ORVAL HIXON (1884-1982)
Kansas City Artist/Photographer (1910-1930)
"These plates, old and now fragile, are paintings in themselves, ghostly images in negative possessing the haunting quality of music half-remembered". (John Tibbetts American Classic Screen Magazine - 1978))
All of these Hixon Vaudeville era images were captured in the heart of downtown KC during the time Kansas City was known as "The Paris Of The Plains". Orval Hixon's Studio was in the Brady building on the west side of Main Street between 11th and 12th. In 1920, the Brady building was torn down to make way for the Newman silent picture theater. The Hixon Studio continued at the opulent Baltimore Hotel at 11th and Baltimore Street (1920-1930).
"He knew them all. In those days, freewheeling vaudeville and legit roared through Kansas City as part of the fabulous Orpheum Circuit. The entertainers needed portraits.....Their future bookings could depend on the quality and excitement in those portraits....So the stars came to Orval Hixon." (John Tibbetts-American Classic Screen Magazine 1978)
"Recent studies of the celebrity photographer have virtually ignored the work of Orval Hixon. The studios wanted him out there but he refused.....Hixon by contrast stayed in the Midwest. The celebrities he photographed came to him in Kansas City - something of a tribute in itself. And unlike these other notables Hixon did not confine himself to celebrity portraiture. He lent to the faces of the street, so to speak, the same sensitivity and burnished touch that he lavished on the stage and screen greats like Theda Bara and Wallace Reed." (John Tibbetts-American Classic Screen Magazine - 1978)
"Orval Hixon's work, particularly the celebrity photographs of 1918 to 1930, reveal the fruits of this theatrical tradition in portraiture. He has shown me the glass negatives dating back to that time. They have been carefully worked over with the artist's brush and etching tool and pencil. The plate for him was only so much raw material with which he could work. These plates, old and now fragile, are paintings in themselves, ghostly images in negative possessing the haunting quality of music half-remembered. They demonstrate the elusive union of the artist's brush and the mechanical fidelity of the plate. All of which accounts for the unique mixture of dream and reality in Hixon's best work...." (John Tibbetts-American Classic Screen Magazine-Vol Two No 4-1978)
His large 11 by 14 glass negatives were personally hand sensitized and heavily retouched. He used the developed plate to create contact prints, bypassing the use of an enlarger. Orval Hixon was a Kansas City creative photographer whose talents far exceeded those displayed by his contemporaries. He used his skills and sensitivities to produce photographs which show a love for his art and a respect for his subjects. Orval attended the Kansas City Art Institute in the evenings. Several photo related jobs helped give him the photo studio basics.
After starting out on his own in 1914 on Main Street, his artistic style and great lighting set him apart from the other photographers. He later moved his studio one block west to the Baltimore Hotel which turned out to be a great location. His studio was on the ground floor with a lobby entrance near the Hotel's main dining room. His theatrical prints could be shown in display cases in the lobby and on Baltimore Street. For the next 10 years, he photographed 100's of theatrical and movie personalities as well as the masses that came to his gallery. (Main Street Studio Catalogue-james Enyeart-KU Museum Of Art Curator-1971) Orval Hixon was named an "Official Orpheum and Shubert Vaudeville Circuit Photographer".
"My last theatrical sitting was (Baby) Rose Marie in 1930. She was only five years old." (Orval Hixon-1978)
"His memories are not reveries lost in nostalgic haze, but rather accounts of expeditions with Valeska Surratt to find the right kind of wildflower for a sitting, a spaghetti dinner home cooked for him by Fanny Brice, a sitting with a young kid from Olathe, Kansas by the name of Buddy Rogers who wanted to go to Hollywood--and did. And so it went..." (John Tibbetts-1978)
"There were long hours. We'd have our session after their stage show then we'd go out for a few drinks and then I'd have to be up for hours in the darkroom" (Orval Hixon-Photographer)
Orval moved his studio to the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence Kansas in 1930. He continued his love affair with photography and passed away in 1982 at the age of 97 after almost eighty years in photography.