This post comes from Joseph Schill, the archives intern at the Rakow Research Library.
In 1958, photographer Constance Stuart Larrabee came to Corning, N.Y., to photograph Steuben glass workers in action. Larrabee was a gifted artist who is best known for documenting daily life in South Africa in the 1930s and for her work as a photojournalist during World War II.
Born Constance Stuart in England in 1914, she grew up in Pretoria, South Africa. Larrabee established her reputation in the 1930s by photographing the Bushmen and Transkei peoples, as well as taking portraits of the white South African elite. Perhaps her most dramatic role, however, came during her time as a war photographer. Larrabee was “embedded” with the South African Sixth Armored Division as they participated in the liberation of Europe during World War II. Traveling alongside the troops, she sometimes found herself under fire. Her photographs from South Africa and the war have been exhibited at galleries and museums like the National Museum of African Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. After the war, she married Colonel Sterling Larrabee and settled in Chestertown, Maryland.
I discovered her collection of glassmaking photographs in the Rakow Library archives while helping a patron research Larrabee and her work for Steuben Glass. Her images portray a sense of teamwork and focus, as well as pride in making something with your own hands. Working with hot glass takes stamina, skill, and attention to detail. As these images show, there is a great deal of communication between the workers, much of it non-verbal in nature. Knowing where to be and what to do next takes years of experience to perfect. These images are representative of the collection overall, and they highlight the skills and artistry of Larrabee as she documents the process of glassmaking.
Larrabee’s collection is now open to the public. View the finding aid for the collection.
The Constance Stuart Larrabee collection was generously donated to the Library in 2001 by her estate. If you’re interested in learning more about Larrabee’s life and photography, you may want to check out a soon-to-be published biography of her by Peter Elliott. Who knows, you just might see one of these photographs in his book!
The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9 am to 5 pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.