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Clara E. Sipprell Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: -
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Biographical History

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

Sipprell was born in Ontario, 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 came into use 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 did not use artificial lighting, believing that natural light would give the result she preferred. She did not enlarge, nor did 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 did 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 in 1915 she opened a studio in Greenwich Village where she shared an apartment with long-time friend Jessica Beers. The work of other 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, Irina Khrabroff, arranged for Sipprell 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. In 1923 Irina married Yugoslavian Feodor D. Cekich (alternate spellings in related collections at other repositories include Zekitch and Cekic), through whom Sipprell was introduced to that country as a subject for her photographs. Sipprell and the Cekiches remained close friends and traveling companions for many years. Nina, the child of this marriage, was Sipprell's god-daughter and a frequent subject of her photographs from birth through marriage and motherhood. Sipprell traveled to Sweden in 1928, where her friends arranged access to the Royal Palace and the opportunity to photograph King Gustav and other members of the Swedish royal family.

Many famous personalities came to her studio for portraits, including Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Edwin Markham, and Pearl Buck. During the 1920s and 1930s, Sipprell's work was recognized in both 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 acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1932.

In 1937 Sipprell moved her Vermont summer studio from Thetford Hill to Manchester Center. Shortly thereafter Sipprell met writer and librarian Phyllis Fenner, who became her housemate, traveling companion, and close friend for the next thirty-eight years.

Annual trips to Spain, 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 regarded as the "great ones", was chosen for exhibition at Syracuse University in 1960. Sipprell died in 1975 at the age of 89.

[Much of the above adapted from Elizabeth Gray Vining, "Introduction" to Moment of light: Photographs of Clara Sipprell, New York, John Day Company, 1966. Some information about Nina (Cekich) Strauss Helms taken from obituaries in the Valley News , 28 Feb 2016, and on the Rand-Wilson Funeral Home guest book.]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Clara Sipprell Papers consist of correspondence, memorabilia, negatives and proof prints, photographs, and a small amount of miscellaneous material.

Correspondence contains 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, two taped interviews with Sipprell, and an assortment of personal photographs.

Negatives and proof prints comprise the bulk of the collection. Note that 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. Many are also present as prints (see Photographs, below). To simplify locating all negatives of a person or subject, this section of the inventory lists them in alphabetical order by name of the subject. Children are often listed under the parents' names -- for example, "Lewar, Katherine (son)" -- and wives under the name of their husband (for example, "Smith, Mrs. John").

The collection also contains two hundred and forty original Photographs, 1915-1963, approximately eighty of which appeared in the book Moment of light: Photographs of Clara Sipprell by Elizabeth Gray Vining. These are divided into four series determined by their subject matter; many are also available in various negative forms (see Negatives and proof prints, above).

Character studies of individuals include five prints of Nina Cekich, Miss Sipprell's god-daughter, as well as one of Peter Helms, Nina's son.

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 listed alphabetically by the last name of the person portrayed, with the exception of royalty which may be located under the given name. When more than one person is portrayed in the same photograph, cross references are provided.

Still life studies contains miscellaneous still lifes.

Prints acquired separately contain works by Sipprell that were donated by others and acquired separately from the rest of the collection. The donors for each item are given in the inventory below.

Miscellaneous materials include articles and clippings about Sipprell, two autochromes, exhibit catalogs, a file index of the Sipprell negatives created by staff at Special Collections Research Center, a framed negative, and a Master's thesis written by Sipprell scholar Mary Kennedy McCabe.

Arrangement of the Collection

Boxes 1-48 no longer exist, following the 2020 NEDCC project. The collection begins with Box 49.

Correspondence is arranged alphabetically. Memorabilia is arranged alphabetically by form. Negatives and proof prints are physically arranged in no particular order, as best suits their preservation needs (for example, nitrate negatives are in vapor-proof packs and stored in freezers). Photographs are divided into four series (character studies, landscape studies, portrait studies, and still lifes); within each series photographs are arranged alphabetically by name (for portraits) or by caption (for others). Prints acquired separately and Miscellaneous materials are arranged alphabetically by form.


Access Restrictions:

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.

Items stored in freezer boxes (denoted by "FB") are not accessible to researchers.

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

Audiocassette use copies of interviews are in the box with the tapes.

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

Autochromes (photographs)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Glass plate negatives.
Negatives (photographs)
Sound recordings.



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, various dates. Some items, gift of Phyllis Fenner. Two photographs, gift of Richard Kremer, 2003. 2007. Audiotapes and other items, gift of Antje Lemke, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1988, 1991. Christensen correspondence, gift of Susan Jowaiszas, 2020.

Table of Contents



Negatives and proof prints


Prints acquired separately



Note on alternate formats:

Audiocassette use copies of interviews are in the box with the tapes.