Sunday, April 3, 2011

Photography as a Family Business: The Jeffcoats

A staple of Abilene throughout most of the twentieth century was the Jeffcoat Photography Studio and Camera Shop.  Paul H. Jeffcoat, known as “Bud” to many locals, started a photography business in 1921 in a small second story room in downtown Abilene.  In 1925, he built a small studio on Broadway Street and opened business at that location.
The Jeffcoat Photo Studio.  Today, it is the Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum.
Paul got his start in photography due to his mother, Lucy Fritz Jeffcoat.  Lucy had taken some training classes in developing and retouching film.  She assisted area photographers with retouching and hand painting portraits for a number of years as supplementary income for her family.  Paul became interested in the photographic process at a young age, and learned all that he could about the art of photography.

After a few years had passed since Paul opened his new studio in 1925, the Great Depression was in full swing.  During those years, the Jeffcoat Studio began to sell Abilene postcards for five cents.  Small postcard stands bearing the title “Abilene Views” could be found in some area businesses.  This was not a lucrative money maker though, Paul only made about one cent per card.  He began to rent out half of his business’ building for additional income.

Over the years, the Jeffcoat Studio shared its space with several different businesses including a shoe store.  Paul’s son would muse that it was not ideal to have the hammering sounds of shoe repair next door to a portrait studio.
In the studio, a 1925 Century No. 7 studio camera is still on display.
The same year that the Jeffcoat Studio opened on Broadway Street, Paul’s wife Regina gave birth to a son.  The couple named him Paul William Jeffcoat.  To most, he became known as Bill.  Bill was also interested in the family business, but initially wanted to aspire to other things.  He attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio and later moved to New York City in search of work.  After World War II, he heard a lot about General Dwight D. Eisenhower, also from Abilene.  Bill decided to move back home to see if he could document the goings on in Eisenhower’s hometown.  He began working for his father in the studio, and found some business selling pictures of Abilene to United Press.  Bill continued to do this for a number of years, documenting every visit that Eisenhower made to Abilene, including Eisenhower’s presidential campaign and later, funeral.  

Bill eventually took over the family business; however before doing so, he was told by his father that he would have to buy the building.  After gathering enough money to do so, Bill did just that.  He continued to run the studio and camera shop long after his father’s death, and was well known as a portrait photographer in Abilene.  
Several cameras are still on display, as well as photography exhibits showing many of the pictures taken by Paul and Bill Jeffcoat.
Bill always had great interest in local history, so near the end of his life, he decided to turn his studio into a museum.  Bill died in 2007 before he could see his dream fully realized.  The Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum opened in May 2008.  The museum is managed by the Dickinson County Historical Society and the Jeffcoat Memorial Foundation, and is open on a part-time and by-appointment basis.  For more information, visit here.

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