Constance Stuart Larrabee

Names: Larrabee, Constance Stuart

Born: Cornwall, England

Died: 27 July 2000, Chestertown, Maryland, USA

In summary: Artist

Constance Stuart Larrabee was born in Cornwall, England and came to South Africa with her parents when she was three months old. Constance’s interest in photography began in 1924 when she was given a Kodak Box Brownie for her birthday. After graduating from Pretoria High School in 1933, Constance spent three years studying abroad. She studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Photography after which she apprenticed in the studios of Yevonde, a Berkley Square society photographer and Yvonne, a theatrical photographer. Between1935 and 1936 Constance studied at the Bavarian State Institute for Photography in Munich. She is one of the first South African women to study photography abroad. 

On her return to South Africa in 1936 she opened her own studio, the Constance Stuart Portrait Studio in Pretoria. Here she photographed the leading statesmen, generals, artists, writers, society and theatrical personalities of the time. She enjoyed travelling through South Africa and during her travels she photographed the vanishing ethnic cultures of the country: Ndebele, Bushmen, Lovedu, Zulu, Swazi, the Basotho and the Xhosa peoples. These were exhibited in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Constance became South Africa’s first woman correspondent when the Director of the South African Military Intelligence, Col. E. G. Malherbe, appointed her to cover the war for Libertas magazine. During this time she covered Egypt, Italy, France and England photographing with the American 7th Army in France and the South African 6th Armoured Division in the Italian Apennines. In 1946 she opened her second portrait studio in Johannesburg and published Jeep Trek, an illustrated war diary in Spotlight magazine. In 1947 she was the official photographer of the British Royal visit to three Royal protectorates: Basutoland (Lesotho), Swaziland and Bechuanaland (Botswana). She also went on a Kalahari Desert expedition to photograph the Bushman, and had an exhibition, The Lovedu. In 1948 she produced a portfolio of photographs on the author Alan Paton and his book Cry, the Beloved Country. She also had photographs, Bantu Prophets in South Africa published by Bengt Sundkler.

In 1949 Constance married Sterling Loop Larrabee in the United States and the following year they moved to Chestertown, Maryland. She then stopped taking photographs except of the dogs that they bred. In 1963 she founded the Norwich Terrier News, co-edited and illustrated Norwich Terriers USA from 1936 until 1966. In 1952 she had photographs, The Basuto published by Hugh Ashton. The year following that she became an American citizen and had a photographic exhibition called Tribal Women of South Africa, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This Exhibition travelled around the United States and Canada. In 1955 she had a group exhibition where two of her “tribal” photographs were used in the Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This exhibition was her first exposure to the American audience and travelled internationally. In 1959 she had a solo exhibition called The Silent Harmony of Hand and Mind. These were photographs of the making of Steuben glass, at the Commercial Museum in Philadelphia. The exhibition travelled throughout the United States. In 1979 she had a solo exhibition of a hundred photographs,Photographs by Constance Stuart Larabee, A Retrospective at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. The photographs in this exhibition had been shot during her stay in South Africa in the forties and were of the peoples of South Africa. This exhibition was the first photographic exhibition at the Johannesburg and Pretoria Art Museums

In 1982 she had a solo exhibition, Celebration on the Chesapeake, at the Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. The following year she founded the Washington College Friends of the Arts and served as chairperson until 1995. She also had three exhibitions: The Constance Stuart Larabee Celebration, 1933-1983 at the South African Association of Arts, Pretoria, and the Art Gallery, University of Stellebosch; The Afrikaners at the Market Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg; and Ndebele Images at the Natalie Knight Gallery in Johannesburg. In 1984 she had a solo exhibitionTribal Photographs, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Santa Fe Centre for Photography in New Mexico. The following year three of her images from World War II were included in The Indelible Image: Photographs of War 1846 to the Present at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York; the Rice Museum in Houston, Texas; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. She also had a solo exhibition Go Well, My Child, at the National Museum of African Arts in Washington, DC. However, this was renamed Seek What is True it opened at the Duke University Museum of Art in 1987 and it travelled throughout the United States through to 1995. In 1986 she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Arts at the Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. She had a group exhibition where one of her photographs from Go Well, My Child was included in Bon Voyage at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in New York. Two years later she had another solo exhibition called African Profile at the Bayly Art Museum of the University of Virginia. The year after this she had an exhibition Constance Stuart Larabee: WWII Photo Journal at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. The exhibition continued to travel nationally through to 1995

In 1990 Constance Stuart Larabee established the Constance Stuart Larabee Arts Center at the Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. From 1991 to 1993 Constance had a solo exhibition called The Incidental Image at the Chestertown Bank in Maryland, the Kathleen Ewing Gallery in Washington, DC; and the Massoni-Sommer Art Gallery in Chestertown, Maryland. She died on the 27th of July 2000, at age 85, in her house in Chestertown, Maryland.

Exhibitions:

1944 - The Malay Quarter in Pretoria

1945 - A Tribute: South African 6th Division and the United States 7th Army that travelled throughout South Africa.

1953 - Tribal Women of South Africa, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

1955 - group exhibition where two of her “tribal” photographs were used in the Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

1979 - Photographs by Constance Stuart Larabee, A Retrospective

1982 - Celebration on the Chesapeake, at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland

1984 - Tribal Photographs, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Santa Fe Centre for Photography in New Mexico.

1985 - three of her images from World War II were included in The Indelible Image: Photographs of War 1846 to the Present at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York

1987 - Go Well, My Child, at the National Museum of African Arts in Washington, DC. This was renamed Seek what is True and was opened at the Duke University Museum of Art

1986 - a group exhibition in which one of her photographs from Go Well, My Child was included in Bon Voyage at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in New York.

1988 - African Profile at the Bayly Art Museum of the University of Virginia

1989 - Constance Stuart Larabee: WWII Photo Journal at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

1993 - Chesapeake Bay Reflections at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland

1993 -Witness to a World at War at the Defence Intelligence Agency, Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC.

1993 - a group exhibition Great Women in Photography at the Kathleen Ewing Gallery in Washington, DC.