More than any other president before him, John F. Kennedy understood the power of a photograph. Ironically, the picture that most people remember of him involves his death 27 years ago Thursday.
Yesterday, however, those attending a reception for "The Max G. Lowenherz Collection of Kennedy Photographs" at the Peabody Institute got to see another side of the country's youngest president and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy.
Taken in May 1954, the 38 photos -- most of which had never been exhibited or published -- chronicle a week in the life of the newly married Kennedys. JFK, then a senator, dabbles in oil paints in the backyard garden. A white-gloved Jackie walks the family poodle. The two stand in front of the U.S. Capitol.
"It brings back so many happy memories," said Ethel Kennedy, widow of Sen. Robert Kennedy, who attended with her daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. "They were exciting times. It's nice to think that the public can enjoy them."
For Ms. Townsend, who appears in several photographs with her parents, the exhibit rekindled fond childhood days. "The photos show a great joy of life," said Ms. Townsend, 39, who lives in Towson with her family. "It reminded me of a more hopeful, peaceful time."
Nearly 130 people -- including members of the Kennedy family, Peabody faculty and local politicians -- turned out for the afternoon gala, which will benefit minority students. Mrs. Kennedy, Ms. Townsend and Eunice Kennedy Shriver are honorary patrons of the exhibit, scheduled to be on display in the Galleria Piccola through Jan. 18. (Mrs. Shriver was unable to attend due to a Special Olympics commitment, according to Anne Garside, public relations director for Peabody.)
Also attending was Mr. Lowenherz, the former owner of the Three Lions Picture Agency in New York, who donated the collection of 600 negatives to the school last year.
"I'm very happy I was able to do this in my lifetime," said Mr. Lowenherz, 82. He said he donated the photos because he was impressed by the school's reputation and had friends who taught there.
Robert O. Pierce, director of the Peabody Institute, was "delighted" that the school had received this gift. "There's a great poignancy about the collection," he said. "They looked so young and full of life and spirit. One looks back with the knowledge we now have and it adds to the impact."
Many people, including Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg, were struck by a sense of nostalgia as they perused the photos. "When you look at them, it's hard to realize that so many years have gone by," he said. "[John and Jackie Kennedy] represented a unique blend of romance and politics. You don't see that very often anymore."
The institute planned the unveiling around the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination Nov. 22, 1963. "While the family celebrates his birth, the outside world really starts to remember him in November," Ms. Garside said. The opening also, incidentally, coincides with the anniversary of Robert Kennedy's birth tomorrow.
"It's a time when we all find our thoughts turning to him," Mrs. Kennedy said.
The exhibit is considered especially precious since it covers a period largely undocumented in JFK's life. The couple were living in their first married home in Georgetown, and after their wedding press interest began to wane.
But not for a photographer named Orlando Suero. During a staff meeting at Three Lions, he suggested the company do a photo essay on the life of the senator and his wife. It was an unusual request for the agency, which worked primarily in the calendar and greeting card business, and Mr. Lowenherz recalls being reluctant to grant it.
"Initially, I said, 'No, Senator Kennedy's been photographed too much. We couldn't sell it. . . . " recalls Mr. Lowenherz.
But when the photographer insisted, his boss relented.
Only a few newspapers picked up the photos, however, running them in their Sunday social pages. In 1965, a number were reproduced in a book-and-record set of JFK's speeches distributed by Columbia Records.
By the early 1970s, Mr. Lowenherz sold his agency but retained the Kennedy photos.
"By that time, I knew they were very valuable," he said.
Today, they are so valuable that the school already has talked to several publishers about developing a book from them.
It's a book that JFK collector Robert White would like to add to his collection of memorabilia. Seeing the exhibit yesterday satisfied a curiosity the 42-year-old Catonsville resident has had since first hearing about this collection more than a decade ago.
As one of the first guests to look at the photos, Mr. White needed few words to sum up his thoughts. "They're fantastic," he said.