Art Museum displays successful engineer’s photos

Jamie Anderson

Jamie Anderson

Famed alumnus Stephen F. Briggs not only helped create the Briggs and Stratton engine but also made his mark as a photographer. In showcasing his lesser-known talent, Briggs has 24 photos on display at the South Dakota Art Museum until April 1.

“I think (Briggs) applied his curiosity for inventing and his hunger for information into photography,” said Lynn Verschoor, director of the SDAM. “He treated photography as a science.”

Briggs was a 1907 electrical engineering graduate of SDSU. While in college, he designed a gasoline engine as an upper-class project. It was a six-cylinder, two-cycle engine. After he graduated, Briggs was ready to produce the engine and enter the automobile industry.

Briggs, along with Harold Stratton, worked to produce the Briggs and Stratton small combustion engines and founded the Outboard Marine Corporation.

“I think it’s cool that someone who graduated from SDSU created something so important,” said Megan Symes, a senior athletic training major.

Briggs received an honorary engineering doctorate from SDSU in 1955 and was named a distinguished alumnus in 1961.

Retiring in 1948, Briggs turned his passion for science into photography. He took pictures of birds in their natural habitat. Some of his work has been featured on Disney shows and his photographs have been displayed in national exhibits.

Before his death in 1976, Briggs gave 46 photos to the SDAM, but only 24 are on display, said Dianne Hawks, marketing specialist at the SDAM.

“David Faflik (in the English department) picked the 24 photos and uses those images as a base for visual thinking strategies for one of his writing classes,” said Verschoor. “It is an exciting opportunity to work with the English and engineering departments.”

Briggs’s name is now well-known on the SDSU campus. The Stephen F. Briggs scholarship, the most prestigious academic scholarship at SDSU, was created for incoming freshmen that have strong academic achievements, extracurricular involvement and leadership skills.

The Briggs Library is named after Hilton M. Briggs, but Hawks said there is no relation between Hilton Briggs and Stephen Briggs.

Briggs’s photos include natural architecture, birds and people.

“He took pictures of ships in the 1940s,” said Hawks. “There were a lot of pictures of people and birds in their natural habitat also.”

Several people that have looked at the displayed photos favored those of people in their natural environments.

“I like the pictures of people the best,” said Symes. “He captured the people in their environments and showed different cultures.”

Verschoor also found the pictures with people to be the most captivating.

“He had a real sensibility to people,” she said. “You can only imagine what the two guys in the picture are saying.”

Briggs’ work is available for everyone to see. The SDAM is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. For more information call the SDAM at 605-688-4313.