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 Robert B. Hansford  (1854 - 1929)

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Lived/Active: Kansas/Illinois      Known for: portrait painting, photography, hand-colored lantern slide artist

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Ad Code: 4
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information was submitted by Mike Wonder.  The source is THE KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY, Volume XXIX Winter, 1968 Number 4

"A Tear-Jerking Illustrated Song of 1897,
The Letter Edged in Black by JOHN W. RIPLEY

WHEN Robert B. Hansford was recounting his activities as a professional photographer to a reporter representing one of those spasmodic but ever-optimistic booster publications, Kansas City, Kansas Past and Present Progress ir Prosperity (about 1908), he failed to mention his brief but notable career as a producer of song slides. Perhaps Hansford was unaware of the fact that a series of hand-colored slides he made in 1897 as illustrations for a prime tear-jerker, The Letter Edged in Black, represented the first photographic song slides ever produced in the state of Kansas.

Possibly they were the first produced west of the Mississippi river. Moreover, this remarkable set of song illustrations may be credited with contributing largely to the national popularity of the first of many ballads composed by Hattie Nevada, then an unknown, amateur song writer of Kansas City, Mo.

The booster brochure did have this much to say about Hansford and his elegant studio:

The studio of R. B. Hansford at 542 Minnesota Avenue suggests the true artistic spirit in its equipment and fittings and with spacious reception rooms, tapestried and hung with beautiful examples of photographic art, presents a picture of elegance and invitation to repose. This studio was established in 1872 and is decidedly in the lead among similar enterprises in this section.

Five skilled artists are employed and 2,400 square feet of floor space is occupied by the operating-room, parlors, etc., which are complete in every detail of modern equipment. A specialty is made of high grade carbon and platinum work in all its branches.

Mr. R. B. Hansford was born and educated in Carthage, IL. He is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at Philadelphia, and is a painter of note, having followed portrait painting previous to locating here. (1)

Heritage and other publications.

1. Transcript courteously furnished by Harry M. Trowbridge, curator, Wyandotte County Historical Society, Kansas City, Kansas


Additional Information from the KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

Hansford's reputation as an artistic photographer was what undoubtedly brought to his studio Frank H. Woodbury, proprietor of the Kansas City (Mo.) Talking Machine Co., with an order for some very special lantern slides, having just published The Letter Edged in Black, composed by his wife, Hattie Nevada.  The Title Page of the original sheet music has the following text:


Woodbury, taking a tip from the major music publishers, decided to promote the composition as a song-play or illustrated song. He commissioned Hansford to engage and photograph models as they enacted the sad tale of The Letter Edged in Black.

Invented only two years before, in 1895, photographic song slides were revolutionizing the merchandizing of sheet music. In cabarets, rathskellers, and theaters where new songs were introduced, the song-play was the very latest thing. A vocalist, at the conclusion of his solo accompanied by projected slides, would
invite the audience to join him in singing the chorus as the words appeared on the screen. What followed the degree of co-operation often determined the fate of a song. A rousing songfest, with the chorus repeated several times, was enough to send a goodly number of the patrons to their nearest friendly music dealers
for copies of the sheet music.

Without the assistance of Hansford's lantern slides the chances are that The Letter Edged in Black would have slipped quietly into that particular corner of oblivion reserved for the works of unknown composers and publishers. Instead, the song-play was performed in countless night spots and theaters across the nation.

Its popularity is indicated by phonograph recordings on three major labels. Recently the ballad has been enjoying a revival by the ever growing cult of folk singers but however sorrowful their renditions, the emotional impact can never approach the song-play version of the good old days, with Robert Hansford's lantern slides. (2 )

2. Robert B. Hansford, aged 75, died in Kansas City, Kan., on June 10, 1929. Two daughters survived: Mrs. Marguerite Diemer and Mrs. Mary Bell Longshore. His studios were located at various times at 945, 542, and 644 Minnesota Ave. Kansas City Kansan, June 10, 1929. Robert was preceeded in death by his wife Mary Kate Allen of Brenham Texas.


These Notes from AskART represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development:
Born flourished 1901-20s, Kansas City. Artist. Photographer. Lived at 542 Minnesota Avenue, 1901-05, 1908; 945 Minn. Avenue; 1227 Waverly Avenue, 1924. Married to Kate.
Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Kansas City Directory (1886-87; 1887-1888; 1890-1891; 1892; 1893; 1894; 1895; 1896; 1897; 1898; 1899; 1900; 1901; 1902; 1903; 1904; 1905; 1906; 1907; 1908; 1909; 1910; 1911; 1912; 1916; 1920; 1922; 1924; 1925; 1927; 1929; 1930; 1932; 1934; 1936; 1938; 1940; 1942) 1901, 1905, 1908, 1924.
This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

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