A Texas Journey: The Centennial Photographs of Polly Smith
by Evelyn Barker

Dallas Historical Society, 2008. ISBN 978-0-980-05570-2.
Reviewed by Sallie Moffitt
Posted on 09/26/2008

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: History/Current Events

This coffee table classic, complete with compelling black-and-white photographs, tells the story of pioneering photographer Polly Smith's journey to capture photographs of Texas for the 1936 Texas Centennial Central Exposition. With a writing style that is practical, informative, and friendly, Evelyn Barker details the struggles and successes Polly Smith encountered to obtain the photographs for the Exposition.

When a committee was formed to promote the 1936 Texas Centennial Central Exposition, they wanted fresh photos, something that would attract people to the Lone Star state—and not the familiar pictures of men wrangling cattle. The exposition decided to hire Polly Smith, a 1925 graduate of Austin High School, fresh out of the Clarence H. White School of Photography in Manhattan.

With a Home Portrait Graflex camera hanging from her neck, Polly Smith traveled the dusty dirt roads of the Lone Star State, taking photographs of real Texans. It was dangerous for a young woman to travel alone, and she encountered many difficulties—even having her camera stolen. But she persevered.

On June 6, 1936, the Centennial Exposition opened with Smith's photographs displayed in the Texas Hall of State. Evelyn Barker writes, "Amidst the Hall's romantic and stirring imagery were Polly's peaceful black-and-white photos of children on a wagon, a farmer in the field, and even Polly herself walking through the pines".

After all these years, several of Polly Smith's photographs are still on display at Texas Hall of State in Fair Park, Dallas, Texas. Some have been enlarged and permanently mounted on the walls of the North and East Texas rooms. Her artful work has been published in the 1936 Texas Centennial brochure, American Airlines Flagship World, and Texas Parade, a monthly magazine endorsed by The Texas Highway Association. And now, thanks to Evelyn Barker's excellent research, her life story is documented, together with some of her most memorable photographs. This book is a timeless tribute to a remarkable pioneer.

Evelyn Barker is a librarian at the University of Texas at Arlington and the former curator of library and archive collections at the Dallas Historical Society. She has written about Polly Smith for Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, The New Handbook of Texas, and Texas Highways.

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