"Long after I am forgotten [my contributions] will remain to tell other generations that I once

lived and added something to help future Philadelphians to visualize our city of today."

Frank H Taylor

 

"Taylor understood that that people need a foundation upon which change could be built; that historic preservation

 was important in the development of the country's sense of place and defining who and what an American was."

(Gustke, 165)

When Frank H. Taylor donated the photographs that comprise the collection, he was nearing the end of a long career as a Special Artist,  having worked for some of the United States most prominent publications such as the Saturday Evening Post and Harper‚s.  Endowed with a strong passion for the city and Architecture of Philadelphia, his series of over 400 watercolors, washes and ink drawings document a city in flux, demonstrating his sensitivity towards the urban environment, change and his own brand of realism.  While the original raison d‚etre for the majority of the photographs in the Frank H. Taylor Collection was commercial, Taylor‚s act of donating them to the Free Library of Philadelphia perpetuates his role as a passive archivist of the city of Philadelphia.

Frank Hamilton Taylor was born in Rochester NY on April 21, 1846.Taylor probably developed a strong tie to America and American History early on through his family who could trace their roots back to William Bradford and Alice carpenter Southwork of the Plymouth Colony of 1620.Taylor went to public high school in Rochester before joining the Rochester Grays Battery Light Artillery to join the struggle of the Civil War in 1863.  Taylor only served briefly and saw little action. However this time was of great importance to him and demonstrates his fierce patriotism; to literally fight for what he saw to be just in America. He would later publish a book on the Civil War (Philadelphia in the Civil War 1860-65) at the request of the city of Philadelphia and the first guidebook for the Valley Forge Parks Commission. (Gustke)

Shortly after his discharge in 1865,  Taylor moved to Philadelphia to take an internship in a Lithography firm; choosing the city for its strong publishing industry as well as artistic community. On his first day in the city,  he met Margaret,  who would become his wife and be the mother to his only son Frank Walter.  By the 1870's Taylor had his own lithography firm. During this time he also worked for the Daily Graphic, "the Only Illustrated Daily Newspaper in the World" as a "special artist" which helped to broaden his reputation as a talented artist and designer. Special Artists were artists hired by newspapers to sketch important events before the widespread use of photography. Special Artists can be equated with story tellers; with their pens they capture moments realistically, and more importantly, communicably. This training helped to solidify Taylor's individual artistic style. By the 1880's Taylor had begun writing articles as well as illustrating them.One of his most cherished assignments was in 1880, when he was hired by Harper's Weekly to cover Ulysses S. Grant‚s trip to the American South. Taylor had a strong reputation in Philadelphia as a historian and artist. Intimately involved with the Philadelphia Sketch Club, he would briefly serve as president and be a member for over 55 years. He collaborated on many guidebooks and was asked to write several publications by institutions such as the City of Philadelphia, the Poor Richard Club (for whom he wrote a dictionary of Philadelphia) and the Philadelphia Maritime Exchange. During this time he must had acquired the photographs in the collection, retouching them for publications, notably the Official Office Building Directory and Architectural Handbook of Philadelphia, as a way to gain income. (Gustke)

 

By the 1910's,Taylor was in semi-retirement, primarily working on his series on watercolors, washes and drawings of the city of Philadelphia.Taylor's tenure as a special artist conditioned to record the essence of a scene not "just the facts, but a realism blended with human understanding." (Gustke 163) Philadelphia‚s strong heritage of a democratic ideology made for an environment in which independent thinkers in the arts and sciences prospered and who would produce a form of American Realism such as Thomas Eakens and Walt Whitman. Taylor's drawings were part of this realistic Philadelphia outlook "strait-forward scenes without romantic overtones or idealized subjects, the same way the city viewed itself." (Gustke, 131) Taylor's realism makes his works invaluable resources about Philadelphia's development around the turn of the century, portraying the city of the middle class including voices of the time that were often silenced such as minorities or factories. (Gustke) One cannot fall into the trap of removing the burden of bias from Taylor, each of his works promote his own set of values and ideals. Yet Taylor knew that his works were not simply decorative.  They were his testimonials to the way Philadelphia was which could act as a base from which the city could evolve.This belief is exemplified by the title of his lithographic series Ever-Changing Philadelphia in 1915.

 

In 1922, Taylor donated the photographs in this collection to the Philadelphia Free Library. As previously stated, most of them were used in directories and publications about the city of Philadelphia. His at-times naive touch ups on the images often act as clues about the purpose of the image e.g. the lettering on a sign accentuated. Sometimes the alterations reveal information about the institution pictured,  as in the case of a bank where people in the foreground have been wiped out, sending a strong message about the power that the institution sees itself holding. Illustrating the experimentation and inexperience that characterized the early years of photography, these attempts to alter the images are also characteristic of Taylor's enterprising manner (in 1874 he was awarded a gold medal for improvements in photolithographic processes at the Franklin institute). Moreover, they can be related to Taylor‚s brand of realism. The images retain their integrity as "objective" portrayals, while Taylor's touch-ups often accentuate the perceived subject by making the surroundings slightly more amicable for no apparent commercial reason e.g. clouds in the sky or the attempted erasure of electrical lines from in front of pale building facades. Taylor's archaic Photoshop makes him into a story teller in two ways. Fits as a special artist- story teller: trying to communicate the essence of the event which may not come through simply by raw photography. Secondly he fills the role of story teller by constructing meaning through his touch-ups and his act of donating them to the Philadelphia Free Library.

 

Always aware of the importance of historical documentation, Taylor most likely donated the images to the Free Library in the hopes that they would serve as important visual guide to the city that he knew, and knew was changing. He was changing too, by this time he was 76 years old.His wife of 50 years had died 2 years beforehand and his son had died the year before of ptomaine poisoning. The same year he was stuck down by a delivery truck.These blows were very hard on Taylor, though his involvement in the sketch club appears to have been of great help to him. His health would decline until 1927 when he was declared „an alleged weak-minded personš by the court of pleas of Philadelphia and was placed under the guardianship of the Commonwealth Title Insurance and Trust company (ironically a subject of an image that he had retouched), placed in a sanitarium and died 2 months later.

 

The extent of Frank H. Taylor's contribution to Philadelphia's history and self-image is slowly growing as academics re-discover his works, many of which were dispersed after his death.  This collection of images adds to an understanding of Frank Taylor as a social historian fiercely dedicated to his adopted city‚s legacy to the future. It would have been simple to discard the images in the collection, yet Taylor recognized what they could offer future inhabitants and researchers of Philadelphia. 81 years later, the potential of these images is hopefully on track to being realized.

 

Caroline Drucker

 

Bibliography:

 

Gustke, Nancy L. The Special Artist in American Culture. New York: Peter Lang  Publishing Inc., 1995

 

Taylor, Frank H. Philadelphia in the Civil War. Philadelphia: the city, 1913.

 

Taylor, Frank H.  The Port and City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: 12th International Congress of Navigation, 1912.

 

The Official Office Building Directory and Architectural Handbook of Philadelphia Philadelphia:      1899