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Archives & Special Collections (ASC)

Claude C. Matlack Collection


The Claude C. Matlack Collection documents the formative years of a mountain settlement school in Oneida, Kentucky, and provides a poignant look at life in the Cumberland Mountains of Clay County between 1903 and 1916. The collection also includes pictures taken in the photographer's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, plus a few scenes from Indiana and Colorado.


Oneida classroom, date unknown (circa 1903 - 1916). (ULPA 1982_001_306)

Claude C. Matlack (1878-1944) was an amateur photographer, working as an engineer for his family's plumbing and lighting business, when he happened to meet a trustee of Oneida Baptist Institute on a train in Eastern Kentucky. The trustee talked about the mountain school where Professor James Anderson Burns was educating children from both sides of a bitter family feud in an environment of love and compassion in hopes of ultimately ending the vicious cycle that killed generations of young men and trapped their families in poverty. Matlack accepted the trustee's invitation to stop for a visit, stayed for a week and took his first pictures of the school and the people of Clay County. He returned numerous times over the next dozen years, eventually becoming a trustee of the institute himself.

Around 1916, Matlack left Kentucky for an electrical engineering job in Florida. A few years later he opened a professional photography studio in Miami. Over the next two decades he captured a wide variety of subjects on film, including the Everglades, Seminole Indians, South Florida real estate development, Miami Beach recreation, and the young aviation and motion picture industries.

After his death in 1944, Matlack's photographs and equipment were acquired by Mileo Studio of Coral Gables. In 1952, the studio donated about 10,000 Matlack prints and negatives to the Historical Association of Southern Florida, known since 2010 as HistoryMiami. They archived over 7,000 Florida items in their museum and asked executives at WHAS-TV in Louisville, Kentucky, to find an appropriate repository for Matlack's Kentucky work. The material was shown to Samuel W. Thomas at The Louisville Courier-Journal & Times Book Division. Moved by the images, Dr. Thomas and colleagues at the George Rogers Clark Press spent several years exploring the stories behind the faces and locations. They published 156 of the Oneida photographs in a book, Dawn Comes to the Mountains (Louisville, Ky.: George Rogers Clark Press, 1981), before transferring the rights for Matlack's Kentucky collection to the University of Louisville Photographic Archives in 1982.

The Claude C. Matlack Collection, accession number 1982_001 in the Photographic Archives, University of Louisville (Louisville, Kentucky, 40292), includes 232 negatives and 672 original prints with 668 distinct images in the physical collection. About two-thirds of both items and images are associated with Oneida and Clay County. This digital collection contains scans of 44 negatives and 617 original prints. Every image in the physical collection is presented at least once in the digital collection in either print or negative format depending on which was judged to be in better condition. Because two images are combined in a diptych and three others form a panoramic triptych, the digital collection has 661 items.

Please note that Claude Matlack did not take every picture in this collection. At least three bear stamps of other Louisville photography studios (ULPA 1982_001_557, 1982_001_558, and 1982_001_827), and another photograph was attributed to the Hesse studio in an article in The American Magazine in March 1916 (ULPA 1982_001_526). Matlack is listed as the collector, but not photographer, on these and other images where there is uncertainty about the identity of the photographer. Before his death, Matlack numbered many of the prints and placed 627 in albums. He also wrote brief descriptions, which have been recorded as titles, for about 208 prints.