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Steamboat Magazine

Preserving the Past

01/16/2023 08:00AM ● By Sophie Dingle
(Photo: “The Eagle,” by Roland Reed, depicts Blackfoot tribe members, adorned in traditional garb, looking out over a lake in Glacier National Park. ROLAND REED/COURTESY OF JACE ROMICK GALLERY)

Steamboat Springs, CO - In the early ‘90s, when Jace Romick first saw Roland Reed’s photograph, “The Eagle,” it immediately made an impact on him. The dramatic image, which depicts three members of the Blackfoot tribe gazing out over a cliffside, is one Reed’s most notable pieces of work.

“When I first saw ‘The Eagle,’ I was absolutely blown away. I thought it was the coolest photograph that I’d ever seen in my life,” Romick says.

Over the next decade, Romick, who has long been a staple of the Steamboat art scene, sold a business, opened a new gallery and reignited his own passion for photography – but he never forgot that photograph, or its photographer. In the spring of 2021, when the opportunity arose to purchase the largest collection of Roland Reed’s glass plate negatives and personal paraphernalia, Romick took it. Now his downtown gallery, the Jace Romick Gallery has become in part The Roland Reed Gallery, and is currently the only Roland Reed gallery in the country. 

Along with “The Eagle,” Reed’s work hangs in Romick’s gallery in a modern-day collaboration between the two photographers. Using the original glass plate negatives, Romick has painstakingly printed the images to create a collection in print types and sizes never seen before.

Romick prints the images in three different formats: a traditional silver gelatin (how Reed himself would have printed), metallic with an acrylic overlay and a fine pigment print. Sizes vary from small to extra large and each frame is handmade by Romick using alder and walnut wood.

Offering different styles of printing is unusual, and it was done intentionally, serving to bring a piece of the past into the present. Romick had to decide between using the traditional silver-gelatin printing method or taking a more modern approach, and after much deliberation, he decided that he could keep the integrity of the photographs while also offering something new and different.

As a result, a 110-year-old photograph of a Native American chief, done in a metallic print with an acrylic overlay in an extra-large size, becomes a piece of art that would blend seamlessly into a contemporary home.

“I kept asking myself, ‘Would Roland Reed be okay with this?’” Romick says. “And I decided yes – because as an artist you’re going to do the best available printing method there is, so I think he would approve.”

Although Reed died in 1934, approval is still important to Romick, who feels a responsibility to represent Reed’s work with integrity and respect. “The more I get to know about Roland Reed and his photography, the more intimidated I become,” Romick says. 

The collection represents Reed’s life of hard work and the slow climb to becoming a premier pictorialist (a photographer who stages shots to emphasize beauty, rather than the reality of a situation) of his generation. He began his work at the turn of the century, venturing West to document Native American tribes. Traveling miles on horseback and toting his photography equipment with him, he captured images of the Blackfoot, Ojibwa, Navajo and Hopi tribes – among others – earning their trust along the way. Romick recounts one story in which Reed photographed a boy in the Ojibwa tribe. When he returned to the tribe several years later to show them the print, he found that the boy, who was the chief’s son, had died. But the chief was grateful to have a concrete memory of his son through Reed’s photograph and in this way, a trustful bond was created.

His images were not only artistic, but also intricate and accurate, creating scenes that provide a glimpse into a life of the past – a life long gone. Now, having this collection in Steamboat is a privilege for Romick and the entire local community. 

“This is something that really benefits Steamboat in a lot of ways,” Romick says. “This is one of the largest Native American collections in the world and it’s right here. I think this is something that we in Steamboat can be very proud of.”     

(Photo: Western photographer Roland W. Reed. PUBLIC DOMAIN PHOTOGRAPH BY LAWRENCE, ERNEST R.)