Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on February 19, 1864, Frank H. Nowell was one of six sons born to Thomas and Lydia Ham Nowell. After a New England childhood, he headed to the Midwest, where he worked on a family ranch that once played host to the performers of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. By age 21, Mr. Nowell joined his father in Juneau, Alaska to work for the highly successful Nowell Gold Mining Company. During his tenure in Alaska, he worked in various capacities as a wholesale representative, accountant, agent, and manager. While vacationing in Florida, Mr. Nowell met Detroit native Elizabeth Helen Davis. They married in 1894 and had a daughter named Dorothy.
The young family moved to California, where Mr. Nowell served as his father's West Coast agent. It is during this time he became interested in photography, a passion that increased significantly when he returned to Alaska, where he settled briefly in Nome to work for the Ames Mercantile Company. In 1900, the Mr. Nowell was on the move again, this time to Teller, Alaska, where he opened a regional branch of Miner's Supply Company. Shortly thereafter, he was reunited with his wife, daughter, and his camera equipment. Fascinated by the landscape and multiethnic residents, Mr. Nowell immersed himself in the Alaskan way of life, seeking to chronicle its people, culture and traditions. He opened a studio in Nome, where he produced panoramic images of such famous cities as Nome, Juneau, and Fairbanks, as well as lesser-known localities including Candle City, Cape Prince of Wales, and Metlakatla. He also photographed railroads, steamships, canneries, and mining operations. Eskimos and Native Americans were captured leading herds of reindeer and hunting with their dogsled teams. His favorite cameras were Eastman Kodaks fitted with Goerz lenses.
While living in Alaska, Mr. Nowell made frequent business visits to Seattle, resulting in a collaborative nine-volume photographic compilation entitled, The Art Work of Seattle and Alaska. Turning over his studio operations to a capable assistant, Mr. Nowell moved his family for the last time to Seattle, where he became the official photographer for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. Mr. Nowell's photographs were on display at the exposition and featured in official pamphlets and souvenir books. His studio, located at 1212 Fourth Avenue, specialized in commercial portraiture, but also provided other various services including enlargements and lantern slides. Mr. Nowell continued working well into his 90s before retiring to his Crystal Lake ranch on the outskirts of Seattle, where he died on October 19, 1950 at the age of 86. Many of Frank H. Nowell's photographs are currently included in the University of Washington Digital Collection and the Alaska State Library digital archives.
2011 Claiming the Oriental Gateway: Prewar Seattle and Japanese America by Shelley Sang-Hee Lee (Philadelphia: Temple University Press), p. 56.
2014 Frank H. Nowell Photographs (URL: http://content.lib.washington.edu/nowellweb).
2014 Frank Nowell and Daughter Dorothy (URL: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg21/id/15625/rec/7).
2014 PCA 48: Frank H. Nowell Photograph Collection, 1901-1908 (URL: library.alaska.gov/hist/hist_docs/finding_aids/PCA048.doc).
1965 Photographers of the Frontier West by Ralph Andrews (New York: Bonanza Books), pp. 38-39, 59.
1909 Seattle and the Pacific Northwest (Seattle: Seattle Publishing Company), p. 186.
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