Annotations from the Archive: Our Photo Collections Continue to Grow

Two charming portraits received this month by archivist Tracy Tucker aptly illustrate the range of donors to our Willa Cather Foundation Special Collections & Archives. Since our organization’s earliest days, the strength of our collections has drawn from Cather family materials.

The first portrait we received, an early image of John Esten (Jack) Cather, Willa Cather’s much-loved youngest brother, was taken at the J.H. Wegmann gallery, in the Moon Block. The cabinet card, circa 1896, features a doe-eyed Jack in a “Little Lord Fauntleroy”-inspired dark suit with large ruffled collar and bow. The photograph remained with the Cather family until it's donation.

The other portrait, a beautiful and well-loved portrait of Irene Miner, found its way to Red Cloud in a more surprising way—through a donation to a charity thrift shop in California! A handwritten label attached to the back of the photo identified the subject of the photo, her hometown, and noted her friendship with Willa Cather. Because the photo is trimmed and has been mounted to a cardboard backer, no other clues exist about the photographer, the studio, or the occasion. The fragile photo is notable for Irene’s elaborate outfit: a soaring ostrich-trimmed hat and a boldly patterned dress with shirred skirt, sleeves, and neckline, embellished with a high lace collar and ruffles and an oversized lace bow.

Other photos, including additional photos of the Cather family and the early days of Webster County settlement, were also received with these donations. As ever, we remain grateful to our donors who have cared for Cather materials over the decades before entrusting them to our care, but we are also thankful for new friends, far and wide, who recognize Red Cloud and Cather connections in unexpected places and seek us out.

If you have—or discover!—a treasure that may relate to our collections, we’d love to hear from you! Contact our archivist, Tracy Tucker, at to inquire.