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Robert William Tebbs

Paintings Works On Paper Photographs Sculpture

 

English, 1875-1945

Born in England in 1875, Tebbs immigrated to the United States when he was a teenager. After a stint in the U.S. Marines during the Spanish-American War, he worked as a photojournalist for Hearst newspapers, specializing in sporting events. Tebbs married fellow English immigrant Jeanne Spitz (1887-1980) in 1907, and the couple moved to New York City. He worked as a freelance photojournalist for a time, but soon began capitalizing on the growing demand for architectural photography.

Tebbs began photographing nineteenth-century churches in New York. He soon began receiving more commissions than he could handle alone. Charles E. Knell became Tebbs's trusted partner in 1923. Billed as "Photographers to Architects & Decorators," the firm supplied photographic documentation of both historic and new construction projects across the country. A favorite of many of the largest architectural firms, Tebbs documented Grand Central Station in New York City for Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem (1913) and the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for Graham, Anderson, Probst and White (1930).

Tebbs also began working with an emerging cadre of historic preservationists, notably Richard Koch of New Orleans, in the early 1920s. After completing a book project in Charleston for the American Institute of Architects, Tebbs was hired to produce the first photographic survey of Louisiana's plantations. In 1926, he began photographing plantations and other rural architecture across the state.

The Louisiana project was cancelled, and the Great Depression brought an abrupt halt to most construction and renovation projects. Tebbs and Knell dissolved in the early 1930s. Tebbs was stricken with a mysterious illness but recovered after seeking help from Christian Science practitioners. He spent his final year doing menial photographic copy work at a Mack Truck factory.

In 1956, his widow, Jeanne Tebbs, sold his collection of photographs, including glass plates, to the Louisiana State Museum.

 

Elmwood Plantation - Robert William Tebbs
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Elmwood Plantation
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches
Louisiana State Museum, 1956.087.331

Elmwood was built between 1723 and 1820 near Harahan in Jefferson Parish.

 

Labatut Plantation - Robert William Tebbs
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Labatut Plantation
Robert W. Tebbs
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches
Louisiana State Museum, 1956.087.100

Labatut Plantation may have been built as late as 1830 for Zénon Porché (c. 1791- c. 1861) and his wife Julie Pourciau (1825-1880), both free people of color. It is unlikely that Evarist Barra (fl. 1790-1830), a Spanish nobleman, built the house, as some writers have contended.

 

Whitney Plantation, Faux Decorative Painting by Dominico Canova, Lower Rear Gallery - Robert William Tebbs
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Whitney Plantation, Faux Decorative Painting by Dominico Canova, Lower Rear Gallery
Robert W. Tebbs
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches
Louisiana State Museum, 1956.087.002

Jean-Jacques Haydel, Sr. (1741-1826) and Nicolas Haydel (1764-1812) probably built a modest house on the site about 1790. It was expanded to near present dimensions in 1803. Jean-François Marcelin Haydel (1788-1839) remodeled it in the 1830s, employing Dominique Canova to paint trompe l'oeil decorations. Whitney is located near Vacherie, St. John the Baptist Parish.

 

The Cottage, Interior with Mantle
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The Cottage, Interior with Mantle
Robert W. Tebbs
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches
Louisiana State Museum, 1956.087.220b

The Cottage is located in St. Francisville, West Feliciana Parish. The basic structure was built by John and Patrick Allen about 1795. Judge Thomas Butler (1785-1847) enlarged the main house over the course of three building campaigns. A Campeche chair is seen on the right.

 

Oakley Plantation, Rear Elevation - Robert William Tebbs
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Oakley Plantation, Rear Elevation
Robert W. Tebbs
1926
Gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches
Louisiana State Museum, 1956.087.038

Ruffin Gray (ca.1765-1799) probably built the first house at Oakley. The present appearance dates to about 1815, built by Lucretia (née Alston; 1772-1833), better known as Lucy, and her second husband James Pirrie (1769-1824). John James Audubon taught painting, music, dancing, and French to their daughter Eliza (1805-1851) at Oakley in 1821.

 

Belle Chasse - Robert William Tebbs
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Belle Chasse
Robert W. Tebbs
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches
Louisiana State Museum, 1956.087.042

Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884) purchased 300 acres in Plaquemines Parish in 1844. He demolished a modest house that had been built about 1810 and constructed an impressive Greek Revival mansion. Belle Chasse was razed in 1960.

 

Shadows-on-the-Teche Plantation - Robert William Tebbs
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Shadows-on-the-Teche Plantation
Robert W. Tebbs
1926
Vintage gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches
Louisiana State Museum, 1956.087.042

Mason Jeremiah Clark and carpenter James Bedell built "The Shadows" between 1831 and 1834 for David Weeks (1786 -1834) and his wife, Mary Clara (née Conrad; 1796 -1863). Following the work of Weeks Hall (1894 - 1958), Shadows-on-the-Teche has been preserved by the Shadows National Historic Trust as a "house and garden museum of its period."

 

Robert W. Tebbs in U.S. Marine Uniform
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Robert W. Tebbs in U.S. Marine Uniform
Robert W. Tebbs
Unidentified photographer
c. 1900
Albumen print
Co