Photographer Lucille Hasell Culp donates her private collection to the county library

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Photographer Lucille Hasell Culp donates her private collection to the county library

By AMY RIGARD arigard@beaufortgazette.com 843-986-5537
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2007 in The Beaufort Gazette  |  1233 Words  |  features/neighbors

The house with the red brick wall in front on Ribaut Road where Lucille Hasell Culp lived for 61 years now stands empty with a "for sale" sign in the front yard.
But a part of Culp will always live on in Beaufort, thanks to her niece, Frances Haselden. Since January, Haselden has made several trips to Beaufort to clean out her aunt's house to prepare to sell it and to take her belongings to Charleston. In January, Culp, 85, moved to a nursing home in Charleston for medical reasons and to be closer to her family.
"I remember that my aunt always had a camera around her neck everywhere she went," said Haselden, 53. "When sorting through her things, we found all these remarkable photos and negatives, literally thousands of them. I just couldn't bear the thought of them going into a Dumpster. And I didn't think they belonged in my guest bedroom. They belong with the people of Beaufort.
"I am happy to be able to share so many memories through my aunt's work. This is her click in time, and she is so excited it will be able to be preserved for the people of Beaufort."
Culp's collection was donated to, and will be preserved and showcased by, the Beaufort County Library.
A photographer's life
Culp was born in 1921 in Denver to an Okatie native who brought his family back to Beaufort County when Lucille was 12.
"I didn't want to leave Colorado and didn't like Beaufort at first because I was a mountain girl," Culp said. "I didn't want to leave my horse and come live by the water."
But now Culp said she loves Beaufort. The donation of her collection back to the county where she spent the majority of her life and work is a testament to that.
In 1941, Culp, a Beaufort High School graduate, was among the few professional women photographers in South Carolina, something she is proud of. She found a job at a studio in Beaufort, and after her first week working there, she was fascinated and went back to her aunt's house and told her she decided what she would do for the rest of her life -- photography.
When she was 23, she bought the Palmetto Studio on Bay Street. "I had my studio there for 40 years, and I think that is quite an accomplishment," Culp said. "I loved that studio with my whole heart."
The one regret Culp has is that she doesn't have any children. She and her husband, William, a Marine, were unable to. So she always put a lot of focus and energy into her relationship with her niece, Frances, and her nephew.
Culp's specialty was portraits of local residents. She photographed thousands of graduating high school seniors, brides, Marines and Beaufort residents. She also did reconstruction work on old or damaged photos.
"I realize that not all of the pictures I took will live perfectly, but I took pride in my work and took extra steps to make them last and help preserve them," Culp said.
When she purchased the studio, she also purchased some of the photos of the photographer before her. One photo she is proud of is of Kate Gleason. She didn't take the photo but she reproduced it. She made a copy of the negative and made three different prints from it. When she colored it, she made the dress she was wearing a soft mauve color instead of white. She also moved the eyes a tiny amount, she said, because Gleason was looking straight at the camera. "If the subject is looking straight at you, it makes you feel funny, as if it is following you," she said.
Haselden said her aunt has always been possessive of her artwork and photos, and she feels she has underestimated herself or the importance of all of her photos for the people of Beaufort County.
Culp lives in Charleston, somewhere she always thought she would live, if not in Beaufort. "But I never thought I would go this way," she said. "You never really know what is going to happen in your life. You just drift along."
Haselden said her aunt has been a strong, feisty woman that has made her own way to the best of her ability throughout her entire life. "I have admired her greatly since childhood," Haselden said. "My aunt has been there for every important moment in my life, and I felt it was all I should do to see that her work would be preserved for lifetimes to come."
Coming home
Joanne Leschak, a title abstractor with an office next to Culp's house, and a friend of Suzanne Larson, Beaufort County public information officer, mentioned to Larson several months ago that they were going to visit Culp in a nursing home in Charleston and that it was likely Culp would not return to her Beaufort home. Larson wondered what would become of her valuable photo collection. Larson had spoken with Culp several times over the phone in the past and gave Leschak her business card to pass on to Culp or a close family member to offer if the appropriate moment arose when she could suggest the option of donating the extensive collection to the county library.
Last April, Larson received a call from Haselden, Culp's power of attorney, and she was looking for a place for the thousands of photos and other artifacts. Larson explained why the library would be the best option and mentioned that a tribute would be paid to Culp in honor of her donation and life's work.
"That seemed to convince Frances that donating the collection to the county would be best," Larson said. "The work would be protected and preserved, her aunt would be publicly honored, and it would be a great gift to the people of Beaufort County."
The collection includes approximately 84,000 prints, negatives and other artifacts, said Hillary Barnwell, assistant director of the Beaufort County Library. It will take about two to three years to complete the preserving, indexing and cataloging of all the photos, before they are all available for public viewing, but there will be periodic displays. The library also plans to have an identification party, where longtime Beaufort residents will be invited to help identify the people, places and years of many of the photos.
County librarians Hillary Barnwell, Grace Cordial, Kathy Mitchell and Dennis Adams, along with library director Wlodek Zaryczny and his administrative assistant Ileanna Herrick worked for several days retrieving and sorting Culp's photos and negatives from her home, garage and shed.
Among the collection is a 19th century portrait that was torn in half and in poor condition prior to restoration. Culp is a relative of the Fripp family, and she donated old papers and diaries from the Fripp and Middleton families that date to the 19th century. One of Culp's old studio cameras is also among the donated items.
"It is, indeed, pleasing to know that Beaufort does want and did appreciate the donated photos and negatives," Haselden said. "I hope that all, both young and old, will enjoy them for years to come. I am at peace knowing that they are in the hands of such caring and well-trained custodians."