2013-10-04 / On Second Thought

The John Hensel Photograph Collection

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a cardboard box overflowing with negatives could be the making of book. Almost ten years ago, Historic Columbia Foundation received a late afternoon telephone call that led to an unprecedented acquisition of historic images for the organization.

Each frame, shot by professional photographer John LeRoy Hensel (1919- 1999), captured various aspects of Columbia during a fairly narrow time frame, roughly 1949 to 1950. The vast majority of the more than 2,000 black and white negatives were in good shape, and the original sleeves in which they were housed offered important biographical information as to the subjects, which included people, events, businesses, clubs, storefronts, and buildings. Remarkable in their diversity, these images offer a unique perspective into the capital city at the mid-20th century mark. Their preservation was a very fortunate turn of events and one that has been applauded by people interested in local history, preservation, fashion, and real estate.

Women model furs in front of the Women’s Club Building on Blossom Street, circa 1949. This is just one of the more than 2,000 images that make up the John Hensel collection. Women model furs in front of the Women’s Club Building on Blossom Street, circa 1949. This is just one of the more than 2,000 images that make up the John Hensel collection. Historic Columbia Foundation gladly accepted this collection with several goals in mind: preserving the original negatives, digitizing the negatives for heightened institutional and public access, and using these visual resources in ways that would greatly enhance knowledge about our city’s past. After studying the collection’s contents, staff digitized select images that were deemed helpful in meeting the immediate needs of the organization.

A subsequent partnership with the University of South Carolina greatly enhanced these initial efforts, ultimately resulting in the complete digitization and creation of metadata (essentially biographic information) for each negative. In exchange for these services, which were performed by graduate students working in the University Library’s Digital Collections Department, the John Hensel collection became available as part of the South Carolina Digital Library initiative.

You can view the collection at http://library.sc.edu/digital/ collections/hensel.ht ml. This online version offers not only a userfriendly search feature through which researchers can browse through select topics, it also provides interesting biographical information about the Ohio native and World War II aviator whose post-war professional interests produced these important images.

Shortly after the collection went online, Historic Columbia Foundation further strengthened its partnership with the university by transferring the original negatives to the South Caroliniana Library, which features large numbers of photographic collections within its holdings. Thanks to these coordinated efforts the South Caroliniana Library Digital Collections and Historic Columbia Foundation have been able to further the information available to the public regarding the rich history of Columbia.

To learn more about efforts of Historic Columbia Foundation or the history of Columbia and Richland County visit www.historiccolumbia.org. Remember, life-long learning is life-long living.

-John Sherrer
Director of Cultural

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