Photographer Volkmar Wentzel was born in Germany on February 8, 1915. He and his family immigrated to New York State when he was 11. He eventually ended up in Preston County, West Virginia, where he attended high school.
As a teenager, he joined up with some Washingtonians who’d formed an artists’ colony in the forests of Preston County. While working at the artists’ colony, Wentzel built a darkroom in a pump house and began shooting local scenery for postcards.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt acquired some of his postcards when she traveled through the area to Arthurdale—the nation’s first resettlement community during the New Deal.
Wentzel was a writer and photographer for National Geographic from the 1930s until the 1980s. His articles and photographs ranged from pre-war Sweden to the wedding of African tribal royalty. He also took the first photographs of little-known Nepal. One of his first major assignments was to take photos for a 1940 article about West Virginia. In 1957, National Geographic published his second West Virginia article, featuring haunting, artistic images of Harpers Ferry.
Volkmar Wentzel died in Washington in 2006 at age 91.