Scenes from a Time Gone By

In those days, sailing was a favorite activity for summer visitors, Morgan Williams says, and many who stayed at the lodge commissioned local boat builders, C. Worthington and Harris Crosby to construct one of their famous wooden boats, the Wianno Senior, or a popular catboat. “Revisiting the Past” also features an image of the catboats, sailing on the East Bay, circa 1904. Built for agility, the boats feature a large rudder and a mast that’s distinctively located near the vessel’s bow.

Morgan Williams says many of the Osterville Historical Museum’s photographs were donated by residents. The older images often require restoration work, and for this, she turns to husband-and-wife team Jim and Camilla Richman of The Artistic Framer in Osterville. “It’s always incredible to see,” Jim says. “It’s history—the country’s history—and you want to try to preserve it as best you can.”

Since the business opened in 1990, Jim says customers have brought in thousands of photographs over the years that need to be touched up or repaired. Some even bring tintypes—positive exposures that were printed on thin pieces of metal rather than film, which were common during the mid- to late-19th century. But tintype images are extremely fragile and can be damaged if exposed to direct light. To Jim’s surprise, some people, unaware of this, walk in holding the images in their hands.

Scenes from a Time Gone By

The degree to which time takes a toll varies from photograph to photograph. Some images are torn or missing parts. Many are fading or losing their color. One photo Jim worked on was so brittle that fragments of the image would fall off with the slightest touch. Another—a portrait of a woman printed as an oil/pastel photograph that dated back to the 1880s or earlier—arrived at The Artistic Framer having been scratched, folded in half, and stored in an attic for roughly 75 years. Camilla says additional problems that commonly plague old photographs are smudges, creases, and, particularly common on the Cape, water stains.

To start, the Richmans analyze the photo. Next, they decide whether to digitally restore the image—the road most often taken. “There are a lot of different [digital] techniques you can do,” Jim says, “but even though you’re using Photoshop, there’s still a lot of manual work involved.” Digitally manipulating images can take a lot of time, and Jim has spent 16 to 20 hours working on an individual photo. Today, Camilla notes it’s rare for customers to request an image be restored manually, as the vast majority ask for a digital fix. The main thing, she says, is “people want it to look right.”

When the photograph is finished, the Richmans usually frame each piece to museum quality standards. The image is protected by using specially filtered glass, museum glass, or museum acrylic. For older pieces, a 100-percent cotton rag matte is used as well as acid-free backing and supports. In addition, Camilla speaks with customers about how to properly store their photographs—for example, avoiding hanging the image in direct sunlight or storing it in a damp basement.

Despite the challenges presented by older images, Camilla says she enjoys working on the photos, especially those depicting scenes of the Cape. On occasion, older customers bring in photos of themselves when they were children, summering locally with family. One customer brought in a photo of a picnic scene shot in the 1880s—it’s the same sort of everyday scene found throughout the “Revisiting the Past”collection.

“This is who we all are. This is our history,” says Camilla. “Even if the photographs don’t belong to you personally, it’s the immediate history we all share on the Cape. It’s fascinating. We’re in a very special spot.”


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Matthew Gill

Matthew is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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