Watercolor Workshop at Coe Hall

In connection with the Decisive Moments at Planting Fields: The Photography of Mattie Edwards Hewitt and Frances Benjamin Johnston exhibition, Planting Fields Foundation recently hosted a watercolor painting workshop in Coe Hall. The program began with a special tour of the exhibition where guests learned about Johnston and Hewitt’s extensive hand-colored lantern slide collection.
Before color photography was widely available, some photographers chose to hand-color their photographs. This process began by developing a black and white photograph on film attached to a glass plate. The plate was then soaked with water, and from there, coloring a lantern slide was similar to making a watercolor painting. Artists would mix different water activated dyes and paint them onto the slide. An 1893 Scientific American article even stated that “a suitable subject carefully printed and artistically colored, when reflected from the screen, strongly resembles a huge watercolor picture.” 1 Johnston used these slides to project colorful images to illustrate her garden lectures.

A hand-colored lantern slide of the Italian Garden at Coe Hall, M. E. Hewitt and F.B. Johnston

At the time that hand-coloring was gaining popularity among photography enthusiasts, photography was still struggling to be accepted as a fine art. The use of new camera technology and using chemicals to develop photos was seen as a scientific process rather than a creative endeavor. However, Johnston and other artists described as Pictorialists, including her contemporaries Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude Käsebier, knew the creative value of photographs. By framing her photos just right, and coloring them to resemble paintings, Johnston was able to attract scores of people to her garden lectures. Although viewing a garden is usually a sensory experience, filled with pleasant smells and sensations, Johnston was able to make a living by presenting her love of gardens using only her photographs.
After exploring the exhibit, guests learned techniques for watercolor painting from local artist Victoria Beckert and left with their own painting of the Playhouse located just outside the Italian garden at Coe Hall. It was a lovely afternoon to celebrate the legacy of Hewitt and Johnston at Planting Fields. Decisive Moments at Planting Fields will be on view in Coe Hall until Spring 2023.

Photo by Corinne Tousey. Corinne’s work can also be viewed in the Call for Photography gallery in the Decisive Moments exhibition.

1. Geo M. Hopkins, “How to Color Lantern Slides,” Scientific American, March 11, 1893, p. 153.
Emily Leger, Collections and Exhibitions Manager


This program was made possible through generous grant funding provided by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

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