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Glasier Photographic Collection

Glasier Photographic Collection

Artist: Frederick Whitman Glasier (American, 1866 – 1950)

Date: 1895 - 1942, bulk 1900 - 1930
15 linear feet; approx. 4,150 items - including all formats: approximately 1450 8"x10" & 400 5"x7" glass plate negatives, 1800 copy prints, and approx. 500 polyester copy negatives
Object number: 1963.1
On View: Not on view
About this ObjectResearchers interested in the late 19th- and early 20th- century photography and popular culture will find the Glasier Photographic Collection an important resource for the American circus, Wild West shows, and Native Americans. Glasier's portrait style is typical of the commercial photography of the time: the personality and presence of the subject are presented directly to the viewer. With the use of the speeded-up lens, he was able also to take action shots that were unique. The Glasier Photographic Collection is an important record "of a way of life and of a photographic approach that no longer exists" [see Burke, p. 64]. The great appeal of Glasier's photographs also comes from the "strength and personality of the people he chose to photograph" [see Burke, p. 26].

Since Glasier did sell his photographs to make a living, many Glasier prints can be found in other collections. The Collection at the Ringling Museum of Art is important because of its size for the circus and Wild West shows. A number of glass plate negatives are known to be missing from the circus photographs; these were bought and later donated to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, by Robert Good, a circus collector, who had been interested in buying the Glasier Collection at one time. A collection of copyrighted Glasier prints can be found in the Prints and Photographic Division of the Library of Congress. Also Gerald Beale of Easton, MA, has a collection of lantern slides that Glasier used for his lectures. Mr. Beale is active in the Brocton Historical Society.

Glasier took most of the photographs between 1896 and the 1930's; he began to copyright his photographs in 1902. Glasier took publicity photographs for most of the major circuses (Barnum and Bailey, Adam Forepaugh, Sells Floto, Ringling Brothers [later Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey], and Sparks Circus). Because of his fascination with the West and Native Americans, he also took many photographs of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and the 101 Real Wild West Show. There are many shots taken of the Brockton Fair, in Massachusetts.

The Glasier Collection includes practically every aspect of circus operations. There are images of the circus owners and administrators, as well as ushers and ticket sellers. There are also shots of concession stands, cookhouses, wagons, the Midway, train cars, and the exterior and interior of the Big Top. The photographs of circus performers and animal trainers consist of many action shots of performances, as well as posed shots. In total, the circus photographs "document the golden age of the circus when its size, scope and social impact was unrivaled" [see Burke, p. 1].

The Wild West show photographs are similar to the circus photographs. Famous performers, owners (Gordon William "Pawnee Bill" Lillie, "Buffalo Bill" Cody, and the Miller family, for example), performances, and backyard scenes, can be found. The Native American images contain many posed shots (such as a portrait of Iron Tail, whose profile is on the buffalo nickel). The Native costumes are clearly identifiable, as well as personal names and tribal affiliations for many of the pictures. He also photographed many tribal customs.

Photographs from the collection have been used for a number of statewide circulating exhibits and exhibitions at The John and Mable Museum of Art, as well as for the backdrop for the Backyard at the Circus Galleries. They were also used in the Ringling Museum's exhibition, "A Day the Circus Came to Town," at the 1964 World's Fair. The Hallmark Gallery in New York City exhibited 100 prints from the Glasier Collection, "Circus Reminiscence", in 1966. PBS used some of the Glasier photographs for the show The American Experience - P. T. Barnum in 1990.

For more information, see full finding aid in the attached PDF.
With Frederick Whitman Glasier; with Emma C. Glasier upon Frederick's death, 1950; sold to Andy Palmer, 1956; sold to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Archives, 1963.

In 1953, three years after her husband's death, Emma C. Glasier offered the collection to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art; but the collection was not purchased by the Museum. Then the Glasier Collection included not only the glass plate negatives and prints, but also Indian memorabilia and woodcarvings of Wild West scenes. In 1956, Mrs. Glasier wrote to Henry Ringling North about the collection she still had for sale. While North was not interested in the collection, he suggested that the Ringling Museum might be and sent her letter and his reply to A. Everett Austin, Director of the Museum. Austin responded that the Museum was again not interested in buying the collection. Subsequently, Andy Palmer, a gun collector and historic tavern owner from Dearborn, Michigan, purchased the Glasier Collection. After owning the collection for five years, he contacted the Museum in 1961 to see whether they would like to buy the collection of glass plate negatives of the circus and Wild West shows. After negotiations over the purchase price, the collection was bought by the Museum in 1963.

The collection was transported by rail from Dearborn to Sarasota in wooden boxes; some of the glass plate negatives were broken or chipped in the move. The negatives were stored in the North basement of the Art Museum and during a flood in the early 1970's suffered water damage. Gay Ann Burke, who was then working on her thesis and was copying some of the negatives, salvaged many of the plates. The plates were later moved to the Circus Gallery and placed on the floor of the vault. In 1985/6, Michelle Scalera, Conservator for the Museum, requested that the crated negatives be placed on shelves and opened so they could "off-gas." The negatives were found to be jammed into the cases; many were found to be broken. Most were "sleeved" in a glassine-type paper or waxed paper. Some had obvious evidence of water damage [see note from M. Scalera].

After the Ringling Museum received a NHPRC grant to establish an archives, the glass plate negatives and prints were surveyed. The glass plate negatives are gelatin dry plates: plates coated with either bromide or chloride, combined with silver nitrate and a slightly acidic solution to produce silver bromide or silver chloride. Since the glass negatives were considered to be at the greatest risk, they were handled first. Each negative was cleaned on the non-emulsion side and supported, if needed. They were then placed in acid-free, four-flap envelopes. The condition of each glass plate was noted and recorded, as well as any identifying information found on the old glassine jackets. Negatives were then placed in file cabinets with supports at intervals of eight. Still needed are anodized aluminum file cabinets for the permanent housing of the glass plate negatives. Approximately 300 8"x10" plates were severely water damaged when stored in the North basement of the Art Museum; because of the extent of the damage, no work has been done on these negatives. The reference prints and negatives have been re-sleeved and identified; there is an index available in the Museum Archives for the collection. The reference prints were either produced by the Glasiers, or by Palmer. In the 1960s, Jerry Uelsmann printed a selection of images from the collection. The prints are available for researchers to use. Each print bears the correct glass plate number for cross-referencing.

In 1997, Museum received an NEH grant, which supported the conservation of the glass plates, creation of inter-negatives and a new set of reference prints. Chicago Albumen Works of Housatonic, Massachusetts, did the conservation work. In 1999, the Fran E. Duckwall Foundation supported the digitization of the collection. A database was created to ease access to the collection.

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