Grant helps preserve historic photo collection

One of D.J. Angus' photos from the collection.
One of D.J. Angus' photos from the collection.
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Grand Valley State University’s Special Collections and Archives is working to identify thousands of new photos that are part of a significant historical collection, thanks to a preservation grant from the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation. 

The photos are part of the D.J. Angus photo collection, which includes more than 10,000 photographs and 6,000 feet of film that Angus took between the late 1920s and the early 1960s.

Angus explored the U.S. and Mexico with his brother F.C. Angus and R.B. Annis on family vacations and month-long camping trips in the 1920s and 1930s. He captured on film timeless images, including construction of the Hoover Dam, Mt. Rushmore, cliff dwellings in the American southwest, and geysers, lava fields, canyons, and craters at would-be national parks before they were off-limits to visitors. 

Originally acquired by the university in 1986, the collection was in danger of being damaged by time when University Archivist Nancy Richard started to digitize some of the prints in 2007. Fearing the negatives would be lost forever, she applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to ascertain how much it would cost to preserve, and then, with the encouragement of Annis Foundation board member and nephew of D.J. Angus, Chuck Angus, applied for a grant from the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation to preserve the materials. 

Richard said the preservation is significant because the collection is no longer at risk, with a master archival copy and thousands of prints now in the online digital collection (gvsu.cdmhost.com/cdm), with more to come once they’re identified with the help of local and regional historical societies throughout the country. The collection also gives researchers access to more identifiable images in a more user-friendly format.

Once the grant was given to preserve the D.J. Angus photo collection, Chuck Angus also donated family papers to the university, including family correspondence from 1804 through 1899 and letters from his father, F.C. Angus, from Camp Custer and France during WWI.

The physical preservation of the materials was completed by SceneSavers, an archival services company focused on restoring and reformatting historical film that is based in Covington, Kentucky. 

The grant from the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation covered all of the roughly $25,000 in costs to preserve the historic collection.

The photo collection comes from the Angus family, who also donated the D.J. Angus research vessel to Grand Valley’s Annis Water Resources Institute in 1965. 

For more information on the Grand Valley State University Archives, visit gvsu.edu/library/specialcollections/.