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Myra Albert Wiggins
 
On November 24, 1894, Myra Albert married Frederick Wiggins in the First Presbyterian Church in Salem. Following the wedding, friends and family attended a reception at John and Mary Albert's Victorian home at Winter and Oak Streets.

After the reception, Myra grouped the twelve person wedding party and set up her camera for a flash powder photograph. She placed the powder in the pan, lit the paper fuse, and ran to take her place by her new husband. In the finished image, Fred's eyes were closed so she made tiny pin-pricks in the negative to "open them up." Although Myra posed with her head bowed as a demure bride, only a woman of her talent would attempt to immortalize herself in that moment.

Myra's mother and father had also married in Salem. By 1869 when Myra was born, "The City of Maples" had passed from the frontier era of twenty years before. City residents had a water system, gas for illumination, and plank sidewalks. Citizens could boast of the Reed Opera House, a theater, a state library, and a "supreme court room." For intercontinental transportation, the California Stage Company promoted a five day trip to San Francisco with a connection to Union Pacific Railway for its eleven day rail crossing to New York.

Her father was a wealthy man, with the leisure to investigate the new art of photography. Myra, a clever and energetic young woman, must have been fascinated by the possibilities of this new art, but painting was her first enthusiasm. She loved to record the beauties of her native Willamette Valley and began private art lessons at about age eighteen. She bought her first camera in 1889 because her brother wanted a photograph of a girl friend but soon Myra turned her camera to the beauties of the Oregon Coast and to life as she saw it around her in Salem: she photographed her friends at social events or in sentimental poses and even captured images of Salem's flood of 1890.

Myra's photographs began to win competitions sponsored by magazines. Encouraged by her success, she left Salem in 1891 to study at the Art Students League in New York. She remained there for three years, perfecting her artistic style in painting and photography, returning to Salem in the summers.

She and future husband Fred Wiggins attended the same church, belonged to the same tennis club, and enjoyed the new craze of bicycling. After their marriage, he continued to clerk at Holverson & Company Dry Goods, sales being an occupation in which he excelled. Their daughter Mildred, an only child, was born in 1896.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, photographs entered in competitions were presented in heavy frames with subject matter of then popular paintings. Daughter Mildred was often posed in Dutch costume with background interiors matching classic European subjects. One of these photographs was even "pirated" by a cereal company as an advertisement.

Myra's love of natural beauty, and the theme of Native American women, were also outstanding products of her art. World travel added to her supply of subjects to photograph. She accomplished a notable career, while still remaining a devoted daughter, wife, and mother.

In 1907, the family moved to Toppenish, Washington when Fred became a partner in the Washington Nursery Company. Myra helped her husband financially by opening an art studio and school. She continued to produce an income of her own by painting. Her career did not end until her death in 1955 at the age of 86. Her husband died in an accident four months later. Myra's art, and Fred's dedication to her talents, live on in over fifty years of outstandingly beautiful photographs, paintings, and poems.

Compiled by Virginia Green.

Bibliography:
Glauber, Carole. Witch of Kodakery, The Photography of Myra Albert Wiggins 1869-1956. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1997.

 

 
Myra Albert Wiggins
Myra Albert Wiggins
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