Mid-Century Modern: The Taylor Family Collection

The #Pixburgh: A Photographic Experience exhibition opens on Dec. 17, 2016 at the Heinz History Center. Read all posts related to the project by searching the #pixburgh tag on our blog.

When you think of the History Center’s collection of family photographs you might picture sepia toned images of early 20th century immigrants. We certainly have many of those. But what about photos of everyday life from the mid-20th century? We have those, too, thanks to the Taylor family collection.

When Betty Abel married Robert Taylor in September 1938, he gave her a gift that would become a part of their lives for the next 62 years – a camera. Betty loved photography and quickly began documenting daily events.

Active in the community, Betty had ample opportunity to use her skills. A member of the First United Methodist Church on Centre Ave., she became their official photographer, shooting weddings and church events. As a working mom, Betty sold Avon products and became a district manager for 30 years. Many of her photos document Avon picnics, gatherings, and conventions.

Daily family life is one of the largest subject areas of the collection. Thousands of photos capture a typical Pittsburgh family from the 1950s through the 1970s. There are birthday parties, proms, kids playing with toys, and neighbors sharing a meal. There are also group shots of family and friends with well-known Pittsburgh backgrounds such as the Cathedral of Learning, Forbes Field, and the view from Mt. Washington.

The John Taylor family takes in the view from Mt. Washington, 1970s. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
The John Taylor family takes in the view from Mt. Washington, 1970s. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
A meeting of Avon representatives, 1958. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
A meeting of Avon representatives, 1958. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Sisters Barbara and Diane pose at the Highland Park reservoir, 1956. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.
Sisters Barbara and Diane pose at the Highland Park reservoir, 1956. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.
The neighborhood dinner club has a tiki party, 1967. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
The neighborhood dinner club has a tiki party, 1967. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Photography was hardly new or rare in the mid-20th century, but the necessity of buying film, often waiting weeks or months until an entire roll was shot, then taking it to be developed and waiting another week, meant photos were often reserved for special occasions. The sheer breadth of daily activities covered and the number of photos in the Taylor family collection (about 100 bankers boxes) give an unusually rich picture of middle class life in post-war Pittsburgh.

The History Center doesn’t only collect items that are centuries old. We’re interested in documenting the region right up to the present day. If you have more recent photos that capture daily life in Western Pennsylvania, we’d love to hear from you.

Diane Taylor holds a Pittsburgh Pirates pennant outside of Forbes Field during the World Series, 1960. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Diane Taylor holds a Pittsburgh Pirates pennant outside of Forbes Field during the World Series, 1960. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Cindy the family beagle joins the BBQ team, 1958. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Cindy the family beagle joins the BBQ team, 1958. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Betty Taylor in her natural habitat, taking a photo, 1970s. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Susie Gordon and Barbara Taylor dance while Diane Taylor watches from the couch, 1958. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.
Susie Gordon and Barbara Taylor dance while Diane Taylor watches from the couch, 1958. Taylor Family Collection, Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Lauren Uhl is the museum project manager & curator of food & fitness at the Heinz History Center.

Use the form below if you have old images, documents, or artifacts related to Pittsburgh’s past. We’d love to talk with you about adding unique content to our permanent collections. Please include a brief description along with your contact information and a History Center team member will be in contact with you.

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