Photographer Volkmar Kurt Wentzel (February 8, 1915-May 10, 2006) was born in Dresden, Germany. After emigrating with his family to Binghamton, New York, at age 11, he later moved to Washington on his own. He completed high school there and in Aurora, Preston County. Wentzel enlisted in the Air Force in 1941 and graduated from officer training school at Yale University.
As a teenager in West Virginia, Wentzel took up with an eclectic group of Washingtonians who had retreated to Youghiogheny Forest, a Preston County artists colony where they occupied several log cabins. While working as a helper at the colony, Wentzel established a darkroom in a pump house and began taking photographs of local scenery for postcards. Eleanor Roosevelt acquired some of his postcards on her travels through the area.
Wentzel was a writer and photographer for National Geographic (1937–85), and one of the magazine’s most-traveled senior staffers. His articles and photographs ranged from pre-war Sweden to the wedding of African tribal royalty. He took the first photographs of little-known Nepal. One of his first major assignments was to illustrate an August 1940 article, ‘‘West Virginia, Treasure Chest of Industry.’’ In March 1957, National Geographic published his second West Virginia article, ‘‘History Awakens at Harpers Ferry,’’ illustrated by Wentzel’s haunting photographs.
Wentzel’s publication credits include his book of photographs, Washington by Night. He won numerous awards and was decorated by Austria and knighted by Portugal, exhibited photographs in several countries, and was honored at the White House. Wentzel owned a home in Preston County and in Washington, D.C., where he died.
This Article was written by Jeanne Mozier
Last Revised on December 12, 2012