James Ricalton in his study, Waddington, NY
Roger Bailey, a retired art professor from Saint Lawrence University in Canton, New York, reached out to me a year or so ago because he is interested in my great grandfather and namesake James Ricalton. James was a great but largely unheralded photographer and explorer. James’ photographs are in many collections, including the Library of Congress, Smithsonian, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. He did much work for Thomas Edison.
Roger saw this and wanted to explore who Ricalton was. I have a pretty good trove of Ricalton writings and artifacts, from the chest he packed to carry material down the Saint Lawrence, to his diary from his 1909 walk from Cape Town to Cairo, to various photographs, Edison notes, and Kikuyu carvings. I also know Ricalton and his stories through his daughter, Mary, a beloved friend, my paternal grandmother.
We hit off easily. I picked Roger up at the GWU Metro Thursday evening and we came to my Georgetown townhouse, and poked through various papers, boxes and troves, discovering stuff of which even I was unaware. Then we went to a local pub, Sovereign, for dinner and beer. On Friday, Roger spent the day at my house reviewing material, with a trip to the Library of Congress to meet with a curator. The curator, Josie, was wonderful. She showed us various references and, most fantastic, moving pictures Ricalton had made — in Cairo, Egypt, and most likely Canton and Shanghai, China, c. 1897. (Specific provenance of these old but now digitized films requires further research.) My father George had always said we should go to the Library to see Ricalton’s films, but we never did. (Dad, a writer, was much more a man of “should do” than “do.”) So this visit with Roger felt a bit warming for me, as a lost father-son activity.
On Monday, we visited with the senior photography curator at the American History Museum, focusing our insights and interests. In a couple weeks I will meet with a noted antique and old-book expert to gain more knowledge, and perhaps learn other references. Roger and I surfaced a few new Ricalton materials. I am continuing my research into Ricalton’s Africa journeys, in particular, his responses to adversity that ranged from technical inconvenience to medical trauma and death of a young tribesman, to the loss of Ricalton's son Lomond by typhoid pneumonia in British East Africa.
I remain in search of Ricalton photographs or writings from Abyssinia, what we know today as Ethiopia (where I do charity work).
Ever to learn. -- James Ricalton Wilson (Jim), 4/24/2018