Mrs. Helen P. Gatch (1861-1942)
Miss Helen Plummer
Helen Plummer was born 13 April 1861, in Alton, Illinois. In 1864 the family moved to Portland. Possibly Helen Plummer was a teacher in the early 1880s. In 1885 she married Claude Gatch in Portland, and they moved to Salem. Claude Gatch worked at the Ladd and Bush Bank, and in 1893 was elected mayor of Salem for four years.
The earliest known Gatch photo, made in 1891, was of the Oregon Insane Asylum, print now in OHS. According to her biographer, Roger Hull, her work began as documentary, but she oriented to art-photography after a few years. In May 1894, the Photo American published Gatch’s photo “Romeo and Juliet”, which won $25 first prize.
A series of exhibitions, prizes, and publications followed for Gatch. From 1895-1905, Gatch’s prints were shown internationally. She appeared in many publications, including the international photography press and in both the Oregonian and the Statesman (Salem).
In 1903 Gatch was one of the organizers of the Salon Club of America, a national group of advanced amateur photographers, who staged exhibitions of fine-art photographs. They were successful in organizing a major show that toured nationally, appearing at the Portland Art Museum in 1905.
1907 was the last year Gatch was known to have exhibited nationally. She moved to Berkley in 1912, and died in San Francisco on 11 January 1942.
The career and history of Gatch is discussed in detail in an article in History of Photography magazine, cited below, and the reader is refereed to this article for additional information. This article, by Roger Hull, has a large bibliography. To save space, I will not duplicate items in that bibliography, the items listed below are additional to that work.
News Items and Advertisements
1901: “The Western Exhibitors at the Philadelphia Salon of 1901… Helen Plummer Gatch of Salem, Oregon, exhibits one picture, Across the Dunes. A print showing a seated female figure at the left attired in the garb of a peasant. The foreground and middle distance show a dreary waste of sand and we are inclined to think that the sabots of the model will be filled many times with sand befoe the dunes are crossed.” Westsern Camera Notes Minneapolis), Vol. III, No. 3, December 1901, pg. 223-224.
1902: “GATCH, HELEN PLUMMER, Salem, Or. ‘Driftwood’ and ‘Across the Dunes’ are full of interest. The latter, which is reproduced, is perfect in composition and tone.” illustration, full page plate, unnumbered page “ACROSS THE DUNES. by HELEN PLUMMER GATCH, SALEM, OR.” Camera Craft, Vol. IV, No. 3, January 1902. pg. 127.
1902: (Review of Los Angeles exhibition) “Gatch, Mrs. Helen Plummer, Salem, Ore. Miss Gatch was represented by several new and striking prints. ‘Spinning Song’ (reproduced), being especially good, halation in this case being turned to good pictorial advantage.” Camera Craft, Vol. V, No. 2, June 1902, pg. 50. illus. pg. 54. (certificate of award given, pg. 78)
1902: (survey article about women photographers) “…Any room in the house which has a north window can be readily converted into a studio, while the bathroom answers every purpose of a darkroom until the business grows sufficiently to warrant something more elaborate. With no other equipment than that just described several of our best women workers began their photographic careers. As an illustration I will quote from a recent letter received from Mrs. Helen P. Gatch of Salem, one of our prominent Coast workers, the following: ‘I think more portraits should be taken. The proper study of mankind is man, and lack of skylight and other gallery paraphernalia should be no drawback. A single north window properly screened, has served for all my portraits’. Aided only by her love of the work and a determination to succeed, Mrs. Gatch has won a great many prizes and is doing beautiful work. She adds: ‘I have succeeded just by patient trying. Adding here a little and there a little, surely any one could do that. Directions for the different processes are so plainly given that all one needs is courage …” Camera Craft, Vol. V, No. 2, August 1902, pg. 132. illus. of “Mother and Son by Helen Plumer Gatch” following pg. 149.
1903: (review of San Francisco Salon) “Helen P. Gatch’s ‘Industry,’ No. 73, treated in a rather low tone, is a finer work than the shaggy head with the theatrical highlights, called ‘King Lear,’ No. 72.” Camera Craft, Vol. VII, No 3, November 1903, pg. 213. (authored by Arnold Genthe)
1904: (photograph illustrated) “After the Storm, by Helen P. Gatch” Camera Craft, Vol. IX, No 6a, December 1904, frontpiece.
1905: (description of First American Photographic Salon exhibit in New York) “Oregon has five representatives with a total of seven frames…’The Usurper,’ by Helen P. Gatch, is a nicely managed group of a mother and two children and was well worthy of reproduction in the catalogue…” Camera Craft, Vol. X, No. 1, January 1905, pg. 32.
1905: (photograph illustrated) “The Little Mother by Helen P. Gatch” Camera Craft, Vol. X, No. 3 March 1905, pg. 144
1905: (photograph illustrated) “Bread and Milk, by Helen P. Gatch” Camera Craft, Vol. X, No. 3 March 1905, pg. 145.
1905: (photograph illustrated) “A Vigil, by Helen P. Gatch” Camera Craft, Vol. X, No. 3 March 1905, pg. 148.
1905: (report on second American Salon, list of prints. The number refers to how many prints by the photographer were hung at the show.) “2 – Gatch, Helen P.” Camera Craft, Vol. XI, No. 6, December 1905, pg. 279.
1906: “List of Awards- 1905 Kodak Competition… Class A – Open …Ten dollars each and honorable mention. -… Helen P. Gatch, Salem, Oregon, ‘Coming Storm” Camera Craft, Vol. XII, No. 3, March 1906, pg. 141.
1906: “State Fair Winners … Miscellaneous Works of Art. Helen P. Gatch, Salem, first premium, best specimen of colored photography, also second premium, best specimen of colored photography. …” Daily capital journal (Salem), September 19, 1906, pg. 7, col. 2.
1909: Photo reproduced: “INCOMING TIDE, By HELEN P. GATCH” Camera Craft, Vol. XVI, No. 8, August 1909, pg. 302
1909: Mrs. Helen P. Gatch, Salem, awarded for best photographic portraits at the Oregon State Fair. Daily capital journal (Salem), September 18, 1909, pg. 5, col. 3.
1911: Photo reproduced: “PORTRAIT By HELEN P. GATCH. A SIMPLE YET NATURAL AND EFFECTIVE POSE” Camera Craft, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, March 1911, pg. 125
1913: Estate of Helen Gatch’s father settled; Mrs Helen P. Gatch of Berkeley, Calif, given shares. Sunday Oregonian, December 14, 1913, Section One, pg. 14, col. 3.
Hull, Roger, “Myra Wiggins and Helen Gatch, Conflicts in American Pictorialism”, History of Photography Magazine, vol. 16, no. 2, Summer 1992, pg. 152-169.
First American Photographic Salon, (exhibition catalog, Portland; Portland Society of Photographic Art, 1905) listed as member of national Salon Committee of the Salon Club of America. entered in exhibition catalog: “Gatch, Mrs. Helen P., Salem, Ore. #123. The Usurper., #124 Agnes…” The Usurper is illustrated in catalog.
Walker, Will H.; “The American Salon in Portland, Oregon”, Camera Craft, Vol. X, No. 6, June 1905, pg. 349-351 “…opening of photographic salon in the new art museum…rooms were initiated by the photographic art salon, May 24th…Portland has four artists represented in five pictures, and one other Oregon artist, Mrs. Helen P. Gatch of Salem, with two pictures…Mrs. Gatch’s work is in portraiture. ‘The Usurper’…showing a small boy eying enviously the affectionate attentions bestowed by the mother upon the little later-comer in her lap…Her other picture is a portrait study, ‘Agnes’.”
The Modern Way in Picture Making, Rochester; Eastman Kodak Co. 1905. revised edition 1907. pg. 33 illustrates “A Little Lunch” by Mrs. Helen P. Gatch.