How one Opelousas man helped advance photography – Opelousas Daily World

How one Opelousas man helped advance photography – Opelousas Daily World

May 17, 2019 Off By readly

Today most of us take for granted the ability to capture our daily life in picture or video by just using our cell phones. But years ago, that was not so simple. Ever wonder about the history of photography?

Being an enthusiastic photo collector, I was curious about its history. What I discovered is although experimentation with the procedure was started as early as 1800,  the first photographic process was advanced around 1824 by Nicéphore Niépce of France. In 1829 he involved  Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre to help with his research. After Niépce died in 1833, Daguerre on his own invented the first process that included a development stage known as the daguerreotype. Over the following years many others were involved in the evolution of photography. And one of our own Opelousas citizens played a role in that evolution. His name was Professor Rudolph (sometimes Rudolf) Adelbert Sebastian Mayer. Let’s talk about that.

Born in Bavaria, Germany in 1834 Rudolph A. Mayer did not excel in just one field but was successful in many. He was described as an artistic genius involved in music, science, education, photography, chemistry, inventions and more.

The son of Karl Mayer and Louise Biehl, he was born into a musical family. His father was the leader of the Royal Bavarian Orchestra under King Ludcwig I, and Rudolph’s two older brothers, Charles and Louis, were French opera musicians and orchestra leaders performing in venues all over the world.

Rudolph displayed his artistic talents at an early age. As a child he learned the piano and violin, and later the violoncello; at the age of 12 he entered the Conservatory of Music at Munich, Bavaria; at the age of 15, he secured a position as solo violoncellist at the Opera in Ratisbon, and a professorship at the Theological College.

The professor migrated to Louisiana in 1856, accepting the position of solo violoncello at the French Opera House in New Orleans. He spent his summers in St. Mary Parish where he met and married Mary Dunnon O’Rourke (1835-1928), who came from Ireland to Louisiana with her father in about 1847.

It was during this period that Mayer furthered his studies in photographic chemistry, under the direction of Dr. Maximilian Ferdinand Bonzano of New Orleans, and later Baron Von Liebig. He perfected himself in the young art of photography, and while pursuing the ultimate art of taking pictures in their natural colors, discovered a process of making water coloring indestructible; he later got a patent for this process under the name Mayerotype. The Mayerotype process gave portraits the coloring of life. Using this process was permanent. Neither exposure to light, heat, color, or moisture, had any effect on the picture at all. 

In 1861, Professor Mayer was called to Europe to the bed of his dying mother, who passed away soon after his arrival. Following her death, he remained in Munich, opening an art studio. Later he opened one in Vienna where he further developed his Mayerotype process. His business took him to all the art centers in Europe.

While in Vienna, the professor partnered with an Austrian officer and the two developed the perfection of a breech-loading rifle. When all of their efforts did not produced the intended outcomes, Professor Mayer moved to London where he accepted the position of General manager of Henry Herring Photo Publishing House, and later Reynolds of Regent Street.

Two years later, Mayer became Manager of the Fine Art Department of Marcus Ward & Co. of Belfast, Ireland, and later with James McGill Co. In 1868 he opened his own photo and fine arts studio known as Rudolph (Rudolf) Mayer & Co. in Castle Place, Belfast, Ireland. At that studio he worked with a corps of talented artists who painted the photos, turning out his Mayerotypes in large numbers.

Suffering from asthma, Mayer realized he had to be in a warmer climate. In 1870, he traveled to  St. Mary Parish for a visit. When his health improved during that same year, he returned to Belfast to close his business and settle his affairs. He moved back to Louisiana, where he worked as a traveling photographer. In 1872 he settled in Opelousas, opening his photography business on June 1st of that year in the Old Bank building on Landry Street, right across from the St. Landry Parish Courthouse. Since music was his first love, he also advertised that he taught piano and violin at that location.

His business moved around Opelousas for a number of years, eventually opening his new gallery on Main Street in 1877, right next door to the Varieties Hall, making it easier for him to work in photography, and at the same time teach music next door. During this time his wife Mary operated a school at their home on the corner of Union and Main streets. Later their new home was built on East Bellevue Street, where the professor lived out the remainder of his life.

Professor Mayer was a man with great energy. Even as he operated his business and taught music, he also worked to improve his photography. When he was in Belfast, he developed what he called the “Oleo Photograph.” Advertisements in the local papers show that he continuously offered new products including something he called the “Enamel Photograph” (1871), the “Floral Photograph” (1878) and the “instantaneous process,” (1893). He also had an invention called the “Email Photograph” that he introduced to the public in 1877.  (Could he possibly see into the future?)

There is so much more to the Professor’s story. Besides his interest in photography, he was an accomplished musician. Known as the Opelousas Music Man, he taught music and directed most of the town entertainment during his lifetime. In 1896 he opened the St. Landry Academy of Music, operating it until his death in 1903. And like that wasn’t enough, he also found time to work on other inventions including something called the “Gay & Mayer’s Cotton Scraper and Sweep Attachment,” patented on September 19, 1879.  Besides that patent and the one for the Mayerotype, he also filed patents for other inventions including the Geography Device, the Breech-loading rifle, the Oleo-photography, and the Cane Harvesting Machine.

Professor Mayor played an important role in early photography development, in music and in Opelousas history.  He died on November 30, 1903, leaving behind a large group of descendants, and a legacy that will be long remembered. More on his accomplished life will be discussed in future articles.  
Let’s talk Opelousas again!

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