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Russell Lee: Wheelwright, KY Photographic Collection, 1946

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Author

Processed by: Staff, Jason Flahardy, and Lindy Melvin; machine-readable finding aid created by:Eric Weig, Lindy Melvin

Title

Russell Lee: Wheelwright, KY Photographic Collection

Date

1946

Repository

University of Kentucky Libraries, Special Collections

Lexington, Kentucky 40506

Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to researchers by appointment.

Preferred Citation Note

[Identification of item], Russell Lee: Wheelwright, KY Photographic Collection, 1946, 88PA1,Special Collections, University of Kentucky.

Extent

.5 cu. ft. (1 Box): 65 items

Biography/History

Russell Lee first came to national prominence in the 1930's, when he worked as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration. His reputation as a photographer rests on his ability to accurately and empathetically portray the daily lives, troubles, and joys of ordinary people. In addition to his work for government agencies, Lee is known as an industrial photographer, magazine illustrator and photojournalism teacher, retiring in 1973 from the Fine Arts faculty at the University of Texas.

Russell Lee was born on July 21, 1903, in Ottawa, Illinois. Lee experienced a childhood marked with instability and unsettling events: his parents' divorce, the death of his mother, and subsequent supervision by a number of legal guardians which included his grandparents and his great uncle. During the fall of 1917, Lee enrolled in Culver Military Academy in Indiana, where he spent the next four years, until his graduation in 1921. Lee then attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania from 1921 to 1925 and earned a degree in chemical engineering. He returned to Illinois and accepted a position making composition roofing for Certainteed Products Company in Marseilles. In 1927 he married Doris Emrick; the following year, he was promoted to plant manager and was transferred to Kansas City. By 1929, he became exceedingly restless and bored with his career; he resigned and in September of that year the Lees moved to San Francisco where he pursued painting. A little over a year later, upon the suggestion of a friend, they relocated to an artist's community in Woodstock, New York.

After several years of frustration, painting portraits and landscapes in Woodstock, Lee purchased his first camera, a 35mm Contax, in 1935 to aid him in his painting and draftsmanship. He photographed his surroundings in Woodstock, venturing out to auctions to document the realities of the Depression as people were forced to sell their household goods. He also traveled to New York City in the winter of 1935-1936 and photographed urban scenes, as well as the effects of the Depression there: unemployment, hunger and despair. In the spring of 1936 he traveled to Pennsylvania and photographed the bootleg coal mines.

In the fall of 1936, Lee joined the photographic staff of the Resettlement Administration (RA), which was renamed the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937. Both the RA and the FSA were New Deal programs created to assist poor and destitute farmers during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. He worked directly under the creative supervision of Roy Stryker, the head of the Historical Section and the director of photographic projects. The Historical Section's purpose and function was to publicize and gain national support for the FSA, through the dissemination of photographs illustrating the plight of tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and migrant workers. Stryker's documentary team created 77,000 still photographs from 1935 until 1942; many of these were published in a variety of newspapers, books and magazines. His graphic designers and editors produced posters and exhibitions of these photographs that toured cities around the United States, educating mostly urban Americans about the country's rural problems.

During his tenure with the FSA, Russell Lee crisscrossed the United States, documenting rural and urban communities. He specialized in photographic series; his two most famous series from this time are his photographs of San Augustine, Texas in 1939, and Pie Town, New Mexico in 1940. It was also during this time working for the FSA that the marriage between Russell and Doris Lee ended; they divorced in 1939. On assignment in New Orleans that same year, he met Jean Smith, a Dallas journalist. The two began working together and eventually married. Jean Lee quickly became a key factor in the success of Russell Lee's photographs.

In 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the United States' entry into World War II, Russell Lee left the FSA/OWI and joined the Overseas Technical Unit of the Air Transport Command (ATC), where he received a captain's commission. The Overseas Technical Unit was created to photograph the routes and airfields flown by the ATC. Frequently, American pilots flew into airspace completely unfamiliar to them, often while maintaining radio silence. Pilots and crew alike experienced difficulty in remembering details of long briefings prior to flight, so a unit of professional photographers was assembled to provide these pilots and their crew with images to aid in their meticulous briefings. A B-24 bomber specially modified for aerial photography was assigned to the new unit; the nose of the plane was removed and replaced with high-grade glass to minimize any distortion of the film being shot through it. These modifications enabled the OUT to photograph airfields and landscapes as the pilots would see them.

A year after leaving the Air Transport Command at the end of World War II, Lee came out of semi-retirement to accept an assignment from the Department of the Interior. This assignment came about as a result of worsening conditions in many mines and mining camps during the War and shortly thereafter. In 1946 the Department of the Interior and the United Mine Workers conducted a joint survey of medical, health and Mines Administration. At the time of the survey the coal industry was under government control, having been placed there by President Harry S. Truman in order to end a 59-day strike by the United Mine Workers of America. As part of the unique agreement between the government and the union, the survey was undertaken to document the working and living conditions then prevalent in the industry.

Under the direction of Rear Admiral Joel T. Boone, the survey teams journeyed to mining areas to collect data and photograph the conditions of mines and camps. Lee took the majority of the photographs in the survey, which document the many facets of each community: company stores and housing, mine interiors and exteriors, medical dispensaries, and everyday activities of residents. Lee made over 4000 images from August 1946 to February 1947 for the Coal Mines Administration; these negatives are now in the National Archives. About 225 photographs were used to illustrate the final report of the survey team by the Department of the Interior when, in 1947, it published A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry, and a smaller supplement entitled The Coal Miner and His Family. One print was later selected for the Museum of Modern Art's Family of Man exhibition.

Following his assignment with the Coal Mines Administration, Russell and Jean Lee moved to Austin, Texas in 1947. That same year, Lee and Roy Stryker were professionally reunited, as Lee accepted a number of assignments from Stryker, who was then directing documentary projects for Standard Oil New Jersey (SONJ). Lee continued his industrial photography through the 1950s, working for a variety of companies, including the Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco), and Jones and Laughlin Steel. In 1960, Russell Lee accepted an assignment from the University of Texas at Austin to shoot a portfolio of photographs for a special issue of Texas Quarterly on Italy. Lee spent two and a half months in Italy and shot some 4000 photographs.

In the years following World War II, until the mid-1960s, Russell Lee photographed extensively in his new home state of Texas. Concurrent with his work for Standard Oil and J & L Steel, he contributed to magazines such as Fortune, and The New York Times Magazine, and was an associate staff member of Magnum. His work also appeared frequently in The Texas Observer. The majority of assignments Russell Lee accepted were socially oriented. In 1950, Lee worked in conjunction with the University of Texas to document the living conditions and health-problems of Spanish-speaking people in Texas. In the mid-1950s, Lee documented conditions at several state mental institutions in Texas. The bulk of Russell Lee's postwar Texas photographs conclude around 1965, when, following his retrospective exhibition, he accepted a position teaching photography at the University of Texas; Lee was the University's first photography instructor. Although he was still somewhat photographically active after 1965, Lee's students, not his own work, became his focus until his retirement in 1973. Russell Lee died on August 28, 1986.

Information in this biographical sketch was derived from Southwest Texas State University's Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern and Mexican Photography.

Scope and Content

The Russell Lee: Wheelwright, KY Photographic Collection consists of 65 black and white 8X10 photographs. The content of the photographs included citizens of Wheelwright, Kentucky and the local coal mining industry. The pictures were taken within a short period of time during the mid-1940's. On the back of each photograph, there is a label identifying the subject and date.

Subjects

  • African-American coal miners
  • Children of coal miners
  • Coal mines and mining
  • Coal miners--Kentucky
  • Coal miners--Kentucky--Wheelwright
  • Coal miner's spouses-Kentucky
  • Kentucky--Social life and customs
  • Lee, Russell, 1903-1986--Photograph collections
  • Mountain whites (Southern States)
  • Photography--Exhibitions--Kentucky
  • United States--Coal Mines Administration

Related Material

Hurley, F. Jack. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y: Morgan & Morgan, 1978.

Wroth, William, ed. Edited by New Mexico: Ancient City Press, 1995.

For further information about Lee's coal mining images, contact: NARA Still Picture Branch (NWDNS), National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001 PHONE: 301-713-6625 x234.

Another online source of information regarding the Russell Lee Collection housed in Southwest Texas State University's Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern and Mexican Photography is their website:

Collection Inventory

Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Barbershop in community center building"; two men in barber chairs being worked on by two barbers, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 01] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Men's and women's clothing store is company owned and operated.", 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 02] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "George Fain, son of Harry Fain, coal loader, is candidate for high school basketball team."; basketball, action shot of lay-up attempt, 1946-09-23
[Box: 1, item: 03] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Sunday dinner in home of Harry Fain, coal loader. The family entertains many guests on Sundays. Because of the size of the alcove in the kitchen, only six people can sit at the table."; three men and three women eat around full table, 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 04] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "View of downtown business section and part of company housing project."; elevated shot of town and surrounding terrain, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 05] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Changing shifts at the mine portal in the afternoon."; miners exiting and congregating around mine entrance, some sit on mine carts, 1946-09-23
[Box: 1, item: 06] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, right, talks to his section foreman upon completion of the morning shift."; two men in helmets face each other, 1946-09-23
[Box: 1, item: 07] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, places and secures safety timber close to the face where he will work."; action shot of man in mine, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 08] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Scene at the swimming pool owned by company. (Note the chlorinators.)", 1946-06-01
[Box: 1, item: 09] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Class in high school attended largely by children of miners from Inland Steel Company's mine."; classroom filled with adolescents, 1946-09-25
[Box: 1, item: 10] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Swimming pool is open to all employees during spring and summer months."; children sit on lower diving board, older boys pose on high dive, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 11] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Filling station on main street."; two men lean in doorway of filling station, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 12] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, left, coal loader, and his son George shoot a round of golf on the course here."; action shot, Fain attempts putt while son pulls the flag on the hole, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 13] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "The golf course is open to all employees of the company. The dues are $16.25 per year."; elevated shot of golf course surrounded by forested hills, car is parked along path, two small buildings stand on the side of the course, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 14] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Putting on the green of the golf course. This course is open to all employees of the company."; action shot, six men watch as seventh attempts putt, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 15] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "George Fain, son of Harry Fain, miner, holds the flag on one of the greens of the golf course open to all employees of the company."; one man pulls flag as another prepares to putt, 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 16] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "High school students in auditorium. School is adjacent to property of Inland Steel Co. , and serves the children of that mine."; boys and girls separated into different sections of auditorium, 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 17] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Boy scouts first aid team practicing for statewide competition at Pikeville, October 4 and 5."; action shot, four boys lift fifth boy who is secured into a stretcher with a splint on his right leg, 1946-09-19
[Box: 1, item: 18] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, removes his "bank" clothes in locker room before taking a shower."; man removes boot with soiled mine gear on locker room bench beside him, 1946-09-23
[Box: 1, item: 19] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Local UMWA Union meeting is held on Sunday morning in school house."; collection of men sitting in classroom with one man standing amongst them, 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 20] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "One of the buildings on main street-- contains community hall, post office, restaurant, barber shop, soda fountain, and drug store."; facade of large building, people line ground floor porch, car parked in front of building, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 21] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Class in high school which George Fain (center), son of Harry Fain, attends. He is a veteran who is in his last year of high school, and hopes to go on to the university.", 1946-09-23
[Box: 1, item: 22] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Sunday School class in Community Methodist Church."; seven girls on left holding pamphlets face teacher with papers in hand, 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 23] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Hospital Medical Staff: Front row- Miss Gertrude, RN; Dr. J. W. Bailey, Scrutchfield, Lab Tech.; Dr. Russell Hall."; group shot from below on hospital steps, 1946-06-01
[Box: 1, item: 24] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Crowd awaiting to attend a movie showing on Saturday night."; elevated shot of assembled crowd, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 25] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Doctor gives the wife of a miner an inoculation in the dispensary.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 27] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Choir of Methodist church; Rev. Jackson is at extreme right."; African-American choir assembled with pianist in foreground, 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 28] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Congregation leaving Community Methodist Church."; group descends stairs of church, 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 29] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "The Reverend Jones, pastor of Baptist church."; African-American pastor stands with hand placed on podium, 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 30] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Congregation of the Freewill Baptist Church, which is largely composed of miners of surrounding communities."; shot from back of church as man addresses congregation, 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 31] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "One of the pastors of the Freewill Baptist Church, attended by miners of this community."; pastor stands behind podium with hand raised, two men seated to the left, pictures of Jesus and Mary in background, 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 32] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Scene at mine entry, Inland Steel Co. Mine. Official group with miners including Comdr. John H. Balch, Admiral Joel T. Boone, and Mr. Edwin R. Price, General Superintendent."; miners stand behind the military men and man in suit, 1946-06-01
[Box: 1, item: 33] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, assembles auger which he will use in drilling at the face."; man in lamp helmet holds large drill bit, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 34] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Member of mine rescue team, safety department, dons a gas mask.", 1946-09-23
[Box: 1, item: 35] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Members of mine rescue team of safety department with approval apparatus. Man on right is holding safety lamp, is wearing oxygen equipment for use in gaseous mine explosion conditions."; man on left handles equipment sitting on table, 1946-09-23
[Box: 1, item: 36] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Miners in local UMWA meeting discussing a point brought up before the meeting. Man on right is Harry Fain, coal loader, and a trustee of the union.", 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 37] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Local UMWA union meeting is held on Sunday morning in schoolhouse."; standing man faces assembly, 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 38] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Crowd of miners and families in soda fountain prior to movie showing Saturday night.", 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 39] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Scene in front of the club (hotel). Front row- Unidentified person, Mine Superintendent; Guy Boone, President of the local labor union; Admiral Joel T. Boone; Mr. Edwin R. Price, General Superintendent. Back row- Commander J. Balch, and unidentified person.", 1946-06-01
[Box: 1, item: 40] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Group in front of miner's home."; man stands and faces man in military uniform as children look on, 1946-06-08
[Box: 1, item: 41] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Front porch of the Harry Fain home on Sunday afternoon. Relatives and family are frequent Sunday visitors.", 1946-09-22
[Box: 1, item: 42] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, removes "bug dust" from undercut made by cutting machine. 'Bug dust' is a mixture of slate and ground coal."; action shot of man holding shovel, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 43] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, uses pick to start hole which will be drilled out with hand auger, then loaded with powder charge and ignited.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 44] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, tamping with powder charge prepatory to ignition.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 45] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, drills coal with hand auger. Powder charges are then placed and ignited.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 46] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, lays track which will allow shuttle to be spotted closer to the face.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 47] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain loading coal that has just been shot from the face. He will load about 16- 17 tons of coal per day.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 48] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Harry Fain, coal loader, loads "bug dust" which is mixture of slate and coal ground by the undercutting machine. He will load about 2 tons net coal in this operation. His total loading for the day will be 16-17 tons. The coal seem is four feet thick.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 49] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Mrs. Fred Blackburn, wife of proprietor of liquor store. Mrs. Blackburn was former official at Wheelwright mines."; woman stands amongst shelves filled with bottles, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 50] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "View of town."; bridge leads to an assemblage of buildings, power lines present, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 51] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "General scene upper station Weeksbury Mining Camp (Eastern Gas)."; creek runs beside dwellings, people look on, 1946-06-08
[Box: 1, item: 52] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Main street looking toward general store.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 53] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Street in colored section of company housing project."; children stand on porch of house while two men walk down street, 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 54] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Recess in colored grade school."; children link hands and circle a woman and a large pole, adults look on, 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 55] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Mrs. Temis Sullivan, coal miner's wife, in kitchen of her home in company housing project.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 56] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Officers of local American legion Charter. From left to right are: V. H. Talbott, Service Officer; W. J. Ratliff, adjutant; H. A. Stancil, Commander; C. R. Miller, Treasurer; L. S. Becker, Post Commander."; five men seated flanked by flags6, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 57] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Daughters of America meet weekly in community hall. Mrs. Harry Fain, coal loader's wife, is a member, sitting second from the left."; eight women seated while two hold the American flag, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 58] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Family of Harry Fain, coal loader. From left to right are: Harry Ray Fain, 15 years of age; Ella Jane Fain, 18 years of age; Harry Fain, 45 years of age; Geraldine Fain, 22 years of age; and George Fain, 20 years of age.", 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 59] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Washday in miner's home in colored section of company housing project."; hung washing circles two sides of small house, 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 60] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Company-owned community playground and swimming pool. Golf course is in background."; elevated shot of building, pool, and course, 1946-09-21
[Box: 1, item: 61] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Street in colored section of company housing project.", 1946-09-24
[Box: 1, item: 62] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "Members of town board and police staff in front of new municipal building which will shortly be opened. Municipal building will contain space for fire truck, mayor's and other official's offices, court room."6, 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 63] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "George Fain, son of Harry Fain, coal loader, bowling. There are four alleys in the recreation center."; action shot of man bowling with people seated in background, 1946-09-26
[Box: 1, item: 64] browse
Typewritten label on back of photograph: "1945 State Champion First Aid Team practicing for statewide competition at Pikeville, October 4 and 5, 1946."; four men practice bandaging a fifth man on a stretcher, 1946-09-20
[Box: 1, item: 65] browse