The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign. The campaign is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This week we highlight Tabitha Kinsey, whose original hand-tinted work is currently on display in the Old City Hall exhibit Kinseys in Color.
Tabitha May Pritts was born in Waverly Mills, Minnesota, on May 24, 1875, the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Berg) Pritts. She and her five siblings came west with their parents, who homesteaded in Whatcom County, Washington.
In 1896, Tabitha married Darius Kinsey, a commercial photographer. He taught her the techniques of developing negatives and making prints. While his exceptional camera work has a deserved legacy, Tabitha’s role was just as vital to their 45-year business. They were a husband and wife photographic team.
While Darius took the photos, it was Tabitha who processed the black & white negatives, created the prints, including burning and dodging, and made the critical aesthetic decisions on final quality. The clarity and detail of the photographs came from making contact prints off large negatives, including glass plates up to 20 x 24 inches.
The distinctive caption and Kinsey name on the bottom of 11 x 14 prints is Tabitha’s handwriting. Written in black ink on the front of nitrate negatives, it would appear as white script on each subsequent print.
Her custom-tinted photos
Tabitha introduced the option of custom-tinted pictures. In this process, a black & white, fiber-based photo is meticulously painted with “the best quality of water colors” to create a color photograph. This extra work doubled the print’s retail value. Each hand-tinted photograph is a unique work of art.
The luminous effect of tinting tends to be more idealized than realistic. Some describe them as dramatic, others say romantic. While Darius preferred darkened tones, Tabitha sought to brighten the mood of photos.
You can read more about Tabitha and Darius Kinsey and view a selection of Kinsey photographs in this online virtual gallery.
-Written by Jeff Jewell, Photo Archives Historian