The Image Maker
During the 1920s, photographer Nathaniel Dewell produced iconic portraits of airmail’s finest.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 12, 2008
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After Dewell’s death in 1954, his widow gave his photographs and negatives to the Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS). Those images associated with aviation and airmail—some 500 photographs in all—were transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1958. The NSHS, which holds the bulk of Dewell’s collection, lists hundreds and hundreds of images of the types of subjects that you’d expect a commercial photographer to make in the heartland: hogs, threshing wheat, images of soil erosion and corn fields, promotional shots of department stores, roofing companies and hotels. But there are also portraits of boxers (including Jack Dempsey), and movie stars (including Tom Mix).
In her office within the Archives Division of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Keiser is following up a research lead. Within the U.S. Army Signal Corps photograph collection she has discovered an image taken by a U.S. Army Signal Corps photographer during World War I. His name? Nathaniel Dewell. “I think it’s the same guy. The age would be about right for him to have been in World War I as a fairly young man, and then come back after the war and set up a business as a photographer. We’ll see.”