Faces of Rural America
Henry Clay Fleming Collection
Although Henry Clay Fleming's photographs are scattered throughout Ravenswood, West Virginia, and in private collections, the Massillon Museum has the single largest collection of his work, and the only known surviving examples of his glass plate negatives. They were donated to the Museum in 1984 by Kent Vanderplas, an artist who, at the time, was teaching at Ohio University. After having salvaged the negatives from antique dealers in town—who likely acquired them directly from Fleming’s estate after his daughter passed away—Vanderplas stored the plates in his garage for many years. Through his association with former Massillon Museum director, John Klassen, Vanderplas learned of the Museum’s extensive photography collections, and gifted the Fleming negatives.
The collection of 1,895 negatives comprises a visual history of Ravenswood residents from the late-nineteenth century through the early 1930s. Prior to their arrival at the Museum, many of negatives had sustained water damage and abrasion to the photographic emulsion. Massillon Museum staff spent over a year separating, cleaning, and cataloging the collection of negatives. Although the damage is irreversible, it adds an interesting aesthetic to the portraits, and acts as a physical reminder of the journey these plates have endured over time. Read Biography