A landmark acquisition agreement from The Nancy Rexroth Collection will bring over 300 vintage works to the Cincinnati Art Museum — including pictures from the 1977 and 2017 editions of Rexroth’s photobook IOWA.
The now-iconic book — which Steve Rosen wrote about for CityBeat in 2017 — contained images Rexroth took with a Diana plastic camera. Originally marketed as an inexpensive novelty toy camera — often sold or won at carnivals and fairs — Rexroth used hers to take soft-focus, black-and-white pictures. Dreamy and surreal, rural towns in Appalachia and southeast Ohio acted as her backdrop.
“You couldn’t say that a person is getting a good photo because they have an expensive camera,” Rexroth told Rosen in a previous story. “And you find yourself being much more spontaneous. When you advance the film, it makes this ratchet sound like a wind-up toy. But I never thought of it as being a toy, ever. It was as worthy as any camera. What I could do with it is why I stuck with it. I wasn’t just snapping away — I was doing something I cared about.”
In 2017, the University of Texas Press released its new edition of the previously out-of-print IOWA. And now, CAM adds another chapter to Rexroth’s artistic achievements — one that, in a release, the museum says it's “proud to steward.”
While studying for her masters at Ohio University in 1971, she was introduced to the Diana. She created the images with the help of a National Education Association grant.
“Her pictures of small-town southeastern Ohio conjured up flickering memories of white clapboard houses, front porches in slanting afternoon light, joy and melancholy,” reads the release. “At the same time, they plumbed the artist’s personal journey from innocence to maturity.”
She later taught photography — while making other bodies of work along the way — at Antioch College and Wright State University. For the past 20 years, Rexroth has lived in Cincinnati.
Enter: Nathaniel M. Stein, associate curator of photography. When he joined CAM’s staff in 2017, he worked with the artist, the Weinstein Hammons Gallery and the 1988 Rexroth Family Trust to work out how the museum might be able to share Rexroth’s work.
That role came in the form of the now-underway acquisition, which includes the artists’ early photographs, previously unseen images from IOWA and works made after its publication.
The release states that “almost all rare vintage prints, in many cases these photographs exist in no other private or institutional collection and have seldom if ever been seen by the public. They will be preserved together with archival material and photographs by other artists from Rexroth’s personal collection, enabling scholarship and appreciation of Rexroth’s work for generations to come.”
The CAM is currently working with foundations and its photography community to complete the acquisition. Gifts from the public are also welcome, however. For more information click here.
Read Steve Rosen's full story on IOWA and Nancy Rexroth here.