Selections from the Frank Nivison Photograph Collection

Dublin Core


Selections from the Frank Nivison Photograph Collection


Nivison, Frank
Black and white photographs
Historic buildings - Virginia - Williamsburg
Public buildings - Virginia - Williamsburg
Architecture, Domestic - Virginia - Williamsburg
Architecture, Colonial - Virginia - Williamsburg


Frank Reginald Nivison served as a contract photographer for Colonial Williamsburg during the initial restoration of the town between 1930 and 1935. Prior to this, he served as a darkroom assistant at the University Film Foundation at Harvard University. He was hired by the Williamsburg Holding Corp. to take progress photos of construction and restoration work, as well as of buildings to be wrecked or moved. According to a memo issued by architect William G. Perry to Frank Nivison on December 12, 1930, his work was to “…include the photography of all buildings and parts of buildings, exterior and interior, which the architects deem necessary for architectural and historical purposes. Such photographs would be supplemented by progress photographs of construction work as it proceeds. All buildings to be wrecked should be photographed before the wrecking takes place. In addition, there will be photographs of furniture, fabrics, and objects of all kinds.”

Nivison set up a small photographic studio in a room in the Bruton Parish House. His equipment included a Zeiss camera, 5x7 inch, with a F 4.5 lens and a special magazine for cut films, along with a Mitchell tripod with a ball and socket head. His darkroom equipment consisted of an Eastman Auto-focus Enlarger, printing machines, and various accessories such as tanks and scales. Over the course of five years, he took more than 7,000 photographs documenting each stage of the restoration or reconstruction of various 18th-century buildings in Williamsburg. Copies of these photographs were forwarded to the offices of Perry, Shaw, & Hepburn in Boston so that the architects could monitor the progress of various projects. Nivison’s photographs were also used to produce postcards, “before and after” lantern slides, and publicity relating to the restoration of Williamsburg.

By late 1935, Nivison had started taking on a lot of outside photography business and Colonial Williamsburg officials felt he should establish himself as an independent photographer. Nivison’s employment with Colonial Williamsburg terminated on July 1, 1935. However, Colonial Williamsburg continued to utilize his services on an as needed basis and assisted him in setting up his own business in Williamsburg. Unfortunately, Nivison did not attract enough outside commissions to enable him to operate independently and filed for bankruptcy in 1937. He applied to Colonial Williamsburg for a monthly retainer fee for his periodic services and was given $100.00 per month to draw upon in 1938. With the advent of World War II, Nivison moved back to Massachusetts in 1940.

Collection Items


Nivison, Frank 031931

Nivison, Frank 011931

Nivison, Frank Circa 1930

Nivison, Frank Circa 1930-31

Nivison, Frank Circa 1931

Nivison, Frank Circa 1934

Nivison, Frank 04151932

Nivison, Frank 10201934

Nivison, Frank Circa early 1930s
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Nivison, Frank 1933
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Nivison, Frank 1933
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Nivison, Frank 1933
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Nivison, Frank 1933
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Nivison, Frank 1933
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Nivison, Frank 1933
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Nivison, Frank 1933
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Nivison, Frank 1933
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Nivison, Frank 1932-09-01
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Nivison, Frank Circa 1926
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