Person Record

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Name Thompson, J.W.
Othernames John William Thompson
Born June 25, 1890
Birthplace Missouri
Places of residence Missouri
Moved to Clatskanie, Oregon when 13
Taught school in Seattle, Washington
Nationality Probably Caucasion
Notes Thompson, who was a botany teacher with the Seattle School District at Cleveland, Lincoln and Ballard high schools until he retired in the early 1950s, died in 1978 in Seattle at the age of 87.

Thompson developed his photographic avocation in the early 1950s.

The following was written by Mary Schlick for the opening of an exhibit at the Maryhill Museum:
In the early 1950s, a retired Seattle high school botany teacher with a keen interest in photography, and an important event in the Native history of the Northwest came together by chance. The result was an archive of approximately 6000 slides illustrating the colorful life of the Native people of Washington State at the midpoint of the 20th century. This visual record of Native life, a century after the Eastern Washington reservations were established, was given to Maryhill Museum of Art by from the photographer's daughter, Lucile Munz of Marysville, Washington in 1997.
The Eastman Kodak Company introduced the first successful amateur color film for 35 mm. slides in 1936. By the 1950s, John William Thompson was an avid color photographer with two Leicaflex cameras and some success photographing zoo animals and detailed bird prints, which he sold through a scientific supplier in Seattle. Recently retired from teaching, Thompson made a June visit to his sister in Toppenish, Washington. His goal was to photograph people at work in Central Washington for a proposed elementary school unit on occupations.
The headquarters for the Yakama Indian Nation is located near Toppenish and Thompson learned that tribal leaders from across the Columbia Plateau had assembled there that weekend to observe a moment in their history that had changed their peoples' lives forever.
Nearly a hundred years before, on the 9th of June in 1855, their predecessors, in many cases, direct ancestors of those gathered that day, had met at Walla Walla, then Oregon Territory, to sign the Treaty with the United States. This treaty established the Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce reservations. This historic gathering offered the 65-year old Thompson an unusual opportunity to meet tribal leaders. Harry Owhi, 2nd from the left in this photo, was descended from the signer, Owhi, here drawn by Gustav Sohon at that treaty gathering. Here is Sohon's drawing of the famous Yakama leader, Kamiakin, and Thompson's photo of the leader's son, Cleveland Kamiakin.

Born in 1890, John Thompson was a man who had learned early to recognize opportunity and to act on it. His mother died in childbirth and grandparents who were Missouri sharecroppers raised him. It was a hard life picking cotton and helping with the other work on a marginal farm. Eager to learn, John taught himself to read but did not go to school until the family moved to Clatskanie, Oregon, when he was 13. He entered school there and graduated with his age group.

Thompson married at 19 and found work teaching typing and penmanship in business college, then moved his family, by this time including four children, to the state of Washington where he enrolled in Bellingham Normal School for a teaching certificate. Supporting his family by teaching, Thompson continued his education, earning a baccalaureate degree in journalism and botany, then a master's in education. He began his science teaching career at the age of 38 at Ballard High School in Seattle. Thompson discovered several new varieties of plants, which carry his name and developed an herbarium, which is now at the University of Washington.

Interested in photography for many years, he found Kodak's amazing slide film a perfect medium for capturing the world that interested him.
Lucile Munz, Thompson's daughter, described the Toppenish experience that opened a new field for her father in his retirement: That weekend, she said, her father went over to the gathering of chiefs. Eager to capture the event on film, the photographer asked some of the men if he could take pictures. They shook their heads. But, it took more than that to discourage this determined man, he waited around until one by one, they allowed him to bring out his camera. Through the years that followed, Thompson photographed the people of the Plateau in street clothes (note Alex Saluskin on the left) as well as wearing colorful regalia.

Having learned that Thompson always asked for permission and sent copies to those who wanted them, I can imagine that the word soon got around.

J.W. Thompson's purpose was not to create works of art but images that were, to use his words, "Interesting and authentic," that would document the lives of Indians of Washington State at the middle of the 20th century for school children of the state.

He wanted to show through his slides that these First People were not at the end of the trail, as they had been described by some, but were indeed alive and thriving and enjoying a life full of festive gatherings on the Columbia Plateau, as had their ancestors "since time immemorial."
Occupation Botany teacher with the Seattle School District, retired in the 1950's.
Started photography in the early 1950's.
Relationships Ida Anderson Flett, sister
Role Photographer
Children Had 4 children. Lucille Munz of Marysville, daughter
Deceased 1978

Associated Records

Image of 2001.004.0065 - Script

2001.004.0065 - Script

Script of the "Development of the Columbia Basin."

Image of 2001.004.0066 - 2001.004.

2001.004.0066 - 2001.004.

Box for the slides for the "Development of the Columbia Basin."

Image of 2001.004.0001 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0001 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin", Set #13. First slide of series (color), has words "DEVELOPMENT / OF THE / COLUMBIA BASIN" printed over image. Image of man-made container of red flowers surrounded with sidewalks and grass with mountain and trees in background. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide.

Image of 2001.004.0002 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0002 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Second slide of series (color), "Map of the most active part of the Columbia Basin, with location of the Grand Coulee Dam at the very top." Image of a mostly yellow map of the Columbia Basin Irrigation System with the Grand Coulee Dam, water sources, wasteways, and siphons of the Columbia Basin labeled. "Map" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on other side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0013 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0013 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirteenth slide of series (color), "At the conclusion of the lecture, the audience, for a small fee, is given a trip through the dam itself. Here is a typical crowd that is conducted hourly during the tourist season." A large group of men and women, who range in age of child to senior, are lined up outside a building. The majority of the pictured people appear Caucasian. Hill and wall and possible vehicle in background. "Trip through the dam" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Ba

Image of 2001.004.0003 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0003 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Third slide of series (color), "A roadside sign on the right hand side of the highway between Vantage and Quincy." Image of a road sign with an illustration of a Caucasian male and Caucasian female standing together with a farm in the background. The sign reads: "COLUMBIA BASIN IRRIGATION PROJECT / FOR INFORMATION / BUREAU OF RECLAMATION / EPHRATA." "Sign" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on other side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0004 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0004 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fourth slide of series (color), "Behind the sign lie thousands of acres of sagebrush waste land, destined to become fertile farms in the near furture." Image of shurb-steppe landscape with mostly sagebrush photographed. "Sagebrush - wasteland" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "EKTACHROME / TRANSPARENCY" on other side of slide frame. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0005 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0005 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifth slide of series (color), "This once properous ranch flourished during a period when sufficient snow and rain fell in this region to support farms and ranches. Then came the dry years, rains failed, and the rancher moved away, and the element took over." Image of a brown, possible wood house with at least four bare trees and dry grass surrounding the house. Hills seen in the distance. "Abandoned Farm" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on other side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0006 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0006 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Sixth slide of series (color), "Another ranch deserted and in ruins near the old town of Burke. But in the distant, the visible white line is a canal under construction that will soon change this into a productive farm as never before." Image of a brown, possible wood house in disrepair and falling apart with grass surrounding the house. "Abandoned Farm" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0007 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0007 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Seventh slide of series (color), "When the ranchers were forced to move away, the schools were abandoned." Image of a brown, possible wood building with bell tower on roof in disrepair with grass, barb wire fence, and hills surrounding the building. "Abandoned School" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0018 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0018 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Eighteenth slide of series (color), "The switch yard on the south side, where transformers and numerous wires send out the power created by the dam over a vast network in the northwest." Picture of transformers with a dirt road in foreground and hills in background. "Power Switch Yard" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0008 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0008 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Eighth slide of series (color), "But to change all this desert to productive farms was the Coulee Dam built to raise the Columbia River 550 feet, which will eventually provide nearly two million kilowatts of power, and water enough to irrigate over a million acres of sagebrush wasteland." Image of a dam with hills in background. Four people (three probable Caucasian women and one probable Caucasian male) with their backs to the camera, are watching the dam. The people are standing on a rocky and grassy hill overlooking the dam. "Grand Coulee Dam" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPAREN

Image of 2001.004.0009 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0009 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Ninth slide of series (color), "A closer view of the Coulee Dam, showing the main spillway, parts of the two power houses, one on either side, and the impounded water behind the Dam that reaches to the Canadian border, 151 miles away." A close up image of a dam with hills in background. Land near dam with buildings can be seen. "Spillway G.C. dam" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0010 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0010 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Tenth slide of series (color), "A close side view of the completed Dam, showing the north power house, spillway, and the 12 huge pipes that convey the water from the pumps to the equalization reservoir 280 feet above the lake level." A close up image of a dam with hills in background. "Grand Coulee Dam & Power house" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0011 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0011 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Eleventh slide of series (color), "A bust of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt is in a little park on the north end of the dam. It was through his interest and insistence that the dam was begun in 1935, and finished in 1942." A probable concrete statue in a concrete framed pond. Mid 1950's automobiles and unknown structure in background. "Bust of F.D. Roosevelt" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0019 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0019 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Nineteenth slide of series (color), "This picture shows the top of the spillway and the Roosevelt Lake that extends upstream for 151 miles to the Canadian border, flooding many former towns and small farms." Picture of transformers, dam, and Lake Roosevelt with hills in background. "Lake Roosevelt - back of dam" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0012 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0012 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twelfth slide of series (color), "During most of the year, tourists who flock there in large numbers can listen to an interesting lecture which explains the history of the construction and present operation of the dam." A large group of men and women, who range in age of child to senior, are gathered around a booth listening to a man talking on a microphone. The majority of the pictured people appear Caucasian. Clock and window in background. "Tourists Listen" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development o

Image of 2001.004.0014 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0014 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fourteenth slide of series (color), "There are many large elevators inside the dam to serve the many floors from top to bottom." A large group of men and women, who range in age of child to senior, are in an elevator. The majority of the pictured people appear Caucasian. Beam and light in background. "Dam Elevator" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0015 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0015 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Fifteenth slide of series (color), "Inside one sees the huge shafts that go from the turbines below up to the generators above. One is told unbelievable facts regarding the size and weight, and how they were installed." A group of men and women, who appear to be adults, are standing behind a railing around a turbine shaft. The majority of the pictured people appear Caucasian. "Turbine Shaft" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0016 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0016 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Sixteenth slide of series (color), "Inside one of the huge rooms that contain nine huge generators, and the other building on the other side of the dam also has nine." Nine generators in a room with lights overhead. "Grand Coulee Dam / Nine Generators" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slide from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.