Tribal Member Captured On ‘Wet Plate’ by North Dakota Artist

Tribal Member Captured On ‘Wet Plate’ by North Dakota Artist

By Puyallup Tribal News Staff

Chief Leschi High School senior and Puyallup Tribal Member Kenya Scabbyrobe had a unique opportunity to travel to Bismarck, N.D., with her family to take part in a photography session using natural light wet plate photography. This process dates back over 200 years. 

Once arriving in Bismarck, the Scabbyrobe family met with ambrotypist Shane Balkowitsch. He is among a small number of individuals who use wet plate collodion, which was the predominant form of creating photography throughout Europe and North America dating back to the 1800s. The process involves exposing an image onto glass or metal when the chemicals are still wet.

“My goal is to capture 1,000 Native Americans in the historic wet plate collodion process of pure silver on glass,” Balkowitsch said. “I am 482 image in, and it has taken me seven years to get to this point. It is going to be a 20-year journey.”

He added that Scabbyrobe was the first Puyallup who participated in the project.

“It was a historic and special moment,” he said, adding that he also captured images of Scabbyrobe’s parents.

Scabbyrobe describes her session with Balkowitsch as a really fun time. “It was something very cool to experience,” she said.

She shared that she had to sit perfectly still without even blinking at times.

A couple of historical societies have already acquired the plates. Black glass ambrotype of Kenya Marie Scabbyrobe “Bird Woman” Puyallup/Blackfeet, on 8×10” taken on 4-2-2021 (#3863) wet plate along with a bio about her, will be held locally at the Washington State Historical Society, Washington State History Research Center, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Her photo will also be at the North Dakota National Historical Society Museum.

“For me, it is all about capturing history and paying respect to the people that came before us,” said Balkowitsch.

Scabbyrobe’s mother, Kathy Scabbyrobe, explained that her daughter is always staying busy with basketball, powwows, sewing, and traveling to attend their Washat ways. 

“We are very proud of her,” she said.  

Photos courtesy of the Scabbyrobe family and Shane Balkowitsch