Esmond G. Barnhill (1894-1959) specialized in Florida hand-painted photography. Born on March 4, 1894 in Saludi, South Carolina, Barnhill established his first photography business in St. Petersburg FL during 1913 at the age of 19. Specializing in postcards and greeting cards, his photography business remained relatively small and he basically photographed, published, hand-colored, and distributed most of his work himself. His earliest postcards were printed in Germany but in later years most of his postcards were printed by the Albertype Co. of New York.
Barnhill expanded into selling hand-painted landscape photographs taken in-and-around St. Petersburg and eventually moved further into the Florida countryside. All Barnhill views that we have seen are Florida landscapes, some measuring as small as 2×3″, other measuring as large as 11×14″. Some Barnhill pictures are mounted on a signed/titled mat board, very similar to the other major photographers. However, most Barnhill images we’ve seen have been either unframed or close-framed in newer frames. Our guess is that a large number of Barnhill’s original unsold inventory has surfaced fairly recently and is slowly being released into today’s marketplace. The price of Barnhill pictures is usually higher in Florida than anywhere else in the country.
Apparently Barnhill had always been interested in the culture of the American Indian. At some point he met with Edward S. Curtis, the famous photographer of the American West when he was in his late teens. While working with Curtis, Barnhill learned the delicate “goldtoning” photographic process using uranium dyes and he experimented with this process from 1914 until the mid 1920’s. It is quite apparent in the color-schemes used on a large number of his pictures.
During World War II Barnhill established an Indian Trading Post at the Wisconsin Dells which he operated in the summer months until 1959. Several years later he opened “The Indian Springs Museum“.
Esmund G. Barnhill died in 1987 at the age of 93.
Recommended Reading: You may want to try to locate a book on the secondary market titled “Florida’s Golden Age of Souvenirs: 1890-1930″, by Larry Roberts. This book includes a chapter on Barnhill and Harris Florida hand-colored photographs.