This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Springfield (Mass) Boys

05 December 2010

The post this week is another duo. A studio photo of two young boys, undoubtedly brothers, dressed in short pants and high top shoes with violin and alto saxophone. It came in a nice presentation card folder marked Belkin's Studio, Springfield, MA. No other identification attached but it offers an exploration of another branch of photo history - the emigrant photographer.

Belkin turns out to be Mitchell Belkin, born in 1888 in Odessa, Russian. He emigrated to America in 1908 and the 1910 census shows his name as Mitchel Belkens. He set himself up as a photographer in Springfield, Massachusetts. His wife Sophia joins him in 1909, and by 1912 they are both listed as photographers in the city directory. And within a decade he has three locations in Springfield as shown in this clipping from the 1921 directory.

By the 1930 US census he and his family are no longer in Springfield but are found in Brooklyn, NY. His business in Springfield seems to have been sold but it still retained his name. His death in 1955 is recorded for Los Angeles, CA.

In the Brooklyn census, both Mitchell and Sophia are curiously listed as photographers, Jewish, and their "mother tongue" as Yiddish. A great example of the interesting details one can find in census records. They succeeded in the classic way of emigrants from Eastern Europe, finding a specialty market and providing a desirable service, in this case family photographs.

I think these two brothers are from a family of recent emigrants too. Maybe even Jewish. Though I like the fun mixture of the short stout violinist with his taller brother, I like even more the look of confidence that shows a very assured musician. It's how I imagine a young Issac Stern might have appeared, though I have no idea if Isaac Stern was such a cupcake when he was this age!

Recently I read a really great book - Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt, who is the principal violin of the Guarneri String Quartet. It is a terrific autobiography of a concert violinist's education and musical development, describing his mentors and his lifelong quest for an instrument with just the right sound. It also includes a beautiful essay on Steinhardt's study and performance of Bach's Chaconne from the Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor.

A section early in the book describes his family's love of music and in particular the Jewish heritage of being a violinist. When I was reading it, I immediately remembered this photo. This is the same kind of boy, coming from the same tradition of music. OK, perhaps he is not Jewish , maybe Italian instead. But I still think there is a visible passion for music in this photo, and one that comes from an emigrant experience that put a very high value on music education.

1 comment:

Peter Backus said...

Thanks for the info on Belkin Studio. I'm sorting through old family photos and found two from Belkin. Your post may help me date the photos.


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