Diamond Years of Texas Photography
Before the Lens: Jno. Trlica's Photographs of Granger, Texas
people just use an old shoebox, while others use store-bought albums,
but no matter how we choose to save them, old photographs are sure
to provide precious memories of the past.
And we are indeed fortunate that there have always been individuals
who have dedicated their lives to recording our history through the
art of photography. Today, as in yesteryear, professional photographers
can be found in nearly every town – large or small. Many years ago,
had one of the best of these image-makers. His name was Henry Jacob
was born April 1, 1861, on a farm near Old
Meyersville in DeWitt
County. His mother and father came to Texas
in the 1840s. When he was 2 years old, his father was killed in the
Civil War. His mother remarried a man named Nau and young Braunig
was raised and went to school in Yorktown.
He was in school there for about seven years – according to Braunig,
that was all the education being offered at the time.
her book The Diamond Years of Texas Photography, Ava Crofford
includes an autobiography which was written by Braunig in 1937. In
it he gives a brief summary of his life claiming only to have written
it “so [his children] might know of some of the happenings of their
Dad’s earlier life.”
the age of 14, young Henry Braunig became restless and decided it
was time to leave the farm and seek a new life. “In 1875 I left home
on horseback to make my way in the world, Cuero,
Texas, was my destination,” he wrote. His first job was with Graves
Brothers Drygoods Co. – although he made good money at that job Braunig
was not happy with his living conditions and decided to move on.
He was working as a clerk in Cuero
when he met Pius Fey, the man who would become his future partner.
Fey was a traveling photographer who made his headquarters in Cuero.
Braunig was not in good health when he met Fey and the photographer
suggested that he accompany him, as his assistant, on his next trip
to the mountains in the spring of 1875. “My acceptance led to an almost
lifelong partnership, for it continued from 1878 to 1909 – 31 years
– and today we are as good friends as were ever called by that name,”
new partnership operated under the name of Fey & Braunig and together
the two men formed one of the most respected photography businesses
in Texas. Fey operated a studio in Cuero
while Braunig was located in Hallettsville.
In 1888 Braunig built a new home and married Mary A. Lindenberg. They
raised five children here and were together until her death in 1912.
After the passing of his “beloved Mary,” he continued to be quite
active in community affairs – serving as alderman for eight years
and as chief of the local fire department for nearly a quarter of
a century. One of his fondest memories was that of having been elected
as president of the State Fireman’s Association.
1895 the photography firm of Fey & Braunig designed and built this
building specifically for use as a photography studio. The studio
was on the second floor, with a stationery and bookstore downstairs.
Today the building is home to Hallettsville Florist and Gifts.
Photo by Murray Montgomery
1895 Fey and Braunig built a new two-story building designed especially
for use as a photography studio with the upper floor having large
windows and skylights to take advantage of natural light. The partners
operated a stationery and bookstore downstairs. By all accounts this
was the first building west of the Mississippi that was built purposely
for use as a photography studio. That unique building, standing on
the south side of the square, is still in use today and is home to
Hallettsville Florist and Gifts.
The affiliation of Fey and Braunig lasted for some 31 years and even
after they ended the partnership in 1909, the two men continued to
be the best of friends.
many, Henry Braunig was an outstanding photographer of his era. He
used an Emil Busch, 8x10 lens for all his portraits. That specific
lens was one of the best available at the time. In the years 1913
and 1914 he served as president of the Texas Professional Photographers
Association. He also trained others who would go on to become highly-respected
photographers, including Dr. John Matthias Kuehne, longtime Professor
of Physics at the University of Texas.
1940 Braunig planned to retire but with America on the brink of war,
many new military enlistees and their families began to come to him
for portraits. He put off retirement saying, “How could I retire now,
who would take these boy’s pictures?” Sadly, after putting off retirement
to serve others, Braunig’s studio was a victim of the 1940 flood and
many of his photographic plates, dating from the beginning of his
career, were destroyed.
Henry Jacob Braunig died in December 1945 at the age of 84 – he was
still working in the studio just days before his death. On Dec. 11,
1945, The Lavaca County Tribune included the following: “Not
even he knew how many newly married couples came to him in his long
career of 67 years as photographer to have their event eternalized.
To many of them, the wedding was not complete without a picture from
Some 13 years later, in January 1958, The Lavaca County Tribune
ran a small article about Braunig. It stated, “All of the negatives
that Mr. Henry J. Braunig had at the time of his death are being displayed
on a counter at the Hallettsville Hardware Company. If you find negatives
of favorite loved ones you may take it home free of any charge whatsoever
as a courtesy of Thomas Keith Hill who bought the equipment of Mr.
Braunig thinking he would continue the business.” The story indicated
that there were thousands of negatives on display.
Chances are that many families in this area have old pictures in their
possession with the name “Fey & Braunig” imprinted on them – if you
have one of these, take into account the love and dedication that
went into the creation of that image.
It was reported that as death was approaching and he was surrounded
by his children Braunig remarked, “If I had an opportunity to live
my life over, I would want it exactly as it was.”
Star Diary November
18, 2005 Column
Texas Art and Artists