“Crew” of STATE OF MAINE’S Sampan

LB2003.61.141
Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

This photograph, taken in Hong Kong around 1900, showcases a more intimate view of a sampan, focusing on members of the “crew” that served Captain Colcord’s ship, the STATE OF MAINE, while she was in port. Captain Colcord frequently hired Chinese cooks and stewards to work on his vessel. Both Joanna and her brother Linc were fascinated by the many sailors, fishermen, merchants and families whom they met (and sometimes socialized with) during their time in Hong Kong. In an article about her seafaring childhood that she wrote for the Maine Sunday Telegram in 1939 Joanna recalled: “We played with the Chinese youngsters without a word of common language, swapped cake and candy for gaudy paper lanterns, fished and had a generally gorgeous time.” Joanna and Linc both developed a fairly cosmopolitan worldview from these interactions; later evidence of this is apparent in Joanna’s social work, her camera work, and in Linc’s published fiction, prose, and poetry.

Fishing Fleet, Green Island, Hong Kong

LB2003.61.1417
Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

This photograph was part of the series of glass plate negatives Colcord made on the 1899-1901 voyages to Hong Kong with her parents. In this image, Colcord captured a fishing fleet of sampans—a style of flat-bottomed wooden boat common in East Asia—sailing around Green Island in Hong Kong. The distinct sails would have been quite colorful. In addition to socializing with local merchants, other shipboard families, ventures into port, and keeping up with schoolwork, Colcord passed the time writing letters to her brother Linc, then a student at the University of Orono, taking photographs, and collecting material for the scrapbooks she made as a souvenir of her journey. The scrapbooks, also in the museum’s collection, feature photographs and other ephemera that she purchased or collected while traveling, as well as small cyanotypes printed from her own glass plate negatives.

Two Women with Leprosy (St. Thomas?)

LB2003.61.1281
Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

The two women in this photograph are suffering from leprosy, a disease that had been present in the Virgin Islands since at least 1841 (though it likely appeared during the slave trade), especially in St. Croix and St. Thomas. Looking closely at the photograph, one can see that the disease has affected the hands of both women, as well as their faces. A leprosarium was first opened in the Virgin Islands in 1888, with an improved facility built in 1910. Incidences of the disease were still prevalent on the islands in the 1920s, though they were declining. The Red Cross was active in helping to treat leprosy throughout the world, and Colcord’s photograph both highlights the effects of the disease, as well as the inherent dignity of these women who were suffering its ravages, often in isolation.

Likely St. Thomas

LB2003.61.1275
Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

Many of Colcord’s photographs from her time in the Virgin Islands demonstrate a need for improved conditions in areas that were often impoverished as well as some of the desired outcomes of Red Cross interventions, including health education, medical examinations, nursing programs in local schools, and the establishment of libraries. Having spent so much of her youth traveling the world, Colcord had an inherent interest in cultures and the living and working conditions of those she encountered in her travels. This photograph of women and children of African descent, who have paused in their work of cleaning fish to look into Colcord’s lens, provides a glimpse into impoverished living conditions in St. Thomas, as well as a pride in appearance—note the spotless white dresses and aprons. Whether or not Colcord used her camera in the years between her 1899-1901 voyages and this series from 1920/1921, it is clear she retained her talent for composition.

Red Cross Worker in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

LB2003.61.1154
Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

Outside of Searsport, Maine, and her association with sailors and sea shanties (she published Roll and Go: Songs of American Sailormen in 1938), Joanna Colcord was best known as an influential and nationally recognized social worker, administrator, and author of social policy, especially regarding public assistance during the Great Depression. In the summer of 1920, Colcord took a leave of absence from the New York Charity Organization Society, where she supervised twelve district offices, to head an expedition of social workers, librarians, and nurses from the American Red Cross to the recently acquired U.S. Virgin Islands (purchased from Denmark in 1916). Perhaps influenced by prominent social photographer Lewis Hine and his 1909 call for social workers to utilize the camera in the work, Colcord once again picked up her camera while she was in St. Thomas, documenting the physical presence of the Red Cross and their community efforts in the Virgin Islands, including signs and volunteers, as seen in this photograph.

At Diamond Rock, Martinique

LB2003.61.1092
Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

This photograph, like many of Colcord’s images, was taken aboard ship, and features two women sitting on the deck and gazing upon Diamond Rock, an uninhabited island just south of the French island of Martinique, in the Caribbean Sea. The various competing lines and angles of chains, ropes, and railings featured in the composition of this photograph add visual interest, inviting the viewer to gaze, like the women on the deck, beyond the confines of the vessel.

Guadeloupe, Market Scene

LB2003.61.1069
Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

Although we do not know exactly when Colcord photographed this market scene on the French island of Guadeloupe, located in the Caribbean, it was likely on the same voyage as the photograph taken of Diamond Rock in Martinique (which lay just over 100 miles to the north). Having spent so much time aboard ship gazing outward at her surroundings throughout her childhood at sea, Colcord would have been used to—literally—taking the long view. Indeed, many of her photographs were taken from locations where she could peer down on a scene and get a sweeping view of her surroundings—in this case, a busy market where natives were selling their wares (foodstuffs, handicrafts, etc.) to locals as well as foreign visitors like she and her family. Time spent studying this photograph will reveal dozens of smaller vignettes and the many behaviors practiced at such a market—hawking, looking, haggling, selling, and buying.

British Ship PHILOMENE (Fernie Line)

LB2003.61.1027
Joanna Colcord Collection
Gift of Nina Colcord

Joanna Colcord’s earliest known photographs within the museum’s collection were taken (on glass plates) between 1899 and 1901, on a series of voyages from Maine to Hong Kong aboard her father’s ship, the STATE OF MAINE, when she was about 18. This was the last series of voyages she took with her father and mother. Captain Colcord favored the China trade during the age of sail, and his ship carried case-oil (kerosene), which the Chinese used for lamp oil. This photograph of the British ship “Philomene,” owned by H. Fernie & Sons of Liverpool, reflects a view familiar to a captain’s daughter—a vessel navigating choppy seas, salt spray splashing onto the deck, and a horizon with no land in sight. When Colcord’s ship was anchored in Asian ports at the turn-of-the-century, it was quite common for other American and British ships to be docked at the same time; the captains and their families often socialized.