In the mid-twentieth century, Philip Clarkson Elliott and his wife, Virginia Cuthbert, were celebrated artists in Buffalo, New York. Cuthbert was well-known as a painter and Elliott received acclaim for his photography and painting. As active members of the arts community, the impact of Elliott and Cuthbert on the artistic culture of the region resonated for decades. Their work continues to be celebrated in Buffalo and beyond.
In February of 2020, a collection of hundreds of photographic negatives by Elliot was rediscovered at the Burchfield Penney Art Center Archives. Donated by Cuthbert in 1985, these rare negatives show decades of Elliott and Cuthbert's day-to-day life together in a detail never witnessed by others. In these intimate and thoughtful images, we can experience fragments of the life of two beloved artists in the twentieth century as never before.
...And soon, never again. Many of the original negatives are nitrate and cellulose acetate—materials that are fragile and inherently unstable. Because of this, the Archivist at the Burchfield Penney Art Center has spent the past year digitizing the images using high resolution negative scanners. The work on this project is still in progress, prioritizing the digitization of the negatives which are most rapidly degrading.
This exhibition features selections from the first of twelve folders of Elliott's negatives. The photographic negatives span Elliott and Cuthbert's entire lives together in a non-linear sequence, where their young married life is interspersed with decades of their married life. The images included here have been grouped to allow for a more chronologically linear presentation.
All images included in this exhibition were taken by Philip Elliott, or occasionally, Virginia Cuthbert.
Some images show extensive decomposing, both of the chemical composition as well as the physical medium. These decomposing images have been included because the aesthetics of the images shine through despite the degradation. Regardless of the condition, all of these images remind us that even what remains can only offer hints of what has been lost.
About Philip Clarkson Elliott (1903-1985)
"Philip C. Elliott was an eclectic artist known as a painter and photographer, as well as a teacher and arts administrator. The Burchfield Penney Art Center collection includes a wide range of paintings, drawings and photographs to represent his career, as well as his photographic archive. This comprehensive collection of 165 works, the largest holding of Elliott’s work in a public institution, is comprised of 8 paintings, 38 works on paper (10 watercolor/gouache paintings and 28 drawings), 118 photographs (gelatin silver prints), and 1 mixed media collage.
Elliott studied at the University of Minnesota and received a B.F.A. from Yale University Art School in 1926. He lived and worked in New York, Paris, and Pittsburgh before moving to Buffalo in 1941 with his wife, artist Virginia Cuthbert, to become director of the School of Fine Arts at the Albright Art Gallery. He also held a teaching position that accommodated teaching classes at the State University College across the street. He remained director through two transitional periods of growth. In 1954 the school was renamed the Albright Art School when the University of Buffalo assumed oversight and in 1956 the university converted from private institution to part of the State University of New York system. Elliott served as chair of the Department of Art until 1969, and remained on the faculty until retiring in 1974.
When Elliott was director of the Albright Art School, he brought John Szarkowski to Buffalo to teach. Many years later, as director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, John Szarkowski acquired a selection of Philip Elliott’s photographs for MoMA which he described as “remarkably fresh, unmannered, clearly seen notations of a keen eye and superior mind.” Working in the tradition of great documentary photographers such as Walker Evans and Paul Strand, Elliott captured images of Buffalo for more than forty years. He concentrated on acutely cropped, balanced images with rich textural contrasts. His subject matter includes travels to Mexico, France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, as well as sites in New York and Pennsylvania." -Nancy Weekly