At times, working this past year on the vast collection of C. Owen Smithers Sr.'s photographs and negatives has been grueling. Many of his negatives and photographs, now the property of the Butte Public Archives, must be handled with “kid gloves.”
While it has been a painstaking process, as far as Nikole Evankovich, Aubrey Jaap, and the many other staff and volunteers are concerned, it’s become a labor of love.
“We knew it would be a challenge, but we are persevering” acknowledged Jaap, the Archives’ administrative assistant.
Much of the work this year has begun the process of properly storing the approximately 25,000 photographs and negatives in the collection. They’re on the right track and have managed to do an initial inventory of 15,000 images.
Evankovich, assistant Archives director, is pleased with how the work has progressed. “We are moving right along,” she said, “thanks to staff and volunteers.”
The important collection documents the Mining City’s rise as a city that literally electrified the country. Many of these images — mining, businesses, street scenes, clubs, parades, etc., have now also been categorized.
In the past year, the team has looked through thousands of images. Many are amazed at the sheer number they’ve never seen before.
“He captured Butte in its heyday,” said Evankovich, “and his photographs are beyond significant.”
Jaap agreed and is thankful for these many one-of-a-kind photos. “It just adds a finishing touch to Butte’s history.”
The Archives will again be holding a fundraiser, “A Night in Black and White,” to raise funds to continue the preservation. The event will take place at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, at the Clark Chateau, 321 W. Broadway St.
According to Jaap, last year’s funds were used to match a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant to conserve and catalog the Smithers Photo Collection.
These photos can now be found at www.buttearchives.org. This year’s proceeds will go toward the second phase of the project, which is to continue to make the images accessible online for the public.
“A Night in Black and White” will include a live auction featuring 10 Smithers images. A silent auction with items donated from Butte businesses will also be held. New this year is an artists’ project. Twelve Butte artists and photographers chose a Smithers photograph that inspired them, and from that image they created a new piece of photography or art up for bid at the event. There will also be an “Adopt-a-Photo” throughout the night, where people can purchase one Smithers image to save another.
Tickets are available at the Archives or online at https://squareup.com/store/buttearchives. They will also be sold at the door. Tickets are $50 per person and $80 per couple. A variety of food, beverages and music will be provided. Details: 406-782-3280.
If you are unable to attend the benefit, but would still like to donate, please send your donation to Friends of the Archives, 17 W. Quartz St., Butte, Montana 59701.
While funds are still desperately needed, both women see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Evankovich is cautiously optimistic. “This project may be complete in a couple of years,” she said.
Jaap agrees and hopes that by this time next year, “the public will be able to access a good selection from the Smithers collection.”