John Zimmerman Foulk

Editor’s note — The following is a story compiled by Christopher S. Duckworth, a longtime Ohio Historical Society employee with family ties to Hillsboro and Greenfield, about late Hillsboro and Greenfield photographer John Zimmerman Foulk.

Myriad photographers have made Highland County the locus of their activities since the then-new phenomenon arrived about 1840. No longer did someone require the services of an artist in order to capture an accurate — or at least acceptable — likeness. Visit the photographer’s gallery, have a “sitting” at which time the photographer took a number of views and processed proof prints for review. Chose your favorite one, and within days the studio provided final prints — an enduring record of your appearance. This was true of babies, children, adults, groups, and, yes, corpses.

Nearly every American town of any size had one or more photographic studios. Entry into the business was easy. The would-be photographer learned the technical side of the business through a brief apprenticeship. Initial business expenses — renting a studio and purchasing necessary equipment and supplies — were low. Since most of the photographer’s work consisted of taking studio photographs of patrons, little more than basic aesthetic talent was required — or often demonstrated. Buyers sought an inexpensive pleasing portrait, and photographers were more than willing to provide just that.

As photography and photographers’ studios system proliferated, the business became a bit more difficult, or at least more competitive. Taking a photographic portrait begged the question of how often one needed to repeat the process, especially with the same photographer. Because of this, portrait photography in smaller towns became somewhat self-limiting. That is one reason why photographers frequently either formed temporary partnerships or simply moved on — the grass was greener elsewhere.

John Zimmerman Foulk and his twin sister, Lucinda, were born Sept. 25, 1844, in Ashland County, Ohio, to Peter and Sarah Foulk. The twins were two of the 12 children born to the couple. John grew up in an agricultural setting helping his parents and siblings until the Civil War. He he enlisted in Company G, 189th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, on Feb. 27, 1865. He mustered out on Sept. 28 of that same year. During his enlistment, his regiment was assigned guard duty in Tennessee following Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s April 9, 1865, surrender to Union General Ulysses Grant. Foulk had entered service as a private, and he mustered out at the same rank.

Following his military service, Foulk returned to Ashland County where in 1870 he married Ann Jeanette Glessner. The couple briefly moved around Ohio and even to Iowa where their son Harry Emmet was born. During at least part of their sojourn, Foulk worked as a photographer. After returning to Ohio, the family expanded with additions of a daughter, Alta Mae (1881); son, George Francis (1883); and daughter Jeanetta Isabelle (1885).

Where and from whom Foulk acquired the rudiments of photography is unknown. Prior to enlisting in the Union Army at age 21, he was listed in the census as a farm laborer, and he probably helped out in his father’s blacksmith shop. Perhaps he learned the elements of his future profession from one or more of the numerous photographers who accompanied the troops during the Civil War. By whatever avenue he took, Foulk learned the essential knowledge of photography, and to this he added an innate sense of aesthetics.

By 1880, he, Ann, and their children were living in Hillsboro. That year he listed himself as a “daguerrean artist.” By this time, however, the daguerreotype process largely had faded from the annals of photography, replaced by first wet-plate collodion and then by dry-plate gelatin glass-plate negatives. This negative-positive process allowed photographers to produce multiple prints from a single negative.

In Hillsboro, Foulk established at least one gallery and purchased another: the Pelbank Photographic Gallery. Then he moved his business and family to Wellston for a time, and at one point was contemplating forming a partnership with fellow Hillsboro photographer William Henry Downing (Times-Gazette, April 15, 2021), but their arrangement was never finalized. Next, Foulk moved to Greenfield where he operated a studio for a brief time prior to 1900. All in all, Foulk operated Highland County photography studios, primarily in Hillsboro, for some two decades.

Lorenzo Marvin Baker, born in Copenhagen, New York, in 1834, had come to Columbus in 1854 where he worked as a clerk at the Neil House and as an officer at the Ohio State Penitentiary. In 1862, he was appointed postmaster at Camp Chase, a prisoner-of-war facility on Columbus’ west side. That same year, he opened Baker’s Art Gallery, which quickly became a very successful photography studio that remained in business for 93 years. As the gallery grew in size and reputation, Baker added his son and talented photographer John Schneider as partners. He also hired numerous staff: photographers (often called operators), darkroom technicians, clerical staff, and others.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his sundry background, Baker’s studio grew rapidly. In addition, Baker, his son, and his corps of photographers and darkroom technicians rapidly gained national recognition, and the business continually expanded. Baker Art Gallery received awards in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, in 1899 the Gold Medal from the Photographers Association of America, and at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris as well as numerous awards at the Ohio State Fair and other venues. Among Baker’s portrait subjects were Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding. Entertainers Al Field, magician Howard R. Thurston (accompanied by his son), and Annie Oakley also availed themselves of Baker’s talented staff. (Lorenzo Baker in 1945 donated his special 6-foot-high portrait camera to the Henry Ford Museum.)

In addition to the highly successful portrait business, Baker Art Gallery produced art photographs, offered for sale in gallery, matted and framed or print alone, along with portraits of politicians, theater performers, and so forth. The business thrived and at one point moved to at new location at the corner of East State and South High streets.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Lorenzo Martin Baker and John Zimmerman Foulk somehow crossed paths. Although details are lacking, Foulk attracted the attention of Baker and joined the prestigious firm. When the Foulk family moved from Hillsboro to Columbus, they rented several homes over the next few years. All of them were located on West Park Avenue. They finally settled at 62 West Park, which was about two miles from the gallery. From all extant indications, Foulk had a successful and rewarding career as well as a happy and prosperous family life.

On Dec. 30, 1909, former Private John Zimmerman Foulk died. His wife and five children survived him. Although still a member of the Hillsboro M.E. Church, he chose to be buried at Columbus’ Green Lawn Cemetery. Some five years later, Ann joined him.

Chris Duckworth spent three decades at the Ohio Historical Society, where, among other things, he was founding editor of Timeline magazine. He followed “retirement” with a decade at the Columbus Museum of Art. Today, he owns his own publishing company, Brevoort Press, and manages the family farms in Fayette County.

The Baker Art Gallery, where former Hillsboro and Greenfield photographer John Zimmerman Folk eventually landed, offered a variety of art prints, this one of Ophelia, to decorate homes. Baker Art Gallery, where former Hillsboro and Greenfield photographer John Zimmerman Folk eventually landed, offered a variety of art prints, this one of Ophelia, to decorate homes.

As evidenced by this 1882 ad, John Zimmerman Foulk frequently advertised in the Hillsboro News-Herald. evidenced by this 1882 ad, John Zimmerman Foulk frequently advertised in the Hillsboro News-Herald.
A most successful Hillsboro/Greenfield photographer

By Christopher S. Duckworth

For the Times-Gazette