No man did more to create a pictorial record of Chautauqua County in the mid-20th century than John Oliver Bowman. Nothing escaped his lens: landscapes, architecture, scenic lake views, even life on local farms. Eighteen photographs taken by Bowman have been put on display in the conference room of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville. According to Michelle Henry, County Historian, "The County's Human Resources Department contacted me about artwork for the room. It is used by the public at least 26 Saturdays a year for civil service testing, and it is used daily by various county departments for meetings and training. I immediately thought of the Bowman photographs because they so beautifully depict Chautauqua County."
Bowman worked for Chautauqua County for 45 years, ending his career as Deputy County Clerk in 1964. As a hobby, he began taking photographs around Chautauqua County with a box camera purchased in 1936 for 75 cents and six coffee coupons.
Bowman won national awards for his photography. He had a solo exhibition of 126 pictures at the New York World's Fair in 1939 and his photographs were displayed by Eastman Kodak in New York City. Bowman's love of Chautauqua County's natural environment is evident in the more than 8,000 photographs that he took during his lifetime. Bowman's collection was donated to the Chautauqua County Historical Society in Westfield, NY, reflecting his 30 year association with that organization.
With the volunteer assistance of Niles Dening, a professional photographer from Silver Creek, the entire Bowman photograph collection is being digitized and transferred to archival storage boxes to ensure its long term preservation. The Society hopes to mount a digital display of Bowman's photographs on their website during the County's Bicentennial in 2011.
The photographs will be on display at the courthouse complex throughout the Bicentennial year.
For information about Bowman, his photographs, and Chautauqua County's History, you can visit the Chautauqua County Historical Society's McClurg Museum, Village Park, Westfield, N.Y., or call (716) 326-2977.