In Memory of Margaret Riggs Buckwalter, 1920 - 2014
Helped Save the Alice Austen House
Margaret (Peggy) Riggs Buckwalter, President, Friends of Alice Austen House, 1981–1986, and National President, American Society of Picture Professionals, 1976–1977, died on Jan. 5 in Northampton, MA. She was 93. She died of a long term heart condition.
Through the late 1970s and 80s, Ms. Buckwalter worked tirelessly with Oliver Jensen, Ann Novotny, and others to save the Staten Island home of Alice Austen, a pioneering woman photographer who compassionately recorded the polarities of society and working class life in turn-of-the-century New York City. Ms. Buckwalter, herself an amateur photographer of 1930s Americana, held positions from secretary-treasurer to newsletter editor, ultimately serving as the Friends of Alice Austen House, Inc.’s executive director from 1981 to 1986. During her tenure, she oversaw the restoration of the property through the acquisition of a million dollar grant from the New York City capital budget, and began the operation of Austen’s home as a museum through an agreement with the New York City Parks department. She also led a successful campaign to name a Staten Island ferry in honor of Alice Austen. To celebrate the restoration, Ms. Buckwalter published an Alice Austen Commemorative Journal (1986). The Alice Austen House is a National Historic Landmark and Historic Artist Home and Studio, hosting school programs, photography summer camps, and day trips year round.
Ms. Buckwalter was born in East Orange, NJ on November 7, 1920. She was the only daughter in a family of three and grew up on a homesteading farm in Flemington, NJ during the Great Depression. She attended Dennison College and Cornell University. In the 1970s, she briefly resided in Flemington at 190 Main Street. The town remained dear to her heart.
In 1945 at 25, Ms. Buckwalter began her professional career at Time, Inc., in New York City, in central printing. In 1953, she moved to a job in the art department at the new American Heritage publishing company, where she quickly became responsible for tracking artists and their artwork. In 1968, the company’s library created its first picture collection and, shortly thereafter, Ms. Buckwalter became general manager of the picture library, which used an innovative, research-friendly file system. Besides involvement in large projects like the American Heritage Dictionary, she was also the principal picture editor of books such as The Artist’s America and Makers of Modern Thought. After retiring from American Heritage in 1978, she continued freelance projects, for example, The Art of Food and 200 Years of Looking Ahead.
Ms. Buckwalter was the first two-year national president of the American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP) in 1976 and 1977. During her tenure she doubled the membership and created the first chapters outside of New York City—in Washington, D.C. and New England. Through seminars, tours of special collections and research sites, and a photo fair, Ms. Buckwalter created gatherings for professional development and industry networking that helped create an identity for the developing profession. Today ASPP is a thriving national organization with multiple chapters.
In retirement, Ms. Buckwalter pursued favorite projects, including the performance of her opera libretto about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom on the Road to Rights with music composed by David Braynard and performed by mezzo-soprano Cornelia Jones-Post and others at the Nuyorican Poets Café, New York City; authoring The American Bill of Rights and the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States with Selected Historic Illustrations and Notes, Riggs Press; and writing a chronicle of her school girl’s life in rural 1920s New Jersey, unpublished. Ms. Buckwalter was long time resident of Waterside Plaza in New York City, later moving to Laguna Woods, California, where she appeared on the Today Show as a member of the senior synchronized swim team of national repute, the Aquadettes.
Ms. Buckwalter is survived by her son Ken Buckwalter MacDonald of Ibiza, Spain; her niece, Melinda R. Buckwalter, Northampton, MA; and nephews John R. Buckwalter, Ringoes, NJ, and Alan R. Buckwalter III, Houston, TX. Donations can be sent in memory of Peggy Buckwalter to the Lathrop Home, 215 South Street, Northampton, MA 01060.
Photo Caption: Margaret Riggs Buckwalter at Alice Austen’s home Clear Comfort, Gala Celebration, Staten Island, NY, May 1984. Photo © Steven Borns