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May 21, 2004
Samuel Kravitt Photos and Films Come to the Library of Congress
1930s Photographs of Shakers and the 1939 World's Fair Are Among the Collection
The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has acquired Samuel Kravitt's photographs of Shakers at Hancock, Mass. in 1936 and construction photographs of the 1939 World's Fair. They are an unrestricted gift from his widow, Marcia Kravitt. In addition, four of Kravitt's award-winning films are designated for the Library's Division of Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound.
Commissioned in the early 1930s by Shaker historian Edward Deming Andrews to photograph the Shakers, Kravitt captured their lifestyle and creed, "Put your hands to work and your hearts to God" in his photographs of people and objects at the Shaker villages of Mount Lebanon and Pittsfield, near Hancock. These images complement the Library's holdings of architectural photographs made by Carl Van Vechten in July 1936 in addition to 18 sets of architectural drawings, photographs and field notes for the Historic American Buildings Survey of the Pittsfield village made during the same period.
Between 1937 and 1939, Kravitt (1913-2000) documented the construction of the New York World's Fair from concept to completion. The fair's signature buildings, the Trylon and Perisphere, under construction and later fully constructed, number among the most intriguing images in that series. Outstanding among this group are the images of the steelworkers performing their various tasks.
A native of New Haven, Conn., Kravitt dropped out of high school in 1929 with the intention to become a pilot, but, after borrowing a World War I aerial camera, decided to pursue a photographic career instead. In 1932, at age 19, he opened his first portrait studio.
Kravitt's photographs are in the collections of various prestigious institutions. Following World War II, he donated his series, "On the War Years at Yale" to the university's Sterling Memorial Library. Yale University also holds many Kravitt photographs and films of administrators, faculty, students, activities and structures made during his six-decade career. The New York State Museum displayed Kravitt's Shaker photographs for decades. Kravitt's wife also donated additional examples of her late husband's work to the Wolfsonian-Florida International University Museum of Art and Design. Making the transition to filmmaking during the 1950s, Kravitt formed an independent production company in New York in 1962. Shooting news, sports, fashion, topical subjects and documentaries on location took him to 50 countries and 48 states.
His proximity to the Yale School of Medicine enabled him to film innovative surgical procedures with specialists in various fields. Hands form a long-running theme in Kravitt's 65 - year career and "The Functional Anatomy of the Hand," is one of the most widely shown medical education films ever made. "Injuries of the Hands and Face" received the Davis and Geck Award in the Cine Clinic Program of the American College of Surgeons. Both of these films, now preserved in the National Library of Medicine, were made with Dr. Robert A. Chase, who established the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine.
The Library's Division of Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound has acquired "Friend of Gentle People" (1974), winner of four awards. Sponsored by Merck, Sharp and Dohme International, it features the young West Virginia physician Dr. John Walden, who conducts a one-man inoculation program in the Amazon jungles of Ecuador, in an effort to save isolated tribes from extinction. Kravitt found this project very inspiring and felt privileged to be a part of it.
Among the films acquired by the Library are "Portuguese Africa Today and Tomorrow," (1961), made for the Portuguese government; "Here's Help," made for the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare; "The Involved Ones," made for the American Nurses' Association and sponsored by Schering; and "Around the World Holiday Kaper," made for the Dupont Fibers Division.
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