- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) - For about 50 years, the late Paducah photographer James Curtis captured precious moments for thousands of individuals and families across western Kentucky.

Now the Methodist church that inherited his studio is trying to find homes for about 500,000 photographs he left behind.

The Paducah Sun reports (https://bit.ly/21XHUi2) the McCracken County Public Library has pulled hundreds of photos for its local and family history department. These are mostly photos of building and events. But there are thousands more photos including senior portraits, wedding photos and baby pictures.

Curtis would snap tens, even hundreds of frames for each occasion. Customers would take their favorites. The rest, Curtis meticulously filed away in his studio.

Broadway United Methodist Church invited the public to come look through them on Friday.

The stash includes oil paintings made from Curtis’ photos by the grandmother of Stacey Blankenship. Looking through the photos and canvases on Friday for signs of her grandmother’s work, Blankenship suddenly shouted, “Oh my God, that’s me!”

She had found a teenage portrait of herself, painted by her grandmother, that had hung in the studio for years but that she had lost track of.

“That’s my senior portrait,” Blankenship said. “Twenty-nine years ago is when she painted that. I certainly knew I’d see portraits she had done, but I wasn’t expecting to find this. Since we lost her last year, it’s been hard, because I was really close to her.”

Other exciting finds included June Poyner’s discovery found a large portrait of her granddaughter, now 24, as a baby. Teresa Followell found several envelopes filled with photos of friends and family. Vicki Hunkler, who said she’s working on a history of the Country Club of Paducah, found plenty of material. And Shirley Moore-Menendez found a large portrait of her nephews.

Nathan Lynn is one of the special collections librarians who has been working to digitize Curtis’s historically significant photos.

Watching people find treasures in Curtis’s collection on Friday, he said, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the community and the library. This man took pictures in Paducah for 50 years, and he kept copies.”

Lynn said he’s thankful the church saw the importance of the photos.

“The wedding pictures in here alone are a story of the progression of interior design in our churches. And fashion. And dancing. Oh, man,” Lynn said. “The ‘80s senior pictures alone are amazing.”

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