Jim Lott Photographic Collection Finds a Home in Musselman Library

By Brandon Fey, Contributing Writer

Self Portrait (Jim Lott/Gettysburg College)

Self Portrait (Jim Lott/Gettysburg College)

On Friday, September 8th, a reception was held in the Musselman Library apse from 4-6 p.m. to celebrate the legacy of Jim Lott. There were nearly 70 members of the local community in attendance including the Lott family and friends as well as professors and staff. Gettysburg College Professor of History Michael Birkner, Schmucker Art Gallery Interim Director Sarah Kate Gillespie, and Lott’s son, John Lott, each shared their reflections on the value of Lott’s work and his legacy as a local icon.

Charles “Jim” Lott was a farmer and amateur photographer native to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. From 1930 to 1980, Lott captured thousands of photos depicting farm life in Adams County Pennsylvania. Lott’s family has recently donated their extensive collection of over 11,000 of Lott’s prints and negatives as well as scrapbooks and exhibit materials to Special Collections and College Archives at the Musselman Library of Gettysburg College in 2023. 

Jim Lott was born on a family farm in Gettysburg in 1914. He quickly developed several interests and hobbies in his early adulthood. Lott was first introduced to photography in high school; it quickly developed into a profound passion. For Lott, his camera was another farm tool. He constantly carried it with him to take photos of his daily chores and the landscape scenes he would find around his farm. He built his own darkroom from scratch and took great pride in using it to develop his film and in expanding it over the years of his amateur career.

Lott’s photos are some of the best documentation of rural life in Adams country from the Depression Era through the 1980s. He was especially interested in capturing aspects of daily life, which distinguishes him from many photographers who focused on this area in the context of its historical significance. His son John, speaking of his father, shared, “He found escape and fulfillment in photography… it lit a fire in him.” 

Clothesline (Photo Jim Lott/Gettysburg College)

Clothesline (Photo Jim Lott/Gettysburg College)

The donation of Lott’s extensive collection of photographic work was facilitated by Larry Knutson, owner of Penns Trails LLC and America’s Arts LLC. On speaking of Lott, Knutson said, “His photographic studies are a peopled landscape with a rich history and tradition of their own, artistically chronicling a now largely disappeared environment that shaped and molded the lives of its inhabitants.”

The library has introduced a new exhibit of Lott’s photography titled “Chronicling Farm Life: The Photography of Charles ‘Jim’ Lott” which will be displayed until June 2024. In addition, there is an accompanying exhibit in five display cases around the library featuring photos of Lott and his family with quotes from his autobiography. That exhibition is entitled “Lott’s Legacy: Life with a View.”

The collection of Lott’s photography will provide students and researchers with a window into the true history of Adam’s County. According to Musselman Library Dean Robin Wagner, “In the coming year, we will be taking our time to catalog and organize this collection and hope, at some point, to make many of these images digitally available for study and research.” 

Birkner shared his excitement for the new learning opportunities this collection will create, saying, “Jim Lott’s photos evoke something we don’t want to lose: the human face of farming.”

In addition, the library has applied for a Historical and Archival Records Care Grant funded by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission that would allow it to expand the educational reach of this archive through enhanced description.

John Lott concluded the reception with some final thoughts of gratitude on his father’s behalf, “The wishes of our family have come true.”

(Editor’s Note: This article was edited at 11:05 a.m. on September 18, 2023 to correct a set of dates – E. Prieto)

Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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1 Comment

  1. Very interesting article, what a wonderful legacy.

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