A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I visited the George Eastman Museum for the Dutch Connection display. I try to visit every February to admire and smell all of the beautiful tulips that fill the mansion. It’s always a nice break from the snow and a quiet sign to press on, for spring is around the corner.
In 1895 George Eastman went on a bike tour of Holland and was amazed by all of the fields of tulips he passed. He wrote his mother a letter and told her that once he had an estate established, he wanted to bring them back with him and plant them in the surrounding gardens. Indeed, from 1905-1932 (with the exception of 1918), he ordered thousands of bulbs from Holland every year and filled his home and gardens with them. In 1995, the George Eastman Museum discovered his letter to his mother and continued the tradition. If you visit now, you will be met by thousands of tulips, daffodils, amaryllis, hyacinths, a smattering of orchids (courtesy of the Genesee Region Orchid Society), and even a lush houseplant here and there. It’s a lovely scene, and for a rabid houseplant enthusiast such as myself, it brings inspiration for my own home. In fact, I found myself leaving with two hyacinths, which have since filled my apartment with their rich perfume and bright colors.
If you are unfamiliar with George Eastman, he was the one that made photography accessible to the general public by inventing the Kodak camera. Developed in 1888, it was the first camera designed to use roll film, which he patented in 1884. It came with a hundred-exposure roll of film and after taking the pictures, it could be sent in to the factory for $10 to have the film developed. It was revolutionary for the time. He went on to offer film stock in 1889 and then launched the brownie camera — geared towards children, but also popular with servicemen — in 1900. George Eastman was a successful businessman and very generous philanthropist, establishing the Eastman School of Music and school of dentistry and medicine at the University of Rochester and the Eastman Dental Hospital in London, contributing to RIT and MIT universities, making large donations to Tuskegee University and Hampton University — two HBCUs, and providing funds to many other programs. Sadly, in 1932, he shot himself after two years of debilitating lower back pain, perhaps due to degenerative disease, and left a note that read, “To my friends, my work is done — why wait?”
Today, the George Eastman Museum is the oldest photography museum in the world and there you can visit his mansion and gardens, check out the constantly changing exhibitions on photography and film, watch a film at the Dryden Theatre (one of only a few venues in the world that is equipped to exhibit nitrate film), visit by appointment the world leading film and photography literature library, and take hands-on workshops to learn more about historic and alternative photographic processes. And, of course, you can also check out all of the lovely flowers in the month of February and are encouraged to take photographs of them all to share with others.