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The Swartz Brothers: Fort Worth’s First Family of Photographers

The Swartz brothers – David, John and Charles – were three Virginia farm boys who ventured west, arriving in Fort Worth in the mid-1880s. Over the next 30 years, they observed the city through the lens of a camera, snapping pictures of people, events and architecture – leaving a priceless legacy. They collectively produced thousands of photographs that were scattered to the four winds after their deaths.

Hundreds of those images have survived, although the brothers themselves are largely forgotten. The best-known photograph shows the five members of the “Wild Bunch” (aka, the “Fort Worth Five”) posed in John’s studio in 1900. It is the basis of the downtown development known as “Sundance Square.” The Brothers’ cumulative work provides a stunning visual chronicle of late 19th- and early 20th-century Fort Worth as well as a window into American life during that era.

Exhibit

Throughout May of 2013, the Central Fort Worth Library hosted a photo exhibition highlighting representative examples of the brother’s work. The exhibit was assembled by historian Richard Selcer and genealogist Donna Donnell.   You can also follow the exhibit on Facebook.

The Wild Bunch

Photo: “Wild Bunch,” J. Swartz, 1900

Graveside Dedication Ceremony

In conjunction with the exhibit, a headstone for Charles Swartz, who died in 1905, wasl dedicated at the Oakwood Cemetery on May 11, 2013. Descendants of Swartz were in attendance, as well as Dr. Richard Selcer, who reflected on Swartz’s life and legacy. Steve Pruett, North Fort Worth Historical Society, performed on the bagpipe. The ceremony was open to the public.

Presentations

On May 11, 2013, there were two lectures followed by a reception at the Central Library. Presenters Quentin McGown and Scott Barker discussed how photography and photographers enhance our understanding of history and the world in which we live.  After the lectures, Dr. Selcer led a short guided tour of the photo exhibit, providing context and back-story to the various photographs.

On Sep. 24, 2013, Donna Donnell, one of the researchers for the exhibit, presented a program at the Fort Worth Genealogical Society's monthly meeting about the Swartz brothers and their family.  Video from that presentation can be found here, under the title "The Swartz Brothers, Fort Worth Photographers: A Family Study. 

Program Video and Descriptions - May 11, 2013

 

A Precarious Profession: Photographers in Early Fort Worth
Presented by Scott Barker

Much about early Fort Worth is known to us through photographs. However, our understanding of the men and women who took these photographs is unclear. Discover the work and legacies of the dozens of photographers who devoted themselves to their city and the art of the photographic image.

Barker is a Texas art historian with a keen interest in Fort Worth and its past. Barker is co-author of Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s. His interests include collecting pre-1950 Fort Worth paintings and photographs, then seeking an understanding of the history behind them. 

Scott Barker

Images of Home: Vintage Photographs and Local History
Presented by Quentin McGown

Learn how historic photographs breathe life and detail into the study of local history. The program also features an overview of the many archival resources available to researchers. The speaker encourages audience members to bring photographs to identify and discuss.

McGown serves as an associate judge for the Tarrant County Probate Court. He is a former chair of the City of Fort Worth Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission, and the Tarrant County Historical Commission. McGown teaches courses on Fort Worth history at TCU and is an adjunct instructor of political science at Texas Wesleyan. He is the author of two books: Fort Worth in Vintage Postcards and Historic Photos of Fort Worth.

Quentin McGown

Acknowledgements

This exhibition was made possible by the generous financial support of the Amon Carter Foundation, the Fort Worth Promotion and Development Fund, and the following individuals:

  • Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Alton
  • Mr. and Mrs. Scott Barker
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bill Benge
  • Mr. Carter Bowden
  • Mr. and Mrs. Harry Brants
  • Mr. John Clay
  • Mr. Dan Earl Cuggan
  • Mr. David Dike
  • Mr. Greg Dow
  • Dr. and Mrs. John Freese
  • Dr. and Mrs. Harry Froeschke
  • Ms. Taddie Hamilton
  • Mr. and Mrs. Frank Harris
  • Mr. Kenneth Jackson
  • Mr. Don Keaton
  • Mr. and Mrs. Morris Matson
  • Mr. Jerry Meehan
  • Mr. and Mrs. Hal Normand
  • Mr. and Mrs. Brian Perkins
  • Ms. Susie Pritchett
  • Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Ray
  • Mr. Joe Strain

We also wish to thank all the individuals and institutions who graciously allowed us to use their photographs in this exhibition.

Updated 20 November 2013


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