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Guide to the Mattie E. Hewitt & Richard A. Smith Photograph Collection
1919-1961 (bulk 1920-1939)
 PR 26

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Emily Wolff

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 08, 2016
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Mattie Edwards Hewitt (d. 1956)

Richard Averill Smith (1897-1971)

Although Mattie Edwards Hewitt's photographs stand as a remarkable visual record of nearly four decades of architecture and design, little is known about her personal history. Born in Saint Louis, she grew up in a middle-class family and studied art until her marriage to the photographer Arthur Hewitt. Her husband taught her the basic techniques for processing and printing film, and she developed her craft working as his assistant.

In 1901, Hewitt traveled to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where she met Frances Benjamin Johnston, a successful photographer from Washington D.C. who would have a significant influence on her life and work. After their initial meeting, Hewitt and Johnston wrote to one another frequently, developing personal as well as professional ties. Johnston began to send Hewitt the film from her commissions around the country. Eventually, Hewitt was processing and printing most of Johnston's assignments, billing clients and managing her accounts. During these years in Saint Louis, as Hewitt assisted both her husband and Johnston, she longed to spend less of her time in the darkroom and more behind the camera. Hewitt divorced her husband in 1909 and moved with Johnston to New York City.

The two women embarked as partners, seizing the opportunity presented by a wave of public building in New York to establish themselves as architectural photographers. They photographed the new Public Library, Hotel Manhattan, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, West Point Academy and the New Theatre. Their growing reputation gained them commissions with many of the leading architects of the day including McKim, Mead and White, C. Grant LaFarge, Cass Gilbert, and Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. The images they made during these years bear the credit "Miss Johnston and Mrs. Hewitt" or "Frances Benjamin Johnston and Mattie Edwards Hewitt." Despite their successes, the partnership ended in a bitter conflict in 1917, leaving both Hewitt and Johnston to pursue independent careers.

Relying on the reputation and client-base she had developed with Johnston, Hewitt established a business of her own. She specialized in photography for designers, architects, and landscape architects, documenting domestic and commercial interiors, and gardens. Hewitt's professional development coincided with an era of great activity in interior and garden architecture. Increasing interest in these fields gave rise to a proliferation of magazines and illustrated books that required high quality photographs. Hewitt's images were well regarded by both designers and editors in pursuit of new and dynamic sites to portray for their subscribers. Many periodicals published her photographs, including House and Garden,  Town and Country,  House Beautiful,  The Delineator,  Home and Field, and  Architecture Magazine. Her work also appeared regularly in the  New York Times,the  Herald Tribune,the  New York Evening Post,  The World, and the  New York Evening Sun.

Hewitt kept files on all of her assignments that included notes and extra prints that she could offer to publishers when the opportunity arose. She would sometimes suggest an article on an estate or garden for which she could supply the images. She pursued new commissions consistently and traveled frequently, with her heavy wooden view cameras, tripods, and lenses in tow. Although she worked with an assistant or hired a boy to help with the equipment when her budget permitted, the work was demanding. When landscape and garden assignments were scarce during the winter months, she would occasionally freelance at banquets at the large hotels in New York. At these events, she photographed early in the evening, made prints in a hotel room fitted with a makeshift darkroom and sold them to the banquet guests as they left the party. Her skill and persistence carried her through over thirty years as a professional photographer.

Most of Hewitt's significant work was made during the twenties and thirties, although she continued to photograph almost until the end of her life. Although she was appreciated in her professional circle for her fine sensibility and technique, she never found recognition beyond the realm of commercial photography. She died in Boston in 1956.

When Mattie Edwards Hewitt retired, she gave her print files to Richard Averill Smith. As a young man, Smith had worked for Hewitt (his wife's aunt) before becoming a commercial photographer himself. He opened his first studio in New York City in 1928 and came to specialize in photographing hotels, restaurants, and private homes. Smith moved his studio to Flushing and then, around 1955, to Levittown, New York. He was recognized for the outstanding quality of his work and received numerous awards including the designation of Master Photographer from the National Photographers Association (NPA). He lectured nationally in conjunction with the NPA and taught photography in Farmingdale, New York. He died in Levittown in 1971.