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Thomas Cronise: The Art Perfected

"A brass birdie, affixed to the top of the camera, moved its beak and tail when an air bulb was squeezed."

Idamay Benjamin, Tom and Nellie Cronise's granddaughter, recalls spending a great deal of time in their studio. She described her grandfather as a "kind and mild-mannered with twinkling blue eyes and a wonderful sense of humor". She remembers him as being well-read and interested in political events.

He was very family oriented, Tom and Nellie supporting each other in their pur-suits and enjoying a close, lasting relationship. They had three children - oldest son Ralph, daughter Louise, and youngest son Harry who ran the studio until 1972.

Thomas Cronise was a sociable person and loved to visit with customers, peo-ple on the street, and his lodge members. He was a member of the Elks and the Knights of Phythias. He was a friendly industrious nature that fitted well to the personality of Salem in his time.

Born on October 11, 1853, in Illinois, he apprenticed at an early age with a printer and newspaper owner. His brother, Harry, had come to Oregon in 1875, and Tom was urged to come "west". 1882 found Thomas Cronise in Sa-lem when the city was in a state of major growth with attractive homes and a strong sense of community.

Cronise worked for Mrs. A.L. Stinson, owner of a printing business on Com-mercial Street and, later, for R.J. Hendricks of the Oregon Statesman news-paper as a foreman of the paper's technical department. Cronise married Nellie Riggs in 1884; she was the daughter of Oregon pioneers.

In 1886, he had his own print shop. He partnered with Gaylord W. Cooke in a commercial printing firm from 1891 to 1893; however, an allergy to printer's ink eventually forced Cronise to quit the printing business.

In 1892, Anna Louise, Cronise's sister, moved to Salem and introduced him to photography. By 1893, Anna had bought a photo studio at the corner of State and High Streets. Anna and Thomas Cronise hired a young photographer named Howard Trover, who married Anna. In May, 1902, Cronise bought a studio and entered the photography profession on his own. He died in April, 1927, and his wife Nellie operated the business until her passing in 1930. Then his son, Harry, operated the business until 1972.

The Studio
The photo studio was located on the second floor of the Bush-Brey Building, reached by a stairway from the street. The reception salon of the studio was also haphazardly decorated with photographs.

In the rear of the studio was the camera room where the usual array of photo-graphic equipment, backdrops and props were located.

A skylight allowed diffused north light to enter the camera room providing the soft, natural illumination so essential to fine portraiture.

The Studio Equipment
Cronise used a 11X14 inch studio portrait camera made of mahogany with brass fittings, which sat on a table specifically designed for raising and lowering the camera.

Different plate sizes were used both horizontally and vertically; removable masks on the camera back allowed for a range of image sizes. After WW I, the Studio switched to flexible film from glass negatives. Proofs were made by Cronise on the roof of the building where ample light was available to activate the photo paper. The lens, a 14 inch Goertz, had a iris diaphragm and Packard air-operated mechanical shutter. A velvet curtain on an expandable gate could be attached to the front of the camera to act as a shield against glare.

The brass birdie was supplemented by a "Jocko" hand puppet for holding chil-dren's attention.

Oregon Historical Society, Thomas Cronise - The Art Perfected, December, 1980, Salem Public Library


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