Owen Smithers, Sr., or “Smigs” as he became known, was one of Montana’s most prestigious professional photographers. For more than 50 years, he used his camera to document Montana’s history as it happened. The C. Owen Smithers Photograph Collection informs on Butte’s environment, industry, labor, women, military, and is unparalleled in its scope.
In 2011, the C. Owen Smithers Photograph Collection, after suffering a fire and subsequent flood, was moved from the Smithers’ residence to the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. Four staff members and several volunteers spent weeks rehousing and roughly sorting the collection. Through fundraising efforts from private donors and businesses in the community, the Friends of the Butte Archives was able to purchase the collection in 2013. We would specifically like to thank Dianne Kimball and the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation for their generous support.
After realizing the significant care this collection would require, the Archives invited Nicolette Bromberg, Visual Materials Curator with the University of Washington, to advise the staff on conservation, proper storage, and cleaning techniques to be used on the collection.
In 2016, the Archives was awarded a grant from the Superfund Advisory and Redevelopment Trust Authority to rehouse and catalog the mining images in the collection. In addition, we successfully applied for a major grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to work on the remainder of the collection. While the work will not be completed until early 2019, we are proud to say that each day more images are accessible to the public and can be viewed here.