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Clara E. Sipprell Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: -
Date: unknown

Biographical History

Clara E. Sipprell (1885-1975) was a Canadian-American photographer, known for her landscapes and for portraits of famous actors, artists, writers and scientists.

Sipprell was born in Canada, a posthumous child with five brothers. Her widowed mother had to work to support the family, and Clara lived with her grandparents until she was old enough to go to school. Henry, the next to eldest, went to Buffalo, New York, where he found work and soon drew the rest of the family after him. The eldest boy, Frank, became a photographer and soon had a shop of his own.

Clara spent her free time in her brother's shop. At the age of sixteen she left school and devoted her entire time to what was to become her life's work. For ten years she assisted her brother Frank, learning photographic techniques during the period of the glass plate and platinum paper. When artificial lighting began to be used, her brother adopted it, but Clara stuck to the old ways. By doing so, she was setting up her own standards and establishing her own ideas of what a photograph should be. She has never used artificial lighting, believing that natural light would give the result she preferred. She does not enlarge, nor does she crop her photographs to manipulate her composition; implicitly the composition must be complete before the picture is made. It is claimed also that she does not retouch her negatives, although there is some evidence in the collection to the contrary.

Her early exhibitions were at the Buffalo Camera Club at a time when its membership was closed to women; one year she won half the prizes offered. Her first New York show was at Teachers College, Columbia University, and she subsequently opened a studio in Greenwich Village. The work of several New York photographers taught her much, she says; Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Dr. Arnold Genthe, Max Weber, Clarence White, Gertrude Kasebier, and Alice Boughton were among them. She became a member of the Pictorial Photographers of America, the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, and the Arts Club of Washington.

A Russian friend arranged for her to photograph Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre troupe, the first of a number of seminal opportunities for her. A trip to Vermont opened up further vistas for her, and she engaged a studio in the Connecticut River Valley village of Thetford which she maintained for seventeen summers. When her partner married a Yugoslav, she was introduced to that country as a subject for her photographs. Her god-daughter, Nina, the child of this marriage, became a subject of constant interest. Her friends planned a trip to Sweden for her in 1928, arranging opportunities for her there which included access to the Royal Palace, and photographs of King Gustav and other members of the Swedish royal family were the result.

Many famous personalities came to her for portraits. Amoung these were Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Edwin Markham, and Pearl Buck as well as the musicians and composers contained in this collection.

During the 1920's and '30's, Clara Sipprell often received prizes in various national and international exhibits which included her work in landscapes and still lifes as well as portraits. One of her cityscapes, "New York-Old and New", was one of the first photographs aquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1932.

The move of her summer studio to Manchester Center, Vermont, from Thetford Hill came about largely through her friendship with Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the writer, who wrote the first publicity for her after the move. Annual trips to Spain and Portugal, Italy, Greece, Japan, Great Britain, France, and to visit friends in Yugoslavia provided new experiences and new subjects for her camera. A collection of sixty photographs, which included several taken as a result of these trips as well as many portraits of those whom she regards as the "great ones", was chosen for exhibition at Syracuse University in 1960. Miss Sipprell died in 1975 at the age of 89.

Cf. Elizabeth Gray Vining, "Introduction" to Moment of light, photographs of Clara Sipprell, New York, John Day Company, c1966.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Correspondence-subject files contain client correspondence and a small amount of personal correspondence, including letters and research materials created by Phyllis Fenner and Antje Lemke.

Memorabilia includes Sipprell's photographic equipment (camera, a lens, and an easel) as well as a studio brochure and business card.

The photographer's original, 8 x 10 inch cellulose acetate Negatives comprise 92 boxes and are divided by type. Boxes 1-48 and 74-86 contain those of Sipprell's original negatives that are still usable as well as some proof prints. Boxes 49-62 contain interpositives, also known as master positives. Boxes 63-68 contain duplicate negatives. Box 69 contains 21 glass plate negatives; a few are broken but most are intact. Boxes 87-97 contain original negatives that have deteriorated past the point of usability; these negatives are restricted and may not be used without special permission.

A given photograph may exist in numerous different negative forms, some created by Sipprell and others created by Special Collections Research Center staff as part of preservation efforts. In addition, many of the negatives have been digitized and are available online. To simplify locating all negatives of a person or subject, this section of the inventory is also available in the form of a spreadsheet listing the photographs alphabetically by title/subject, and which can be sorted by box number, subject/title, or date. Click here to open the spreadsheet.

Printed materials in the collection include articles on Sipprell, brochures, clippings, exhibit catalogs, one print of unknown provenance, and a handful of proofs.

The collection also contains two hundred and forty original Photographs, 1915-1963, approximately eighty of which were included in the book Moment of light, photographs of Clara Sipprell. They are divided into four series determined by their subject matter; many are also available in various negative forms (see discussion of negatives, above).

Character studies (individuals identified only by the caption on the print) include five prints of Nina, Miss Sipprell's god-daughter, as well as one of Peter, Nina's son; it has not been possible to determine their surname from information at hand.
Landscape studies include four subseries of United States, Canadian, Vermont, and Yugoslav views.
Portrait studies, the most extensive series in the collection, represent Miss Sipprell's photographs of celebrities, friends and neighbors. Items in this series are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the person portrayed, with the exception of royalty; the latter may be located under given name. When more than one person is portrayed in the same photograph, cross references have been included in the shelf list.
Still life studies contains miscellaneous still lifes.

In her research for her book, Charles Ives Remembered, Vivian Perlis was actively engaged in locating photographs of Ives. As a result of these inquiries, Mrs. Perlis met Clara Sipprell, who gave the photographs in the 1980 additions collection to the library.

Miscellaneous materials include two taped interviews with Sipprell, three autochrome cases, autochrome images, a file index on the Sipprell negatives created by the SCRC, a framed negative, a Master's thesis written by Sipprell scholar Mary Kennedy McCabe, and an assortment of personal photographs.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence-subject Files are arranged alphabetically. One folder of Memorabilia is in Box 70; artifacts are placed individually on shelves. Negatives are subdivided by type and arranged alphabetically by subject/title. Printed materials are arranged alphabetically by genre. Photographs are divided into four series (character studies, landscape studies, portrait studies, and still lifes); within these, items are arranged alphabetically by name (for portraits) or by caption (for others). Miscellaneous materials are arranged alphabetically by form.


Access Restrictions:

Negatives in Boxes 87 through 97 are restricted due to deterioration.

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Special Collections Research Center has the papers of many photographers, including Margaret Bourke-White and others. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.

Subject Headings


Adamic, Louis, 1899-1951.
Allilueva, Svetlana, 1926-2011.
Brooks, Van Wyck, 1886-1963.
Buck, Pearl S. (Pearl Sydenstricker), 1892-1973.
Bultmann, Rudolf, 1884-1976.
Burchfield, Charles, 1893-1967.
Chaliapin, Fyodor Ivanovich, 1873-1938.
Cram, Ralph Adams, 1863-1942.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963.
Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955.
Fisher, Dorothy Canfield, 1879-1958.
Flanders, Ralph E. (Ralph Edward), 1880-1970.
Fokine, Michel, 1880-1942.
Frost, Robert, 1874-1963.
Hansl, Eva vB. (Eva vom Baur)
Harris, Roy, 1898-1979.
Hicks, Granville, 1901-1982.
Hoffman, Malvina, 1887-1966.
Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967.
Jeffers, Robinson, 1887-1962.
Koussevitzky, Serge, 1874-1951.
Krasner, Louis, 1903-1995.
Lucioni, Luigi, 1900-1988.
Ludwig, Emil, 1881-1948.
Markham, Edwin, 1852-1940.
Noguchi, Isamu, 1904-1988.
Parrish, Maxfield, 1870-1966.
Rachmaninoff, Sergei, 1873-1943.
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962.
Rudhyar, Dane, 1895-1985.
Sipprell, Clara E. (Clara Estelle), 1885-1975.
Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942.
St. Denis, Ruth, 1880-1968.
Tarbell, Ida M. (Ida Minerva), 1857-1944.
Thurman, Howard, 1900-1981.
Torrence, Ridgely, 1875-1950.
Van Loon, Hendrik Willem, 1882-1944.


Available light photography.
Nature photography.
Photographers -- United States.
Photography -- Equipment and supplies.
Photography, Artistic.
Portrait photography.
Russians -- Portraits.
Still-life photography.
Women photographers -- United States.
Yugoslavs -- Portraits.


Yugoslavia -- Description and travel.
Yugoslavia -- Pictorial works.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Negatives (photographs)
Slides (photographs)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Clara E. Sipprell Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, 1960 and various dates. Lemke material gift of Antje Lemke.

Table of Contents

Correspondence-subject files




Printed materials