[N.p., perhaps Bonham, Tx. ca. 1910 or later]. Sepia-toned photograph, 3.75 x 4.75 inches, mounted on a Kodak card. Minor soiling and rubbing. Inscribed on verso with a small drawing. Very good. Item #3556
An evocative photographic image of a street scene depicting two horse-drawn carriages proceeding down a dusty street with two pedestrians at left and a clapboard house behind a picket fence at right. Although the image is unidentified, the photographer gives himself away through the wistful and nostalgic inscription on the verso, which reads: "To the Matador Cowboys, and may its contents recall in days to come, pleasant memorys of the cattle range as it was in the past. Erwin E. Smith." Below his inscription, Smith has also drawn a small portrait of the head of a Native American, in line with his earliest efforts as an illustrator of western subjects. The street scene depicted in the photograph was most likely located in Bonham, Texas, Smith's longtime home, or perhaps in another small north-central or northwest Texas location visited by Smith during his many sojourns as an itinerant photographer. His inscription was addressed to his friends and associates at the Matador Ranch, located northeast of Lubbock in the lower Texas Panhandle. In his early years as a photographer, Smith spent considerable time at the Matador Ranch, often photographing the cowboys and ranch staff at work on the range. While Smith photographs occasionally show up in the market individually or in small groups, inscribed examples are exceedingly rare. Also of note: we could locate no other identified examples or versions of this photograph in the Erwin E. Smith Collection at the Amon Carter Museum, which holds Smith's family archive along with a collection on deposit from the Library of Congress.
"Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947) always wanted to be both a cowboy and an artist. As a teenager, he worked on various ranches throughout the Southwest, using his camera to document the cowboy way of life that was fading away before his eyes. From 1905 to 1912, he divided his time between home in Bonham, Texas, art school in Chicago and Boston, and ranches in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, where he made some of the most important photographs of cowboy life on record. But Smith didn't just photograph cowboy life - he lived it. He knew firsthand the varied jobs of all the players involved in managing cattle, from the range boss to the wrangler, the bronco buster to the line rider, the cook to the cutting horse. He wanted his photographs to capture both the rugged realities and the romance of life on the open range" - Amon Carter Museum Erwin E. Smith Collection's Online Collection Guide.