Opened in 1863 by New Yorker, Lorenzo Marvin Baker (1834-1924), Baker’s Art Gallery in Columbus, Ohio, became in the 1870s one of the national studios active in the celebrity portrait trade. The business, taken over by sons Lorenzo Jr. (1861-1906) and Duane Henry (1859-1934), and by grandson Lorenzo P. Baker would remain a profitable concern until after World War II.
Baker opened the gallery near the juncture of High Street and Main in downtown Columbus. In 1883 the studio relocated to the Eberly block, but the gallery’s destruction by fire in 1892 saw a return to High Street, with the erection of the multi-story art palace at the corner of State and High.
The artistic heyday of Baker’s Art Gallery dates from 1880 when John Samuel Schneider (1860-1926) became employed as chief cameraman and poser. A superb technician with an artist’s eye and a sociable demeanor, Schneider quickly became a nationally-admired portraitist. In 1886 he purchased one third interest in the business. His professional colleagues in Ohio elected him president of the Photographer’s Association of Ohio in 1892-93, he was elected president of the National Photographers Association in July 1894.
Schneider’s portraits won Gold Medals at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition; his scenes won the 1897 Grand Genre Prize of the Photographer’s Association of America, and a Gold Medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. Schneider’s penchant for genre scenes with their sentimental situations and narrative qualities provoked the animosity of the pictorialists; M. Demachy particularly excoriated the easiness of Schneider’s genre work displayed at Paris. Schneider was not without his own criticisms of the affectations of pictorialist imagery. In an address entitled "The Illegitimate in Photography," Schneider chided photographic aesthetes for their love of haze and atmosphere, questioned the obtrusive intervention of engraving or painting on negatives to achieve effects, and the pursuit of freakish novelty in the name of originality.
It was Schneider’s grasp of narrative potentials in scene making that made him a superlative photographer of theatrical tableaux. Character portraits of performers invariably seemed as though captured in the midst of action. Though Columbus was definitely a second tier stop on the theatrical circuits for touring companies, it became an anticipated destination precisely because of Baker’s Art Gallery. Fanny Davenport said, "Columbus, Ohio, is good for one thing if for nothing else, and that is, the only place in America where one can stop and have a picture taken after your own heart."
The business of Baker’s Art Gallery turned to regional portraiture, commercial, and event photography during the second decade of the 20th century. When the business shuttered in 1955, its archive of negatives was deposited with the Ohio Historical Society.
NOTES: "Lorenzo M. Baker-Baker’s Art Gallery," Franklin County at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century (Columbus, OH: Historical Publishing Company, 1901), 203-04. "Photographers Old and New," The Photograhic Journal of America 31 (1894), 54-56. M. Demachy, "Report on the Paris Exposition," The Photo-Miniature 2, 15 (June 1900), 136. J.S. Schneider, "The Illegitimate in Photography," Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin 30 (1899), 242-44. "Ohio in Art Photography," Hampton Magazine 13 (1904), 418-20. David S. Shields/ALS