Compared to the first floor of George Eastman’s historic mansion—which we restored more than 25 years ago to closely resemble how it looked during his life—we know less about the second floor and how it was decorated, and we have relatively few pieces of furniture that are original to the second-floor rooms. Nevertheless, over the course of the last few years, the George Eastman Museum has made great strides in revitalizing the second floor— and more enhancements are being planned. Walking through the mansion’s second floor has become an important part of the full Eastman Museum experience.
George Eastman loved orchestral organ music and incorporated it into his daily life as well as his entertaining. When the mansion was constructed in 1905, the Aeolian Organ Company installed what we call the South Organ. In 1918, the north organ chamber was added to complement the original organ and create a surroundsound effect, but a fire destroyed this chamber’s organ in 1949, shortly before the museum opened. In 2012, Dr. Richard Zipf donated to the Eastman Museum his Aeolian organ, along with funds for its shipment, refurbishment, and installation in the north organ chamber. In 2013, with the expert assistance of Parsons Pipe Organ Builders, the south and north organ pipes were connected, retrofitted, and tuned to re-create the intended surround sound. The stunning north organ chamber can now be made accessible to visitors. In 2015, Dr. and Mrs. Zipf continued their benevolence by establishing the Organ Second floor. Walk up! Preservation Endowment Fund, which will help assure that the entire organ is well maintained far into the future.
In 2014, we refurbished the room in the southeast corner of the second floor as a sitting room. The room features four oil paintings: a portrait of George Eastman, donated to the museum by George M. C. Fisher in 2013; posthumous portraits of each of Eastman’s parents, recently restored with grants from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network; and a portrait of his niece Ellen Dryden. This summer, we are opening two small exhibits about Eastman’s life and philanthropy, including one on the dental clinics he founded in the United States and Europe (see page 13). The room is furnished as a place where our visitors can sit and relax. Its refurbishment was generously supported by friends of Georgia Gosnell.
One of our key initiatives is to use the second floor to present the evolution of photographic technology. The new exhibition, From the Camera Obscura to the Revolutionary Kodak (see page 6), was organized by Todd Gustavson, the curator of our technology collection, with help from William Green, curatorial assistant in the Department of Photography. Next to the Donna Fielding Discovery Room, we have converted a small room with a great view of the West Garden into a camera obscura (Latin for “dark room”), a device that preceded the invention of photography by more than a millennium. The camera obscura provides a unique view of the beautiful historic garden. The image, which changes with weather and the angle of the sun, is most striking on a bright morning or early afternoon.
From the camera obscura, visitors can proceed to a newly renovated gallery that displays cameras and other equipment for three types of nineteenth-century photographic processes: daguerreotypes, collodion wet plate, and dry plate. The renovation and installation of these galleries was supported by a generous gift from Debbie Lestz Teahan and Thomas Teahan in loving memory of Nathaniel S. Lestz, who was a passionate photographer and camera collector.
The exhibition concludes with the nearby corridor gallery dedicated to early Kodak cameras, introduced in 1888. This set of cameras and related photographs and documents was first installed in October 2013, on the occasion of the camera’s 125th anniversary. The Kodak camera revolutionized photography, by making it vastly simpler— “you press the button, we do the rest.”
Next year, resources permitting, we plan to add to our second-floor gallery spaces in order to extend our presentation of the history of photographic technology to the present day—from the introduction of the Brownie camera in 1900, through the twentieth century’s mass popularization of photography (including instant photography), to the invention of digital photography and the current ubiquity of devices that are capable of recording digital photographs. Upon completion of this project, our secondfloor galleries will exhibit objects from our world-class collection to present an excellent general overview of the full, ongoing history of photographic technology.
I hope that you will take the opportunity to visit the second floor of the historic mansion on your next visit and see these exciting developments.
Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Field Director
July/August 2016 Bulletin