Thursday, July 9, 2015

Chapter 13: A Developing Story -- Fred Fawkner Makes Pictures

This week's post is titled "A Developing Story," partly because the story seems to grow everything I do a new Google search, but also as a play on words. Frederick Perkins Fawkner was short (5'2") and slender, with gray eyes. As a young man, he had thick, brown hair. He was deaf. He was a photographer.

The youngest of James C. Fawkner's three deaf children, Fred lost his hearing at age 2. He was semi-mute. As an adult, he supplemented limited hearing with lip reading. He was captained the football team, but got a start on a career. Fred found photography through an art class at the Illinois Institution for Education of the Deaf and Dumb in Jacksonville, Illinois. According to a short biography in The Silent Worker, a deaf community journal:

Being a poor boy, he soon turned the art of kodaking to profit, selling the prints among the officers and pupils. The returns, financially, meant much to him and the experience also proved valuable. With only a fair knowledge of photography...a mere amateur, he went to Duluth, Minn., soon after graduation and there secured his first position.

Why Duluth? Fred's deaf brother, Cyrus, his brother James Henry, and his married sisters, Julia and Elizabeth Ann, were already living there. (Fred's siblings will be featured in posts over the next few weeks).  The 1898-99 city directory listed Fred boarding in the home of his sister Julia and her husband, George W. Watson. The 1900 directory listed Fred boarding with his brother, James H. Fawkner. Fred was listed as a photographer. The 1900 census, taken in June, found Fred as a student back in Jacksonville. It is not known when during the year the city directory listings were compiled; possibly, Fred spent summers in Duluth. Afterall, his parents were deceased and his siblings were in Duluth.

In any case, Fred was soon back in Jacksonville, where he placed a work wanted ad.

WANTED--By a deaf person a situation as a printer, retoucher and toner; is willing to do other kinds of work in a photograph gallery. Has had three years' experience. Address: Fred Fawkner, care J. C. Gordon, Jacksonville, Ill.

Whether the ad turned the trick is not known, but by 1903 a Buffalo, New York, city directory listed Frederick Fawkner, a photographer, at 422 Pearl Street. In June, he moved to Clayton, New York -- on the St. Lawrence River east of Lake Ontario -- to be an assistant in the gallery of Clara Smith. His Clayton engagement soon gave way to an engagement of another kind back in Illinois. Fred Fawkner married Daisy Walters Trigg 21 July 1905 in Alexander County, Illinois, and by 1910 was working in his own studio in Cairo, the county seat. The 1900 census reveals that Fred and Daisy were classmates in Jacksonville. They were living with Daisy's parents in 1910. The census enumerator was supposed to ask if individuals were deaf or dumb, but he did not record their deafness. The young couple was still living with Daisy's parents in 1920; they had a 6-month-old daughter, Helen.

 Fred's work had already gained notice. Four of his photographs were selected for an exhibition of 500 U.S. and Canadian photos at the National Photographers Association in Kansas City in 1913. Some of his early work in Cairo featured industrial landscapes, but he later did both studio portrait and landscape work. The University of Illinois Photographic Archive holds a Fawkner portrait of the famous football coach, Amos Alonzo Stagg. The Silent Worker gave its praise: "He has a fine studio ... and he is a good example of the success that can be won despite the handicap of deafness when artistic talent is coupled with untiring devotion to business."

By 1930, Fred was operating a photo studio back in Jacksonville. Soon after his return to Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Courier reported in 1924: "He planned the interior arrangement of the studio to meet his needs, and then secured the most modern and efficient equipment available." The article described a silent door bell system that used colored lights to indicate the opening and closing of doors.

 The Courier article noted that he had previously held positions with photographic firms in Buffalo, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut -- the exact timing of his eastern sojourn is not known. He was back east again in 1942, where his draft registration stated that he worked in a studio in Norfolk, Virginia. Fred stated that his wife lived back in Jacksonville. At 61, his hair had gone gray, but he was still only 118 pounds. City directories place Fred in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News area from 1943-1946. Fred and Daisy may have gone separate ways. The 1940 census enumerated Daisy as a housemother at the deaf school; Fred has not been found.

Frederick Fawkner, age 65, died 27 December 1946 in Virginia. Daisy died at age 92 in 1971 in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Fred P. Fawkner, Submerged district, Cairo, Illinois, 1913, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 

LESSON: When least expected, lives can be deeply interesting. There is no real genealogical research lesson this week, except perhaps to remember that ancestors had lives between those births, marriages, deaths. Don't just hatch, match, and dispatch; research ancestors' lives.

Physical descriptions are from draft registration records. Some biographical information, including facts regarding Fred's hearing loss, are from "The Deaf in the Business World," The Silent Worker, 23:8 (May 1913), 146.

1 comment:

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