Does NOT occur on Sunday, Saturday
April 01, 2019 - April 30, 2019
  • Atrium of the Federal Courthouse
    1125 Chapline Street Wheeling, WV
  • 304-312-1787
  • Hours
  • Free. Photo ID required for entry.

George J. Kossuth was a self-made man of accomplishment. Born in 1886, the child of Hungarian immigrants, Kossuth’s family settled in Wheeling when he was an infant, and it was here that he lived until his death in 1960, his life interwoven with that of the community by photographing generations of his fellow residents and becoming a leading force in Wheeling institutions, such as WWVA, Blue Pencil Club, Wheeling Rotary Club, Wheeling Symphony Society, Wheeling’s Civic Music Association, Fort Henry Club, Twilight Club, Wheeling Little Theatre and Oglebay Institute.

Although his formal education ended with the 8th grade, his natural curiosity and abilities led to a mastery of the arts and humanities – photography, music, art, the written word, theater, gardening, restoration of photographs, paintings, antique automobiles and historic structures, and wood-working.

Of these, photography and music were his greatest passions. They would combine to produce an extraordinary body of work featuring music’s most notable figures – musicians, singers, composers and conductors – immortalized in photographic portraits.

These portraits are a sort of “diary” of Kossuth’s own influences, aspirations and personal passion that capture the inner personality and qualities of his subjects. His approach to photography and music were the same. “…a singer doesn’t need to know all there is to know about music to be a great singer – he needs to know more about life, and that’s the way with professional photography. I don’t think we need to know more about technique in photography, but we do need to know more about people.”

At the age of twelve, Kossuth was given a box camera, beginning a lifelong pursuit. After the eighth grade, he apprenticed with photographer Frank Griffin for ten years from 1899 to 1909, opened his own studio in 1909, and ultimately earned Craftsmen and Masters honors from the Professional Photographers Association of America.

Kossuth’s involvement in the Frazier Music Society and University Concert series gave him access to the world’s greatest musicians, singers, composers and conductors who visited Wheeling. His studio at 1219 Chapline Street was a haven for the music world. An Eastman Kodak representative observed:

“Mr. Kossuth’s establishment is almost as much a music studio as it is a studio of photography. He has a beautiful music room with grand piano and music racks in which one can find scores of all the operas and songs of practically the whole world – songs in French, German, Italian and English.

In the course of my visit, someone began to play the piano, and soon a wonderful voice was heard…I couldn’t understand why all activities in the studio didn’t cease, but business went on as usual. I was told it was not uncommon to have the most distinguished musicians drop in and practice or look for an unusual song. And in between sittings Mr. Kossuth chats with these kindred spirits, because he is one of them.”

In addition to his ardent support of musicians and bringing world class music to Wheeling, Kossuth had a fine baritone voice and enjoyed singing. He considered switching his efforts from photography to music, but was advised against it by friend David Bispham, the first American man to sing with the Metropolitan Opera Company: “Kossuth, the world has many famous and talented singers but very few really good photographers.”

Most fittingly, following his death in 1960 a concert was held in Kossuth’s memory. The following tribute appeared in the program: “He was an enthusiastic individual who contributed untiringly to every cultural movement in this community for nearly fifty years. His wealth of knowledge on many subjects was immeasurable…..Although a photographer and artist by profession, the seeds sown by him in other phases of life will cultivate and reflect in the life of the city for many years to come.” – Christin L. Byrum, Director of Museums, Oglebay Institute