by Sarah Brewer
Cameron University spring breakers had the history of Joplin, MO and the legacy of photographer Murwin Mosler at their fingertips when they alphabetized over 25,000 negatives excavated from the rubble of his daughter’s home after it was hit by the May 22nd tornado and were brought to the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC).
The project, one of many restoration assignments AmeriCorps designated for volunteers serving in Joplin, continued the work of preserving the city’s history. Volunteers worked to reunite the city’s residents with the photographs Mosler has shot of their family members.
The contents of Mosler’s work stretches from 1939 to 1986 and includes wedding portraits, yearbook pictures and community photographs that were published in “The Joplin Globe,” the city’s newspaper.
Mosler was a well-known Joplin resident, and his private collection is the subject of a pictorial history book Brad Belk, the JMC’s executive director, wrote.
According to Belk, the collection of negatives was recovered from Mosler’s studio and then added to the previously archived negatives and portraits at the JMC.
“Mosler’s studio was in the heart of the storm, and ironically, everything in his building and former studio was destroyed but two connected walls,” Belk said. “Volunteers rescued them, but some that were retrieved from the tornado zone may not be as well taken-care of because they were out in the elements for a day.”
Belk hopes to reunite photos with people who might have forgotten about them or were unaware of their existence entirely.
“We’re hoping to connect to people who have lost everything,” Belk said.
According to Belk, the tornado is a historic moment that residents and historians alike have explored and documented.
“People have shot pictures and footage with their phones and cameras. Five documentaries are being produced and two books are being written. There’s a lot of information out there,” Belk said.
CU students and spring breakers got a better glimpse of how a thriving mining community grew into the city of Joplin when they sifted through the negatives and later walked through the many exhibits on display at the JMC.
Kehinde Adedeji did not expect to organize a collection of photographs while in Joplin, but the 22-year-old sophomore Information Technology major later recognized the importance of his service at the JMC and wanted to continue to do more to assist the staff in their preservation efforts.
When a JMC staff member unearthed another negative of a wedding portrait of Jane Pitt, actor Brad Pitt’s mother. Adedeji was fascinated that Mosler’s work included so many Joplin residents and touched so many lives.
“It was amazing to know that she was from Joplin and it made me want to keep working,” Adedeji said.
Adedeji learned how the work of preservation begins not only with keeping photos, but also in acknowledging how photos are valued for the subjects they depict and allow their memories to live on.
“I know those pictures will bring memories when they are returned,” Adedeji said. “These pictures will live on.”