metadata records. In general, two or more images made from the same negative are included in this digital collection only if they differ in color treatment or layout (e.g., vertical vs. horizontal).

While every image in the digital collection was attributed to Kate Matthews by its original owner, we have been unable to verify that for a few family photographs and snapshots. Thus, although those images have been included in the digital collection, Matthews is not listed as their Creator in the metadata records. Whenever possible, we have used titles handwritten by Kate Matthews and/or published during her lifetime: 139 digital images bear such titles, with the remainder assigned descriptive titles as noted in the Description.