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Nell Shipman

Browse Collection     Finding Aid

Shipman standing in a lake
Nell Shipman posing in a lake

Photos and other images documenting the career of silent film star/producer Nell Shipman, who made many of her motion pictures in Idaho in the 1920s.

The photographs in the Nell Shipman digital collection were, with a few exceptions, donated to Boise State University by Shipman’s eldest son, Barry, in 1988. They date mainly from the latter years of her filmmaking career (1920-1924), but there is a sprinkling of earlier and later images. Particularly well represented by stills are her films The Girl From God’s Country (1921) and The Grub-Stake (1923).  So too are her years at Priest Lake, Idaho, where she made several short films known collectively as The Little Dramas of the Big Places. No known copy of The Girl From God’s Country is known to survive, so the stills are all that are left to document that film.

Nell Shipman lost personal possessions more than once to fire, creditors, and other misfortunes, and photographs were among the losses, so the images at Boise State University do not document her entire life. Notably absent from the collection are photographs from her stage acting experience, Back to God’s Country, and many of the Vitagraph films in which she appeared. Photographs from some of these missing episodes of her life are located in other archives, and Professor Tom Trusky was able to use some of those to supplement the Boise State University collection when he edited Shipman’s autobiography, The Silent Screen & My Talking Heart (1987). Researchers interested in aspects of Nell Shipman’s life and career not documented in this digital collection may wish to consult the autobiography for leads on the locations of other images.

The Nell Shipman digital collection is part of a larger collection of her papers (MSS 81) in the Special Collections Department of Boise State University Albertsons Library. Most of them are not contemporary prints; instead, they are 8 x 10 prints made from copy negatives that Barry Shipman made in the 1980s for Boise State University. The images from the Shipman collection are supplemented by several photographs from scrapbooks compiled by Gertrude B. Hein, sister of Nell Shipman’s Priest Lake friend Belle Angstadt (MSS 258), and a lantern slide donated by Janet Davis (MSS 251).  Narrative and scholarly content related to this collection provided by Alan Virta, Special Collections.