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Mattie E. Hewitt & Richard A. Smith photograph collection

Call Number

PR 26


1919-1961 (bulk 1920-1939), inclusive



11.89 Linear feet (Approx. 5,000 black and white photographic prints, 8 x 10 inches or smaller. 400 8 x 10 inch black and white film negatives)

Language of Materials

English .


The collection contains photographic prints and negatives by noted garden and architecture photographer Mattie Edwards Hewitt and her nephew, Richard Averill Smith. The bulk of the clients are popular magazines and interior decorators. Views of fashionable apartment interiors, newly built houses, small urban gardens, and other residential settings display the work of decorators and the tastes of well-known people. There are also interiors of hotels, restaurants, clubs, shops, and decorator exhibitions.

Biographical Note

Mattie Edwards Hewitt (d. 1956)

Richard Averill Smith (1897-1971)

Although Mattie Edwards Hewitt's photographs stand as a remarkable visual record of nearly four decades of architecture and design, little is known about her personal history. Born in Saint Louis, she grew up in a middle-class family and studied art until her marriage to the photographer Arthur Hewitt. Her husband taught her the basic techniques for processing and printing film, and she developed her craft working as his assistant.

In 1901, Hewitt traveled to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where she met Frances Benjamin Johnston, a successful photographer from Washington D.C. who would have a significant influence on her life and work. After their initial meeting, Hewitt and Johnston wrote to one another frequently, developing personal as well as professional ties. Johnston began to send Hewitt the film from her commissions around the country. Eventually, Hewitt was processing and printing most of Johnston's assignments, billing clients and managing her accounts. During these years in Saint Louis, as Hewitt assisted both her husband and Johnston, she longed to spend less of her time in the darkroom and more behind the camera. Hewitt divorced her husband in 1909 and moved with Johnston to New York City.

The two women embarked as partners, seizing the opportunity presented by a wave of public building in New York to establish themselves as architectural photographers. They photographed the new Public Library, Hotel Manhattan, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, West Point Academy and the New Theatre. Their growing reputation gained them commissions with many of the leading architects of the day including McKim, Mead and White, C. Grant LaFarge, Cass Gilbert, and Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. The images they made during these years bear the credit "Miss Johnston and Mrs. Hewitt" or "Frances Benjamin Johnston and Mattie Edwards Hewitt." Despite their successes, the partnership ended in a bitter conflict in 1917, leaving both Hewitt and Johnston to pursue independent careers.

Relying on the reputation and client-base she had developed with Johnston, Hewitt established a business of her own. She specialized in photography for designers, architects, and landscape architects, documenting domestic and commercial interiors, and gardens. Hewitt's professional development coincided with an era of great activity in interior and garden architecture. Increasing interest in these fields gave rise to a proliferation of magazines and illustrated books that required high quality photographs. Hewitt's images were well regarded by both designers and editors in pursuit of new and dynamic sites to portray for their subscribers. Many periodicals published her photographs, including House and Garden, Town and Country, House Beautiful, The Delineator, Home and Field, and Architecture Magazine. Her work also appeared regularly in the New York Times,the Herald Tribune,the New York Evening Post, The World, and the New York Evening Sun.

Hewitt kept files on all of her assignments that included notes and extra prints that she could offer to publishers when the opportunity arose. She would sometimes suggest an article on an estate or garden for which she could supply the images. She pursued new commissions consistently and traveled frequently, with her heavy wooden view cameras, tripods, and lenses in tow. Although she worked with an assistant or hired a boy to help with the equipment when her budget permitted, the work was demanding. When landscape and garden assignments were scarce during the winter months, she would occasionally freelance at banquets at the large hotels in New York. At these events, she photographed early in the evening, made prints in a hotel room fitted with a makeshift darkroom and sold them to the banquet guests as they left the party. Her skill and persistence carried her through over thirty years as a professional photographer.

Most of Hewitt's significant work was made during the twenties and thirties, although she continued to photograph almost until the end of her life. Although she was appreciated in her professional circle for her fine sensibility and technique, she never found recognition beyond the realm of commercial photography. She died in Boston in 1956.

When Mattie Edwards Hewitt retired, she gave her print files to Richard Averill Smith. As a young man, Smith had worked for Hewitt (his wife's aunt) before becoming a commercial photographer himself. He opened his first studio in New York City in 1928 and came to specialize in photographing hotels, restaurants, and private homes. Smith moved his studio to Flushing and then, around 1955, to Levittown, New York. He was recognized for the outstanding quality of his work and received numerous awards including the designation of Master Photographer from the National Photographers Association (NPA). He lectured nationally in conjunction with the NPA and taught photography in Farmingdale, New York. He died in Levittown in 1971.


The work of the two photographers is filed together. Both series are arranged alphabetically by assignment title, which is typically the name of the business or homeowner.

Note that boxes 35 to 42 contain photographs and negatives from the additional donation made in 2013. The folders in these boxes have been inserted alphabetically in the finding aid by the name of business of homeowner, so box numbers sometimes skip around.

The collection is organized into the following series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Photographic Prints
  2. Series II: Negatives

Scope and Content Note

The Mattie E. Hewitt & Richard A. Smith Photographic Collection contains approximately 5000 photographic prints and 400 negatives made by these architectural photographers between 1910 and 1960, with the bulk of the images produced during the 1920s and 1930s. The core of the collection consists of a running file of prints kept by Mattie Edwards Hewitt. When she retired, she gave this file to her nephew, Richard Averill Smith, who was also a commercial photographer. Smith added some of his own images to the file. After his death in 1971, The Nassau County Museum acquired the collection, which consisted of some 12,000 images, and distributed portions of it to various institutions according their geographic interests. The New-York Historical Society received material from approximately 500 assignments, many of them residences in Manhattan. Approximately three-quarters of the images are made by Hewitt, and the remainder by Smith. The work of the two photographers is filed together and is arranged into two series: Photographic Prints; and Negatives.

Both series are arranged alphabetically by assignment, which is typically the name of the business or homeowner. Many of these photographs were taken for a specific interior decorator or architect but they are only filed under the decorator's name where the owner's name is unknown. A database was established with cross-references to the decorator; a list of assignments organized by designer follows this container list. Correct corporate names were established when possible. If not, files were left under the designation originally assigned by Hewitt or Smith. Establishing accurate hotel names proved difficult. Vanderbilt Hotel, for example, was listed in period phone directories as both "Vanderbilt Hotel" and "Hotel Vanderbilt." If looking for a specific hotel, the researcher is advised to look in both potential places.

Some background information is available in the collection file.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 30 photocopies per day per person. Suitability of the original for photocopying is at the discretion of the staff. Neither blueprints nor tracings can be copied under any circumstances. Duplication of large-format items will be done by the house photographer. See Print Room guidelines for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from

Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as The Mattie E. Hewitt & Richard A. Smith Photograph Collection, PR-026, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.


Gift from the Nassau County Museum in 1971; additional donated received in 2013.

Collection processed by

Processed by Emily Wolff

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:48:46 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This versionwas derived from hewittsmith.xm


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024