One of the greatest parts of my job is making collections more accessible to you. This week, we here at the Delaware Historical Society took another stride toward this effort as we completed the digitization of the Szymanski Photograph Collection!
The collection has an amazing story. Henry Szymanski, Sr., a Polish-American teenager, lived at 2nd and Lombard in Wilmington during the late 1930s. He became interested in photography through the local Boys Club and eventually began experimenting with various techniques on his Brownie camera. In 1938, several business owners from Wilmington’s East Side, a historically black neighborhood just blocks from Henry’s home, contracted him to photograph their businesses. Most likely these men and women did not have much money and therefore could not afford to hire a professional photographer.
The partnership resulted in a series of beautiful images that documents the daily lives of an otherwise under-represented population. During the 1930s, the East Side felt the effects of the Depression that swept the entire nation. Despite this, the neighborhood remained culturally vibrant through its locally-owned businesses and cultural festivals.
In 2003, the images were donated to the Delaware Historical Society by Henry Szymanski’s son. Until now, only a small sliver of the collection has been viewed outside of the Research Library. In February 2012, Vice President Biden commissioned a small exhibit of the images for his home in D.C. Later that year, the photographs were shown at the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau. And this past February, the City-County Building held a “Lunch and Learn” session which featured a curatorial talk and presentations from long-time East Side residents.
The collection contains approximately 350 images, and all can now be viewed via our online catalog. To see the photos, click “S” under “Browse Collections” and scroll down the page to find “Szymanski Photograph Collection.” If you’re interested in obtaining reproductions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302-295-2386. I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as we do here at DHS!