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 2001.004.0017 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0017 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Seventeenth slide of series (color), "The control room inside the dam, where numerous gadgets and dials tells if everything is operating as it should. Any failure would be registered instantly." Man sitting in chair at desk next to panel with dials and meters. Man appears middle aged and Caucasian. "Control Room" 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 2001.004.0020 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0020 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenthieth slide of series (color), "Closer view of the Roosevelt Lake behind the dam, with a log boom across it to prevent logs and floating objects from going over the top of the dam." Picture of dam and Lake Roosevelt with hills in background. "Lake 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 2001.004.0021 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0021 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-first slide of series (color), "The picture is looking across the 12 large pipes, each 15 feet in diameter, that brings the water up 280 feet, and operated by a 65,000 horse power pump down in the dam." Picture of pipes with water and hills in background. "Pipes that carry water to / Banks Lake" 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 2001.004.0022 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0022 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-second slide of series (color), "The water is rolling out of the pipes into the feeder canal. This is the water that will irrigate the millions of acres in the Columbia Basin, and is pumped from the Columbia River during high water and thus helps to prevent floods on the lower Colmbia." Picture of water, dam, and building with hills in background. "Gate - Feeder Canal" 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 2001.004.0023 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0023 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-third slide of series (color), "Looking south along the feeder canal, which empties this big artificial river into the equalization reservoir in the Grand Coulee to the south." Picture of sign, railings, and water with hills in background. "Feeder Canal" 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 2001.004.0024 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0024 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-fourth slide of series (color), "The north dam of the equalization reservoir which prevents the water from flowing back into the Columbia River." Picture of water with hills in background. "North 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 2001.004.0025 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0025 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-fifth slide of series (color), "The famed Steamboat Rock, as perhaps few will ever see it this way again, as it was taken before the completion of the equalization reservoir and the filling of it with water." Picture of field with hills in background. "Steamboat Rock" 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 2001.004.0026 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0026 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-sixth slide of series (color), "The Steamboat Rock was an island during the ice age, and is now again an island in the equalization reservoir." Picture of water with hills in background. "Steamboat Rock" 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 2001.004.0027 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0027 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-seventh slide of series (color), "As one leaves the Coulee Dam and drives south in the Grand Coulee that was once a barren waste for ages, one sees many beautiful spots made so by the artificial lake." Picture of road and water with hills in background. "Banks Lake" 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 2001.004.0028 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0028 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-eighth slide of series (color), "This is the south dam of the equalization reservoir, over a mile long, with Hwy #2 built on top of it. Coulee City is in the distance." Picture of road and water with land in background. "Now- Banks Lake" written in ink on bottom half and "South Dam - / Equalizing Reservoir" on top 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 2001.004.0029 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0029 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Twenty-ninth slide of series (color), "Looking north towardly the Coulee Dam from the south dam of the equalization reservoir." Picture of road and water with hills in background. "Scenic View" written in ink on bottom half and "Banks Lake" on top 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 2001.004.0030 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0030 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth slide of series (color), "The surge of water leaving the equalization reservoir on its way through a maze of canals that fan out over the Columbia Basin." Picture of canal with water with hills in background. "Canal - Banks Lake to / Becon siphon" 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 2001.004.0031 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0031 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-first slide of series (color), "Near the south dam one sees this spectacular sign." Picture of large sign describing "The Great Mystery Falls of Washington" with hills in background. "Sign at Dry Falls" 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 2001.004.0032 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0032 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-second slide of series (color), "Following the information on the sign, one stops to view the famous Dry Falls, and perhaps pause long enough to listen to a recording of the story about the Dry Falls, which is played ever so often for the visiting tourists from everywhere. It is a fascinating story, and when you visit there, be sure to listen to the recording." Picture of water with hills in background. "Dry Falls" 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 2001.004.0033 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0033 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-third slide of series (color), "A short distance south of the Dry Falls, the highway drops down into the lower part of the Grand Coulee, once the river bed of the Columbia River when it was ice blocked out of its present course. Several beautiful alkali lakes occur between the Dry Falls and Soap Lake, where the Coulee ends." Picture of sagebrush with water and hills in background. "Lower part of / Grand Coulee" 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 2001.004.0034 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0034 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-fourth slide of series (color), "Pausing as one goes south and looking back north, one gets beautiful scenes like this one." Picture of vegetation and lake with hills in background. "Banks Lake" 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 2001.004.0035 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0035 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-fifth slide of series (color). Picture of a possibly dry lake/river bed with hills in background. "Moses Coulee" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0036 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0036 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-sixth slide of series (color). Picture of irrigation canal and water with hills in background. "Irrigation Canal" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0037 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0037 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-seventh slide of series (color). Picture of words "COLUMBIA / BASIN / HIGHLIGHTS." "KODAK / READY-MOUNT" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.

Image of 2001.004.0038 - Transparency, Slide

2001.004.0038 - Transparency, Slide

From the slide series "Development of the Columbia Basin," Set #13. Thirtieth-eighth slide of series (color). Picture of irrigation canal without water with hills in background. "Constructing Canal" written in ink on bottom half of slide frame. "KODACHROME / TRANSPARENCY / PROCESSED BY KODAK" on one side of slide. Description of slides CB 34 through CB 49 appear to be missing from "Development of the Columbia Basin" slide script.