HERITAGE EXHIBITION OF GERHARD GESELL'S 19th Century Photography Gerhard Gesell operated a photographic studio in Alma, Wisconsin for 30 years where he documented rivertown life in 19th century Wisconsin along the Mississippi River. He also operated the first "art" store in the city. The many pictures he took of the town, the river and the townspeople of Alma are still treasured today.
The Society's Heritage Art Exhibit was an outstanding success with over 5,000 visitors. The exhibit is part of the permanent collection at the Alma Area Museum.
Meanwhile, please enjoy our new online exhibit below. Click the Icon on the Lower Right Hand Corner Of The Exhibit To View Full Page
Back Stories On The Photography Of Gerhard Gesell This series of weekly newspaper articles published from June 2010 through September 2010 in local area newspapers presents the back stories to many of Gerhard Gesell's photographs.
GESELL'S TIMES From The Exhibit Town Across The River
During Gesell's forty-three years in this country (1863-1906) he witnessed an unprecedented era of change. He saw the passing of the Indian nations which had been in control of lands west of the Mississippi less than a generation previous. He saw the boom and bust of the lumbering era on the upper Mississippi, as more sawmills were built inland and the pineries exhausted. He photographed the height of steamboats on the river and documented their successor, the railroads. He watched his county's agriculture shift from "King Wheat" to dairying, as it did then throughout most of Wisconsin. He observed the "improvement" of his beloved river by the Army Corps of Engineers through wing dams, dredging, levees and buoys. He saw the coming of the telegraph and the telephone, and lived to use electric lights in his studio.
Perhaps most importantly, Gesell and his fellow citizens experienced a kind of "second revolution" during America's Centennial era. Following the Civil War, this country evolved from an independent but fragmented assembly of regions into a unified, interdependent nation. Whereas before, the United States had been united by law, now the bond included elements of a shared economy through wider distribution of raw materials and finished goods, and acculturation, emphasing what was American over what was ethnic and local. The national mood was for more, bigger and faster growth.
In the midst of this, Gesell was determined to picture Alma and the surrounding area in the making and on the move. He was not content to see a small town where the potential existed for a city of size and sophistication. His photographs impart a sense of this dynamic and in so doing reflect the aspirations of his time.
Master Gesell, after three decades as a practicing photographer, decided to retire in 1903, due to poor health. On March 15, 1906, following a long and painful illness, he passed away in the presence of his family. "Gesell was a man of strong emotions and pronounced views," his obituary observed, and "everyone knew where to find him."
That holds true today for, through his photographs, Gerhard Gesell can still be found in Alma, his Town Across The River.
The Buffalo County Journal Alma, Wisconsin Date To Be Determined
"Mr. Gesell opened his Art, Book & Stationary store last Monday, in his new building, corner of Main & Olive Streets. The first floor is occupied as an Art, Book & Stationary store, where he has placed on exhibition a very superior stock of photos, chromos, oil paintings, etc., and a full line of stationary, wedding goods, perfumery, toilet articles, fancy goods, etc. The second story will be used for reception & operating rooms connected with his photograph gallery. He has indeed opened out the first and only store of this kind in the city and it is worth one's time to look thru his store and rooms, the appearance of which smacks of city style. He has expended a large sum of money in this enterprise and we hope he will receive a liberal patronage. He deserves it. Drop in and see his fine collection of art."
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