Santa pictures not picked up: Photographs from the Oregon Historical Society

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On view: November 6, 2015 – January 2, 2016
See below for related events.

While examining negatives donated to the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) in 2001, archivist Matthew Cowan came across a box with ‘Santa pictures not picked up’ scrawled across the top. Intrigued by the description, he began reviewing its contents and found hundreds of pictures of a familiar holiday tradition: children posed on Santa’s lap. These orphaned images were taken in the 1950s and 60s by Earnest Walter Rollins, a photographer from Coquille, OR who would often be hired for portraits and community events. Over the holidays Rollins would photograph the children with Santa while his son would collect their parents’ contact information to notify them when the photographs were ready for pick up. These images, one box of many that made their way to OHS, are the remnants – photographs and negatives that were never claimed.

The trove of images ranges from ones displaying the commonplace pose of smiling children to idiosyncratic moments tinged with humor and foolhardy – a middle-aged man seated on Santa’s lap, smoking a cigarette; Santa flanked by two young women; and a lone Santa sitting authoritatively on his throne, smiling confidently to the camera. The moments captured by Rollins are timeless while also very much of-their-time, revealing a particular period in a small Oregon town and its community. This playful collection at once celebrates the awkwardness of the experience that is the territory of adulthood, and the joyous innocence inherent to this childhood ritual.


This exhibition was co-organized by Yaelle Amir, Curator at Newspace Center for Photography and Matthew Cowan, Photography and Moving Image Archivist at the Oregon Historical Society.


Optical prints from original vintage negatives generously provided by Blue Moon Camera and Machine.


Awkward Santa pictures from the ’50s, ’60s on display in Portland, Oregon,CBC News. 24 December, 2015.

Denhoed, Andrea. “Photo Booth: Santa pictures not picked up,” The New Yorker. 21 December, 2015.

Strieder, John. State of Wonder, Oregon Public Broadcasting. 12 December, 2015.

Hicks, Bob. “ArtsWatch Weekly: Sitka to Santa to Warhol, season’s meetings,” Oregon ArtsWatch. 4 November, 2015.


All events are free, open to the public, and take place at Newspace (1632 SE 10th Ave).
Additional event information is available on Newspace’s website.

Opening Reception & Poetry event: Friday, November 6, 6:00– 9:00pm.

Screening: Visual Studies: 16mm Orphan Film from Oregon’s Classrooms: Saturday, November 14, 7:00-9:00pm.
Organized by Matt Cowan, Oregon Historical Society.

Holiday Party with artist Chris Willis’ Santa Clones installation of vintage holiday decorations: Friday, December 4, 6:00 – 9:00pm.


Youth: Cyanotype Holiday Cards: November 22. Instructor: Morgan Konn.

Digital Family History: December 2 & December 9. Instructor: Pete Gomena.


BEN HUFF: The Last Road North



Newspace Center for Photography is located at 1632 10th Ave, Portland, OR.

Gallery hours: Monday – Thursday 10:00am-9:30pm; Friday – Sunday 10:00am-6:00pm.


Generous support provided by:

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