Mary Schäffer was a photographer, writer, botanical painter, and mapmaker from Philadelphia, well known for her travels in the Canadian Rockies and Japan at the turn of the twentieth century. In Searching for Mary Schäffer, Colleen Skidmore takes up Schäffer’s own resonant themes—women and wilderness, travel and science—to ask new questions, tell new stories, and reassess the persona of Mary Schäffer imagined in more recent times. Public and private archival collections in the United States and Canada set the stage for this engrossing exploration of Schäffer’s creative, collaborative, and competitive enterprise amid the cultural complexities of Philadelphia’s science and photography communities, and the scientific, tourist, and Indigenous societies of the Rocky Mountains of Canada.
“In this impressive book, Colleen Skidmore uses her considerable skills as a social historian of photography to shed new light on the remarkable life of Mary Schäffer. She knows the stories, the characters, and presents a social history that is fresh and convincing. Skidmore’s conclusion is brilliant and will certainly serve as a catalyst for further research and study of Mary Schäffer.” Donna Livingstone, President and CEO, Glenbow Museum
About the author
Colleen Skidmore is a photography historian and Professor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. Her research focuses on women’s photographic practices and archives of women in photography in North America from 1860 to 1920. She is the editor of This Wild Spirit: Women in the Rocky Mountains of Canada (UAP).
- Short-listed, Book Design of the Year | Alberta Book Awards, Book Publishers Association of Alberta
"...a full and fascinating narrative of Schäffer's adult life, including her four-month summer excursions, in 1907 and 1908, into remote areas of the Rockies of Alberta and BC.... In this detailed book, Skidmore writes Schäffer, deservedly, into a historical narrative heretofore populated mostly by men.... [I]t is a significant achievement."
Stephen Ross Smith
"In her new book, Skidmore portrays Schäffer in a nuanced way by discussing the scientific and artistic communities she came from, as well as the lives of the people she travelled with. She also dissolves some of the more persistent stereotypes people use to describe Schäffer.... Readers of Skidmore's new book will better understand why Schäffer's work has moved people for so long."
"Skidmore’s monograph offers a robust introduction to Schäffer’s work and contributes to recent scholarship in American art that attends to work produced across the North American continent.... Overall, Skidmore delivers an analysis of Schäffer’s prolific career as an artist and writer that will be of specific interest to scholars interested in the history of photography, women’s studies, and the history of science.... Skidmore offers a refreshing alternative to other studies in her emphasis on the collaborative practices that Schäffer engaged in alongside other women who were drawn to the Canadian Rockies during the early twentieth century." [Full review at https://editions.lib.umn.edu/panorama/article/searching-for-mary-schaffer/]
Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, Spring 2018
"Skidmore is a social historian of photography, and with this perspective she examines Schäffer’s influence. From this publication, you can expect a feminist, academic and analytical approach to discovering Schäffer.... Throughout the book, Skidmore unpacks several fallacies in previous interpretations of Schäffer’s life, character, writing and photography. Pairing these commonly misconstrued ‘facts’ and assumptions with thorough research on existing literature – as well as newly examined material – Skidmore brings forth a new layer to the reconstruction of Schäffer’s character and meaning of her work." [Full article at https://crowfootmedia.com/2018/05/10/review-searching-for-mary-schaffer]
Canadian Rockies Annual 2018
"In this book, Skidmore considers four basic themes - women, wilderness, travel, and science. She asks questions, tells stories, and makes full use of material in the archives of Canada and the United States."
Searching for Mary Schäffer is an important contribution for historical geographers and for those interested in nineteenth-century Indigenous-settler points of contact and mapping, feminist historians seeking to decentre predominant Edwardian travel narratives, and historians of photography, expanding the field of the Canadian historical imaginary." [Full review at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhg.2018.11.010]
Journal of Historical Geography
[T]his book makes a significant contribution to the field of Rocky Mountain studies, and others, too, will find use in its probing reflections on the unreliability of authorial voice, the subjectivity of photography, and settler/Indigenous relationships.... Skidmore’s readers will be left not only with an alternate interpretation of Schäffer’s life and work, but with useful strategies for tackling the mythic auras of other figures that loom large in the public imaginary."