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Painted Photography: It Was My Grandmother’s Specialty

My grandmother–”T.” (Dave Spencer Family Archives)

I learned some fascinating things about my grandmother while spending time with my mom on Mother’s Day. First of all, there are several photos I remember growing up that always looked a little unusual to me, in that, while they were in color, they didn’t seem to be like other color photos that I’d seen.

And it’s because they weren’t. They were black and white images that had been painted after development. Now, I always knew that the image of my mother you see attached to this blog was painted by my grandmother. What I never knew until now is that she had painted ALL those photos I mentioned earlier.

And the time it must have taken!

Mom told me that “T”–that’s what we called her because Grandmother Topmiller was too much of a mouthful for me and my sister–would skewer little pieces of cotton onto the ends of toothpicks and then mix up her paints on a canvas and then start her unique “touch-ups.”

I never realized before that “T” was a professional photographer and was responsible for many images I remember but didn’t know should be attributed TO her.

My mom. (Dave Spencer Family Archives)

But I shouldn’t be surprised at her skill with the camera. Her father, my great-grandfather, owned Mercer’s Photography Studio in downtown Owensboro and later she was a photographer with my grandfather at Topmiller Studio, which was located on 2nd Street between Allen and St. Ann. It was gone before I was born so it’s never been in my consciousness.

But this is really cool and might explain why I’ve been getting more and more interested in photography, of late.

Oh, and check this out. Right after Senator and Mrs. Wendell Ford got married back in 1943, they came to Topmiller Studio and it was my grandmother who took the wedding photo. We were trying to find a copy of it today, but came up short. It’s around somewhere and I can’t wait to find it.

But, yeah, my grandmother–”T”–was this awesome photographer and I never realized it. A great Mother’s Day discovery!

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