Self portrait of Richard A. Twine, circa 1922.
“Arms in front of you. Relax. Pose for the camera. Smile!” These are the kinds of directions customers might have heard walking into Richard Aloysius Twine’s photography studio just before having their pictures taken.
Richard A. Twine was born in St. Augustine on May 11, 1896. He was the youngest of eight children born to mother Harriet Twine and father David Twine By 1922, Twine was living with his mother, two sisters, and one brother on 107 Kings Ferry Way in Lincolnville, St. Augustine’s oldest historically Black community.
Richard Twine was only one of two photographers living and operating in Lincolnville at the time, and it is thought that Twine may have learned his photography skills out of state, in New York. By the 1920s, Twine had returned home to capture vibrant memories of the Lincolnville community.
Mildred Parsons Mason Larkins, photographed by Twine, in his studio, circa 1922. Mason Larkins worked as a second-grade teacher at Excelsior School, St. Johns County’s first Black high school. She had three sons with her first husband, Robert Mason, who owned a watch shop, shoe repair shop, and realty company in town. After Robert Mason left Mildred and their sons to pursue his love for music in New York, Mildred remarried Frank Larkins, a fellow teacher at Excelsior.
Richard’s niece, Harriet Twine, and her friend, Dorothy Harold Thornton, photographed by Richard Twine circa 1922. The girls are dressed in crepe paper costumes, made for their parts in a school play. They are about six and fives years old in this photo, respectively.
Under segregation, Linconville thrived on the small businesses run by its residents, from jewelry shops to grocery stores to the area’s many churches. Twine’s own photography studio on 62 Washington Street was a popular destination for young people, couples, and churchgoers already dressed in their Sunday best. Venturing beyond his small studio, Twine also captured shots of Linconville’s dances, events, weddings, funerals, and parades.
*Annual Emancipation Day Parade on St. Augustine’s Marine Street. Photographed by Twine circa 1922. *
Though Twine’s expansive photography of Lincolnville’s residents suggest his popularity, he left St. Augustine in 1927, packing up to help his brother run a restaurant in Miami. Later, Richard would open his own small hotel and, at least as far as we know, never picked up his camera again. He passed away in Miami on September 27, 1974.
In 1988, Twine’s former photography studio was undergoing demolition after sustaining damage in a fire when workers found over a hundred glass plate negatives in the house’s attic, all of them photographs Twine had taken of the Lincolnville community during the 1920s. These plates were acquired by Ken Barrett, Jr., photography curator of the St. Augustine Historical Society at the time, at which the photos were housed.
Fast forward to spring 2021 where Richard Twine is remembered once again. At this time, Dr. James Beasley, English professor at the University of North Florida, led a Rhetoric in the Digital Humanities class that scoured the Florida Memory Project and St. Augustine Historical Society website (where Twine’s photos are uploaded) to expand upon the scarce metadata relating to the photos. Referencing St. Augustine’s city directories, Beasley’s students compiled an Omeka site for their selected photographs, in conjunction with Chad Germany of the St. Augustine’s Historical Society. They presented their findings, alongside blown-up posters of the photos, at a presentation attended by UNF faculty, Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center executive director Gaye Phillips and surviving relatives of the Lincolnville residents captured by Twine. The posters were eventually donated by Beasley to the Lincolnville Museum to help build the Lincolnville Lifeways Exhibit.
Beasley and the Lincolnville Museum continue to work closely together. In the 2020 school year, Beasley’s students picked physical items housed at the museum and searched city directories to find the owners of those objects, creating an Omeka site and 1920 map of Lincolnville showcasing the objects by the end of the class. This spring 2021 semester, Beasley’s class is helping the Lincolnville Museum research Black soldiers of the Civil War, as many pensioner’s records are housed at UNF. The Museum has teamed up with local organizations to continue building upon and educating others on Linconville’s historical Black experiences.
Related reading: St. Augustine’s Lincolnville Historic District
Article by Sarah Dumitrascu.