The William Wallace Tooker Photo Collection is a small, rare distinguished and historically significant body of work completed between 1880-1900 in one of the great birthing areas of American culture, the eastern end of Long, Island, New York.

The photo collection has it's own website. Click on the image below to be taken directly to www.tookerphotocollection.com





Book Project One


The Writing House of William Wallace Tooker

WU'SSUCKHO'SICK means "writing house” in the Algonquin Indian language.”  William Wallace Tooker (1847-1917) was a noted Algonquinist, author, respected amateur anthropologist, prominent pharmacist, archivist, historian, turkey farmer, police commissioner, poet, artist and photographer.  The proposed book champions Tooker placing him high on the pedestal he righty deserves as a prominent historian, anthropologist and photographer of one of the great birthing areas of early American history. Admirable work has been written about Tooker but not enough. The intact and unique glass plate collection has been held privately for 95 years and never published in its entirety.

Tooker was a visionary who responded to his intellectual curiosity about the world around him. A descendant of English ancestry he spent his entire life in Sag Harbor, New York as a well-respected community member. At age five he began collecting Indian relics that by 1895 consisted of nearly 15,000 pieces, one of the largest collections in the United States at that time. Although he was a professional pharmacist, his intellectual passion evolved over the years as a respected authority on the Algonquin Indian language and place names. His final book The Indian Places Names on Long Island has been a primary reference on Algonquian etymology for scholars and historians. Today Indian place names identify thousands of American towns and places.  In 1903, in financial straits, he sold his collection and bulk of his manuscripts to the Brooklyn Museum that currently resides at Cornell University. Like many intellectuals, scientists and artists of the time he found the camera an interesting phenomena and as an observer of the world around him found it a fascinating tool to document what he thought was historically significant.

The photographs were taken between 1880-1900 with many of the images reveal evidence of surviving in the wilderness and forming the first settlement villages during early colonial time with houses dating back to before 1740 late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The eastern end of Long Island, the last bit of land created from a receding glacial formation, juts out like an arthritic finger into the Atlantic Ocean as in a last effort to touch Europe. This area was ideally situated to witness the impact of European cultures and the new emerging technologies on the pastoral landscape known as the New World. In The Machine In The Garden, author and American Studies pioneer Leo Marx proposes to “describe and evaluate the uses of the pastoral ideal in the interpretation of the American experience” and to trace “its adaptation to the conditions of life in the New World, its emergence as a American theory of society, and its subsequent transformation under the impact of industrialism.” What Professor Marx was intellectualizing in his 1964 book is revealed unwittingly through Tooker’s photographs. Unknown to Tooker, he would be photographing a test study of a dawning new American society in his own backyard. Once the habitat of only indigenous people, this last 30-mile stretch of low rolling hills spotted with ponds and surrounded by cove-indented ocean bays was quickly being transitioned into a rural landscape the world had never seen. Some 40 years after the camera was invented Tooker was able to permanently capture the images of the changing environment being impacted with New World images such as one of the earliest lighthouses, tragic shipwrecks, harvesting of beached whales, primitive machines driven by wind, sailing merchant ships, steamboats, frontier settlement houses and contemporary community activities. Distinctively rare within the collection itself, are 13 English smock and post windmill images, standing as the pre-industrial American workhorses that helped establish and stabilize the economies of local communities up to the late 1800’s. The windmill images are believed to be the oldest collection privately held. The impeccable Beebe Mill photograph of 1887 proudly presents man’s last representative of thousands of years of mechanical ingenuity that still majestically stands today. The remarkably immaculate 1891 image of a 90-foot beached fin whale dramatically displays a rare portrayal where the confluence of the indigenous Indians and European settlers working together in the prosperous whaling industry.  It is an aesthetic and significantly valuable historic record of early America.

I have owned the collection since 1976 and hold copyrights with stipulations. The collection is being digitized, restored and reproduced in large format fine art prints.  As part of a marketing plan I intend to donate the collection to a state or national depository in conjunction with a book publication. This activity could also be a funding source for publication. The primary purpose of championing Tooker’s photographs is to educate the world audience by making the images available. European and American scholars as well as the general public do not have complete access to this unique collection. The entire collection and information on Tooker can be viewed at the privately-funded website www.tookerphotocollection.com. The proposed 8 x 12 book is approximately 150 pages, a third with text with small imagery dispersed within text and the rest full page photographs from the collection.

The book will be a composite of Tooker’s life work to include and be highlighted by his photographic records which have never been published as a collection. A rare and unique collection that represents a transformational blink of early American society is only part of the Montauk experiment. My contemporary photographs based on Tooker’s images will a serve as comparative records of man’s influence in this specific area of the American experiment.