New Exhibit: The Photographs of Luke Hoffman, University Student

Image of a young man airbrushing geometric patterns on a canvas. Text reads: The Photography of Luke Hoffman (University students being university students in the 1910s)
Two mail students are painting "1915" on a dome on top of a building.
Members of the class of 1915 painting their class year on the dome of the building now known as Tauy Jones Hall. The tradition of painting the dome began in 1892 and continued for 101 years.

During the 1910s, Luke Hoffman was an Ottawa University student pursuing a degree in science and a passion for photography. His photographs capture all aspects of university life between about 1913 and 1917. The Franklin County Historical Society’s new exhibit, The Photographs of Luke Hoffman, University Student, features 23 of Hoffman’s photos.

Born in Illinois, Hoffman was the youngest child of German immigrant parents. He moved to Ottawa to attend Ottawa University Academy (a high school program) and Ottawa University. Hoffman was a skilled airbrush artist and graphic designer, and he ultimately served as editor-in-chief for the Ottawan, Ottawa University’s annual yearbook. In 1914, American Photography magazine featured a photo printing machine he invented.

Thanks to companies like Kodak (inventor of the Brownie camera), cameras became affordable and accessible to everyday users in the early 1900s, and Hoffman was a member of OU’s Kodak photography club. Hoffman captured hundreds of lively and often funny images of student life—in the classroom, in residence halls and boarding rooms, at play, and around town. Some of his photos found their way to the pages of OU’s annual yearbook, but many

Two women wearing 1910s-era suits and hats stand by a sign that says "WARNING; Trespassing upon the tracks and Right of Way is positively forbidden.:" One woman holds a pitchfork.
Students standing at a railroad warning sign. Luke Hoffman and his friends often explored the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks between the 7th Street Bridge and Rock Creek.

survive only as lone prints—some less than two inches wide—in three photo albums donated to FCHS in 2010 by Hoffman’s daughter-in-law, Dorothea (Kepler) Hoffman, and granddaughter, Barbara (Hoffman) Stout. The albums had been tucked away in a trunk for decades.

Hoffman enlisted in the U.S. Army as an aviation photographer after graduating in 1917 and married OU student Ethel Chaffee while he was on leave in 1918. He was a professional photographer in Colorado for many years before moving to California. Ethel died in 1964. He later married Clara Moon. Luke Hoffman died in 1983.

The Photographs of Luke Hoffman, University Student, will be on display at the Old Depot Museum, 135 West Tecumseh Street, through August 2024.

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