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Frank Fiske, early Photographer
Posted by: Elizabeth Chadwick (ID *****8118) Date: September 26, 2003 at 07:03:48
  of 750

Hello,

I'm posting this article on Frank Fiske an early photographer in the North Dakota area. I ran across it while researching the work of my own Great Grandfather James H. Lucas, a photographer in the 1880's. Hopefully it will be of interest to you.

NDSU Library features Frank Fiske photographs

Life in central and southern North Dakota during the first half of the 20th Century will be the subject of a special photographic exhibit entitled "The Photographs of Frank B. Fiske" at the Lower Level Gallery, NDSU Library, Fargo, from December 21, 1998 to March 28, 1999.

Photographs have been selected from among 7,000 images in the Frank B. Fiske photograph collection, owned by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Fiske, a photographer, worked in the North Dakota area from 1900-1952. The exhibit was developed by the State Historical Society of North Dakota and is part of the agency's traveling exhibit program. Funding for the exhibit was provided by the North Dakota Heritage Foundation, Inc.

Frank Bennett Fiske was born in 1883 and spent most of his life in the Fort Yates, North Dakota, area. There Fiske learned the photography trade from S.T. Fansler, operator of the post studio. When Fansler abandoned the studio in 1900, the teenage Fiske took over. Except for a few brief periods, Fiske continued to operate at Fort Yates until his death in 1952.

Fiske was best known for his Indian portraits, for which he won the North Dakota Art Award in 1950. These portraits were widely distributed and appeared on postcards, calendars, and highway markers, as well as in art exhibitions.

Fiske's photographic work, however, extended far beyond his portraits. The importance of Fiske's work and his collection of nearly 7,000 images rests in its documentation of everyday life at Fort Yates and the Standing Rock Indian agency during the early part of this century. These photographs, eighty-six of which will be presented in the exhibit, detail virtually every aspect of life during the period.

Frank Bennett Fiske (1883-1952), born at Fort Bennett, Dakota Territory, spent most of his life in the Fort Yates area. George Fiske, Frank's father, moved his family to Fort Yates in 1889, working as a civilian wagon master with the U.S. Army. There young Frank attended school, worked as a cabin boy on a steamboat, and learned the photography trade from S.T. Fansler, operator of the post studio. When Fansler abandoned the studio in 1900, the teenage Frank Fiske took over.

The military post closed in 1903 and activity at the photographic studio declined. Fiske spent some time in Bismarck, at one point operating a studio there and at another time working in the Butler Studio. From 1925-1928 he moved his family and studio to McLaughlin, South Dakota. Except for these brief periods, Fiske continued to operate at Fort Yates until his death in 1952.

In addition to his photography, Fiske worked for a time (1912-1917) as an assistant riverboat pilot, as Sioux County Auditor and Treasurer during the 1920's, and as publisher of the Sioux County Pioneer-Arrow from 1929-1939. He wrote two books, Taming of the Sioux (1917) and Life and Death of Sitting Bull (1933).

Fiske was best known for his Indian portraits, for which he won the North Dakota Art Award in 1950. Fiske's portraits of the Standing Rock Sioux received not only artistic recognition, but also his primary commercial emphasis. The portraits appeared on postcards and calendars as well as in art exhibitions. His picture of Red Tomahawk, for example, was reproduced on North Dakota highway markers.

Fiske's photography, however, extended far beyond his portraits. In his collection of nearly 7,000 images there is ample documentation of life in central and southern North Dakota during the first half of this century, with particular emphasis on the Fort Yates area. Riverboats on the Missouri and life at Standing Rock Agency were subjects of particular interest, but the importance of the collection lies in its documentation of everyday life at Fort Yates and Standing Rock Agency during the early part of this century. Most of these photographs were taken during the years 1900-1928, Fiske's most active years as a photographer. In addition, some of the photographs in the collection pre-date Fiske, since he acquired a few negatives from his predecessor when he took over the studio in 1900.

Following Fiske's death, control of the collection went to his wife of 33 years, Angela Cournoyer Fiske, and eventually to the couple's daughter, Francine Fiske Peters. Although much of the negative collection was stored at the Society's headquarters soon after Mr. Fiske's death, ownership rested with the family until 1970, when the collection was acquired by the State Historical Society of North Dakota through the generosity of the Gold Seal Company and its chairman, Harold Schafer. The following year Mrs. Peters donated approximately 1,000 original studio prints to the collection.



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