Young woman with brush in Emporia, Kansas

This enigmatic portrait was made by career photographer Stephen H. Waite (1836-1906).  My eyes were first drawn to the large brush in the woman’s hand, then quickly moved to the striking brooch which may have served to clasp her beautiful coat.  Another fine garment is draped over the chair, possibly a cloak.

Was she an artist?  Could the brush have served another purpose?


Woman with brush in Emporia 2b


It may be irrelevant to the discussion, but I should mention that I bought the cabinet card from a dealer in England.  The young woman could have given it to a British friend.  Perhaps she went to Britain to study art?  It’s also possible that the photo was purchased by a collector in Britain sometime in the past 115+ years and that I simply repatriated it.

Emporia is home to Emporia State University, established in 1863 as the Kansas State Normal School.  According to a page at Emporia State University Special Collections and Archives, Stephen H. Waite (1836-1906) worked as a professional photographer in that town for 21 years, retiring about 1902.

Woman with brush in Emporia 3


8 thoughts on “Young woman with brush in Emporia, Kansas

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  1. Her outfit, being so loose fitting, definitely looks like an artist’s smock to me. We have a very similar hair comb to the one this lady is wearing (unfortunately broken) that was with my grandmother’s things. I had always assumed she herself had worn it in the 1920s. I think it may have belonged to her mother or grandmother, now. . .

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    1. You must be right about the smock! The loose fit made me think it was a coat, but it’s really not heavy enough to be an outer garment. Perhaps she went to England to pursue her art studies and had this portrait made as a kind of declaration of professional intent. She looks determined. I’m going to see if there’s any possibility of identifying her.

      That’s so nice that you have a hair comb that may have belonged to your great-grandmother or even her mother. Few things stay with families that long. Something to treasure!


  2. I was definitely thinking her attire was a smock, too. The brush is certainly a large one, not the typical “painterly” brush one might expect. But I think it goes very well with her determined expression.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree. The brush in her hand makes me think she could be an artist. It looks like large soft type of brush that would be good for laying a watercolor wash. I wonder if she could have been an art student at the university. But, that may be presumptuous based on the limited information. It’s fun to surmise though. 😊 She must be wearing a brand new smock just for the photograph. I get messy before I even start, just by looking at an empty canvas. 🙃

    Liked by 1 person

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