South Coast Orchid Society

Kay Francis Photo Archive

Cattleya Portia coerulea and other "blues" in Kay's greenhouse, November, 1964.

Kay Francis (1907-1996) was well known in her time for a few innovative Cattleya hybrids, especially Blc. Mellow Vista and Lc. Prism Palette. However, only a few articles about her accomplishments were ever published, and few growers today know her name. In fact, her papers, photographs, and slides reveal a network of orchid growers, many unknown today, collaborating on various hybridization projects.

Thanks to the efforts of Kay's family, a collection of over 2,600 color slides and other photographic materials has been preserved and digitized, along with breeding records, correspondence, and other documentation and memorabilia. We present a gallery of these materials here, providing a visual record not only of Kay's hybrids, but also of the plants that she and her colleagues grew and loved, and which served as the basis for many modern hybrids. For many of these "old" hybrids and cultivars, no other photos are known.

The color slides, with dates ranging from 1957 through 1987, are generally of good quality. In particular, only a handful show serious fading or color distortions, and as they are here digitized with modern technology, the images are of much better quality than many of the award photos from that era that have found their way into the AOS awards database.

The slides were preserved in dozens of small Kodak boxes and other containers, but the boxes were mostly unlabeled, or had been reused, and almost all of them contained slides from many different rolls of film from a wide range of dates. Only about a third of the slides were labeled. After a careful inventory was prepared, the slides were next sorted by the year and month of processing, using all of the available processing information stamped on the slides. As a result, it has been possible to reconstitute the slide archive, roll by roll, and by comparing the labeled and unlabeled slides taken around the same time, it has been possible to assign labels to well over 80% of the images.

The slides thus provide a chronological record of Kay's hybrids and favorite plants. We have selected the photos with a view to documenting the named and unnamed cultivars from her crosses, as well as the full range of variability in the flowering of individual cultivars in her collection. In order to conserve resources, images which are near duplicates or of lesser quality have generally been omitted.

In addition to Kay's own plants, her greenhouse, her home and garden, and her family, there are also a few other slides of note. There are, for example, about a dozen AOS award slides, and even one ODC award slide. There are also a few slides of orchids grown by others, photographed at shows.

Some of the photos remain unidentified, presented separately. Work continues to match them with identified photographs.

The collection is here organized as a menu hierarchy leading to a series of photo galleries. In the gallery pages, click on any image to see the "full-sized image" (this feature is not yet fully implemented for orchids and other plants outside of the Cattleya alliance), configured to support screen sizes up to 2000 pixels wide, well beyond the natural resolution of the original slides. For consistency with Kay's personal records and contemporary publications, orchid names generally follow Sander rather than current taxonomy. The task of adding current nomenclature and other information gleaned from Kay's archive and other sources will continue for a long time!

Eventually, we plan to add information from the slide labels to the captions in the image galleries. This information has been captured in the slide collection inventory spreadsheet, but more work needs to be done in its interpretation and in deciphering some of Kay's scribbles. Where it is not possible to provide all of the label details on the gallery pages, or where there is additional information bearing on the identity of the subject, the information icon may appear at the end of the caption in the image gallery, and the complete details will be found when you click on the gallery image (or the icon) to display the full-sized image in a separate window.

Kay Francis Photo Gallery Menu