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Charles Franklin Moss, Sr. 

artist, photographer

aCentury
ofChange 

the 20th Century

 

The following article was made possible by Sheila Green-Stevenson, who sent material on this interesting pioneering African American artist in Cumberland and Dauphin Counties.  Charles Franklin Moss, Sr. was Ms. Stevenson's grandfather, and she is immensely proud of his accomplishments and his legacy.  Cumberland County recognized this remarkable figure in its publication 250 Years of the Arts, its arts and cultural directory issued in 2000 for the 250th anniversary of the county.

1845 cyanotype of Katie Miller and Mary Johnson on the Miller Plantation.  Click for a close up image of the children.Two children and an adult pose for an unknown photographer in the old fuzzy image at left.  It's bluish tine defines it as a cyanotype, from an image-making technique popular with amateur photographers in the middle of the nineteenth century.  This image, from the Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia, was taken on the Miller Plantation in Winchester in 1845.  Although the adult is not identified, the two children are:  Katie Miller is on the left, and Mary Johnson is on the right.  Katie Miller is a daughter of the wealthy Miller family, who have just received a gift in the form of five-year-old slave Mary Johnson, as a Christmas present--possibly the occasion for this picture.1

Mary E. Johnson was born in Clarke County, Virginia on or about November 12, 1839.  After the tumult of the Civil War she married widower Thomas W. Moss, a veteran of the 35th USCT, a Union regiment organized in the summer of 1863 as the First North Carolina Colored Volunteers.  The unit was mostly composed of men who had been slaves in North Carolina and Virginia.2

 The Moss family lived in Winchester, and on March 7, 1878, she gave birth to their second child, Charles Franklin.  The young man must have shown an aptitude for art, because he held apprenticeships in Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, according to the Cumberland County 2000 Arts and Cultural Directory.  "After this he studied at the Cooper Union School of Fine Arts, NYC and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts,"3 where, according to family lore, he met and studied with fellow student Henry Ossawa Tanner. 

Locally, Charles Franklin Moss came to Harrisburg, probably sometime after 1907.  He brought his growing family, consisting of his wife Sarah Virginia Townson, whom he married in Winchester about 1898, and five children, to Central Pennsylvania, settling first in the capital city. Having an interest in photography, he opened a studio on Market Street in the city, where he practiced his trade for a short while.  A daughter, Ruth Moss-Green, states that a number of white photographers in Harrisburg learned the trade from Moss.  It is not known how long Charles F. Moss kept his business in Harrisburg, but at some point he moved his family to Carlisle, in Cumberland County.4, 5

Painting by C.F. Moss, Sr., dated 1933.  Click for a larger image.Moss continued to practice his photography trade in Carlisle, eventually establishing a studio on North Pitt Street.  In 1914 he became the first African American member of the National Association of Professional Photographers.  A surviving photograph that Moss took of the Shiloh Baptist Sabbath School in Carlisle is dated 1919, showing that Moss kept his business in that place at least through that year.  His youngest child, Helena, was born in 1920 in Carlisle.  Of twelve children born to Charles and Sarah Moss, seven would be born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, between the years 1911 and 1920.6

Carlisle historian Ruth Hodge, who is actively researching Charles Franklin Moss, Sr., notes that Moss moved to Pittsburgh sometime in the 1920's.  He eventually returned to his roots in Winchester, where he died in 1961.7

The painting shown at right, above, is owned by descendants of Charles F. Moss, Sr., and was photographed by Sheila Green-Stevenson for this article.  It is signed at the bottom edge, where the road meets the edge of the canvas:  "Chas. F. Moss, Sr./ 1933."  Click the thumbnail image for a larger image.

Sources: 

  1. Correspondence, Sheila Green-Stevenson to Afrolumens, October 13, 17, 19, 2003.
  2. "First North Carolina Colored Infantry," Internet site, accessed December 12, 2003. http://extlab1.entnem.ufl.edu/olustee/35th_USCI.html; "Our Virginia, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey Genealogies," Internet site, accessed December 14, 2003.  http://worldconnect.genealogy.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=fox2&id=I31955
  3. 250 Years of the Arts: Arts and Cultural Directory for Cumberland County, 2000, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania 250th Anniversary publication.  Carlisle, Pennsylvania, pages 9-10.  A photograph of Charles Franklin Moss, Sr. as a young man is included on page 9 of this publication.
  4. "Our Virginia, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey Genealogies"
  5. The statement by Ruth Moss-Green is from an interview conducted by Sheila Green-Stevenson recently, and is contained in a letter from Sheila Green-Stevenson to Afrolumens Project, September 25, 2003.
  6. 250 Years of the Arts: Arts and Cultural Directory for Cumberland County, p. 10; "Woman tells lensman's story," Elizabeth Gibson, Carlisle Patriot-News edition of the Harrisburg Sunday Patriot-News, December 2, 2001, p. AA1, AA3.  This newspaper article includes the photograph of the Shiloh Baptist Sabbath School, taken by Moss in 1919.
  7. "Woman tells lensman's story;" "Our Virginia, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey Genealogies."

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This page was updated August 28, 2005.