Photographer Lusha Nelson shot Hollywood starlets for Vanity Fair and Vogue in the 1930s. After his death in 1938, thousands of his images — of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, and Marian Anderson — were forgotten and hidden away in private homes. Now, a new museum exhibit is showcasing Nelson’s lost Condé Nast archive, featuring photographs of famous actresses and singers as well as images that capture everyday American life in the 1930s, like a girl scooping custard ice cream. Nelson also shot lesser-known stars, including tennis player Helen Wills Moody and author Marya Mannes.
Curators at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, spent three years researching his photographs, which had been acquired from a woman whose family bought them from Nelson’s daughter’s estate, and found that Nelson was something of a prodigy: He first picked up a camera in the late 1920s when he was in his early 20s, and started photographing for Condé Nast spreads within four years. “He depicted such a wide range of cultural figures, and woman figures, in such a short amount of time,” said Dr. Sarah Lees, co-curator with Catherine Whitney. After the exhibit closes this May, they’ll spend the next several years investigating Nelson’s story and researching more photos.
Click ahead to preview the exhibit, titled “Lusha Nelson Photographs: Celebrity, the Forgotten Man, and 1930s America.”