“I think there’s a lot to learn from his having been a resident artist.…He lived and worked there,” said the photographer’s widow, Donna Van Der Zee. “He knew the people, knew the community, and they knew him.”
Van Der Zee was born in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1886. His parents—former household employees of President Ulysses S. Grant—encouraged creativity in their home. At age 14, Van Der Zee won a camera by selling the most perfumed sachets in a contest—but the camera had broken glass and didn’t work. He kept the instructions, saved up five dollars, and bought his own.