The Archive

North Wind Picture Archives is a stock picture agency specializing in history. Our images portray world history from classical civilizations to about 1900, particularly the lives of ordinary people in times past. Images in our collection are selected for their story-telling power--pictures that move us.

Our collection includes many well-known portrayals of historic moments, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or the Treaty of Versailles in 1815. However, these great paintings have certain limitations, including a stiffness inherent in the posed, formal style. They are also often of important men only, leaving out most participants in history. North Wind's collection allows publishers and producers to portray less-recognized historical persons--not just the general but the soldier, not just the king but the farmer or shopkeeper, not just the president but the frontier mother trying to feed her family, not just the capitalist or the labor leader but the worker. Their names may be unknown to us, but their importance is undeniable.

The goal of illustrating history is to enhance the viewer's understanding of that event or time. Our illustrations express emotions that anyone can recognize--for instance, terror of citizens fleeing the Chicago Fire, or the grit of coal miners, or exhaustion of travelers crossing the Rockies, or hope among immigrants. Pride, bravery, suspicion, anger, racial hatred, joy, family support, grief, pomposity, compassion--these feelings bridge the centuries. We can understand the past by recognizing ourselves in historical situations.

North Wind's imagery is based on a variety of media, from woodcuts and lithographs to modern photographs and now footage of history subjects. We cover history, no matter what type of artwork is employed, whether paintings or hand-colored prints or animation or photos of historic sites.

Our collection

North Wind Picture Archives is based on a vast collection of antique prints, woodcuts, and engravings numbering at least a million images, purchased at book auctions or from antiquarian dealers. These antique originals are stored in our offices in Alfred, Maine. Efforts to digitize the entire collection are underway.

Some of our prime subjects are exploration, Native Americans and precolumbian peoples, European colonization of the New World, French Canada, events leading to the American Revolution, slavery, pioneers moving west, military history including the US Civil War, the growth of cities, industrialization, and social movements such as abolition of slavery and women's rights.

Our most extensive coverage is of North American events, portraits, and scenes. In addition, however, our archive includes ancient peoples across a geographical range from Mesopotamia to South America, as well as European social life, commerce, wars and revolutions, rulers and other leaders, science and inventions, authors, philosophers, reformers, and fashion. Antique maps and documents are also present in our collection. We have color portraits of all US Presidents from George Washington to Woodrow Wilson, as well as portraits of ancient prophets, Greek thinkers, medieval kings and queens, scientists, poets, revolutionaries, reformers, and characters from myth and legend.

North Wind's collection is renowned for our lively hand-colored woodcuts and engravings. What helps make North Wind unique is its addition of current photography of historic sites, reenactments, artifacts, wilderness, natural history, monuments, statues, and other heritage-related views. North Wind Picture Archives has now added footage, continuing with history as a specialty. History in motion at North Wind includes animation of our artwork as well as video clips of historical subjects such as steam trains and archaeological sites.

Our reputation for having some of the finest hand-colored pictures in the world is from our labor-intensive approach. We hand-color the old-fashioned way--using watercolor--on copies of the cuts so as not to alter the originals in our archive. Our newest technique is digital coloring, maintaining the traditional translucency of watercolor while enabling more saturated hues. We also combine media to create blends of art and photography, for instance, a woodcut of a prospector merged with a photograph of the exact site in California where gold was discovered. All our images are copyrighted by North Wind Picture Archives, and because of the time-consuming work and special expertise involved in creating our artwork, all our images are Rights Managed.

History moves us! Some of our hand-colored images are already available in QuickTime animation, and most can be animated upon request. In addition to animation, video footage is being added to the archive in the same subject areas our photographs have covered, such as vistas along the Santa Fe Trail, working prairie windmills, native animals in their habitats, and so forth. We expect a growth in demand for motion as e-books replace print, and we are working to fill the need for history subjects in motion.

High-resolution scans are imaged from the antique print so that the crisp line work is preserved, or from the hand-colored original when color is wanted. To ensure the highest quality, all our artwork is scanned directly on an Epson flatbed scanner, not from slides or copies. High-res files are 50 MB or higher, although a 30 MB file is supplied unless a larger file size is requested. There is no extra charge for large files.

Our company

North Wind Picture Archives was founded in 1986 by Nancy Carter, and is now part of a family-owned corporation called North Wind Productions. Nancy Carter has a B.A. in History and in English and previously was a college textbook editor for a Boston publisher before starting her own business.

North Wind takes pride in our informed image captions and the historical accuracy of colors used in imagery. We maintain source information on all our images. Equally important, in our view, is maintaining respect for all people and cultures throughout history, recognizing that every person has lived in a time that has required adaptation to change, just like our own times.


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