BISBEE — There is a new exhibit at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum that captures the final days of copper mining with renowned photographer Charles Winters.
It is the first exhibit presented under the new directorship of Annie Graeme Larkin, and she was excited to present his photography of the insides of the various former Phelps Dodge mining structures. From the giant machines used in mining to an industrial Singer sewing machine used to make powder bags for explosives to desks cluttered with old papers, the resolution of his photography and natural light used makes the colors of the insignificant jump out of the prints.
Winters is well known for his photography and has been published in National Geographic, The Smithsonian and Time and Discover magazines. His documentary, “The Catskills: Land in the Sky,” aired on PBS. He taught photography at State University of New York in Oneonta, New York.
His work has been exhibited most recently at the Amerind Museum and books of his documentary photography have been published — “Too Wet to Plow: The Family Farm in Transition,” and “Crossing Between Worlds: The Navajos of Canyon de Chelly.”
He is frequently asked how he made his way to Bisbee from New York and the story is quite interesting. In looking for a vacation spot, he and his wife, Marty, found the old Swisshelm mine in the Sulphur Springs Valley and as it turned out, she was related to the Swisshelm family.
“We went down the road and came to a gate and a no trespassing sign,” he said. “We found an old Snapple bottle and Marty wrote a note and put it in the bottle. We found some wire and hung it on the gate.”
They were called that evening and invited to come out for a tour of the mine site.
While in the vicinity, they took a jaunt to Bisbee and drove up Brewery Gulch and as he put it, with a smile, “We bought a bordello.”
They do split their time between Bisbee and Nova Scotia, where they spend their summers.
Larkin met Winters 11 or 12 years ago as he worked with her brother, Queen Mine Tour Manager Doug Graeme, to photograph portions of the Queen Mine Tour under ultraviolet light.
“Doug told me about a new Bisbee resident who was a gifted photographer, and that I should meet him,” she said. “Soon after, Charles made his way to the museum to introduce himself. Charles and his wife, Marty, have been friends ever since.”
Those ultraviolet photos hang in the entrance of the museum.
Winters called Freeport McMoRan Inc., which now owns the former Phelps Dodge property, and after talking with Cooper Queen Branch Manager Robert Quintanar was offered access to the various structures of the city’s mining heyday.
Larkin selected 12 of his photos, which she enlarged and mounted on the walls in the West Gallery.
As the board and members of the Bisbee Council on the Arts and Humanities gathered for a meeting to elect new officers, they were treated to the tasty delights of Elvia Villa and got the first looks at the new exhibit.
Reelected board president David Smith said he was pleased with Larkin at the helm and complimented her for delivering “the first new exhibit in years. We needed something new to draw people back in the museum.”
He explained the council hunted nationwide for a director and interviewed people from Montana, New York and all over the U.S. When Larkin applied for the job, he knew she was a perfect fit.
“We had the right person right here in Bisbee,” Smith said.
She is a member of the grand old tribe of Graeme, a family steeped in mining, minerology, archeology and geology.
“Due to the mine closure, I missed being born in Bisbee by three months,” she said. “However, my parents kept our home in Bisbee and we would travel back frequently for holidays and to visit my grandparents. When I was in the fifth grade, my mother and I moved back to Bisbee permanently.”
She attended Cochise College and the University of Arizona South and earned degrees in history.
“After earning my bachelor of arts degree, I earned a graduate certification from George Washington University in Museum Collections Management and Care,”Larkin said. “Realizing additional education was needed to fully understand the realm of museums, I earned a masters degree in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University.”
From 2007 to 2016, she was the Bisbee museum curator, but then shifted to the Amerind Museum in Dragoon.
“I started as associate curator of public programs and when I left, I held the position of vice president and director of community engagement,” she said. “During my time there I was responsible for the organization’s public programing, marketing and advertising. I feel very fortunate to have worked at the organization and with an exceptional group of colleagues.
“I am excited to be back and surrounded by the history, objects and people of Bisbee that I care about so much.”
In 2013, she published her first book “Bisbee” which featured historic postcards she found from the city.
“My second book, ‘Early Bisbee’ was co–authored with my brothers, Richard Graeme IV and Douglas Graeme,” Larkin said. “Both works are published by Arcadia Publishing. ‘Bisbee’ is part of the Postcard History series and ‘Early Bisbee’ is part of the Images of America series.”
The publications are available for purchase at the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, Bisbee Books & Music, and online.
Like many museums across the nation, Larkin and the volunteers have been working to rebuild visitor numbers to those before the start of the pandemic.
“It is my hope that new public programming and temporary exhibits in the West Gallery will encourage visitors and locals alike to visit the museum,” she said.
The museum could use more volunteers, if only for a few hours a day.
“In the coming year, the creation of museum-branded advertising and communication materials will be one of my priorities,” Larkin said. “One example will be the transition from a paper to an e–newsletter. I also look forward to creating educational programming for museum guests of all ages, both as standalone programs by the museum and through collaborations with other organizations.”
Larkin hopes to build more exhibits on the photographs Winters produced since he has been in Bisbee.
“He has some impressive views taken of the community that I know our audience will enjoy viewing,” she said.