Two Women, One Garden: Selections from the Castaña Portfolio

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Ida W. Pritchett (1891-1965) Untitled photograph [Garden, Pool, Neptune with Three Hippocamps] Castaña Portfolio. McLean Library and Archives. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

The Castaña Portfolio is held by the McLean Library of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and comprises photographs documenting the gardens and grounds of the Alba B. Johnson Estate, known as Castaña. All  photographs were thought to be the work of Philadelphia photographer Ida W. Pritchett (1891-1965). However, as Library staff prepared the collection for a digitization project in 2019, it was discovered that some of photographic prints bore the signature of Clara E. Sipprell (1885-1975). 

Pritchett and Sipprell visited Castaña in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, sometime between 1936 and 1945. Ida W. Pritchett photographed the focal garden views, while Clara E. Sipprell concentrated on the older woodland areas. Both women belonged to the Pictorialist school, which sought to elevate the status of photography to the more respected art realm where the images are distinguished by soft focus, tonality, and careful composition. 

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Clara E. Sipprell (1885-1975) Untitled photograph [Pond] The grounds before 1910 were described in King's Views of Philadelphia (1901), as "... A miniature lake, rustic bridges, creek and waterfall adorn the grounds ..."  (Castaña Portfolio. McLean Library and Archives. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society)


Portrait of Ida W. Pritchett [Bryn Mawr Varsity Tennis Team, 1914) Detail. Ida W. Pritchett Photograph Album, 1910-1914. Bryn Mawr College Special Collections; Dalton Hall. Laboratory for General Biology. In Bryn Mawr, Edited by Louise Thompson, Photographs by Ida W. Pritchett. Published in 1934

Ida W. Pritchett (1891-1965)

... Ida Pritchett considers a camera far superior to a husband. She has a very large and expensive one, very heavy and complicated. She takes pictures of everyone and everything and spends all night developing them ... -- Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin. October 1927

A 1914 graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Ida W. Pritchett  earned her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, and received an appointment at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York where her work focused on pathology and bacteriology. Pritchett joined other women scientists -- for example, Louise Pearce, Martha Wollstein, and Clara Lynch -- who were all doing significant research there. She collaborated with Dr. Carroll Gideon Bull to create, manufacture and distribute an anti-toxin for gaseous gangrene to troops in Europe during World War I. Between 1917 and 1930, Pritchett published more than fifteen articles on her research on cholera, diphtheria, and influenza with the last appearing in the Journal for Experimental Medicine, titled the Epidemiology of Fowl Cholera (1930).

A biographical statement in the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 28, 1934) for Pritchett's exhibit at the Plastic Club, described her shift from scientist to photographer: " ... After spending fourteen years doing scientific research in bacteriological laboratories, she decided to make photography her profession, thereby attempting to attain a way of living more flexible and less confining than was possible in the laboratory. ..."


Ida W. Pritchett (1891-1965) Luminous Globe, 1928. Photographic print in the Ida W. Pritchett Files. McLean Library and Archives. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

In 1928, Pritchett's photograph titled the "Luminous Globe" was included in the Royal Photographic Society's Annual Exhibition. Following on, she exhibited her work in the 1930 International Photographic Exhibition, Tokyo, and the Philadelphia International Salon of Photography sponsored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As a working photographer, Pritchett provided photographic illustrations for various publications, for example, "A Viking Drinking Cup--Birch Knob" for inclusion in Sir Wilfred Grenfell's The Romance of Labrador. With her friend, Marjorie LaMonte Thompson, she co-published a book of photographs documenting the buildings, interior spaces and grounds of Bryn Mawr College. Pritchett retired in the early 1950s and she and Thompson divided their time between their homes in Haverford and Sandwich, New Hampshire until her death in 1965.

" ... "The Luminous Globe" (LXVII) by Ida W. Pritchett relies for its interest almost entirely upon the effect of reflective light through the liquid contained in the glass vase.What there is of the design is not much; but Miss Pritchett has given some point to it by inserting the stem and some leaves of the spray inside the vase, where they tell just as an applied pattern would upon a Japanese jar." -- F.C Tllney. Pictorial Photography, 1928


Ida W. Pritchett (1891-1965) Viking Drinking Cup -- Birch Knob. Photograph in Sir Wilfred Grenfell's The Romance of Labrador, 1934


[Portrait of Clara Sipprell] Taken by her brother Francis J. Sipprell (1878-1958) in 1925. In the Clara E. Sipprell Collection. Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Clara E. Sipprell (1885-1975) [Albert Einstein] 1935. In the Clara E. Sipprell Collection. Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Clara E. Sipprell (1885-1975)

.... I came into the room wearing a long black cape and a wide black hat. Einstein looked at me from his perch and called me a black witch. Then burst into laughter. He followed me around smoking his pipe and finally when I was through making pictures and was packing away my 8 x 10 camera into its case he asked "Are you going in there too?" -- Clara Sipprell. Moment of Light, 1966

Born in Ontario, Canada, Clara Sipprell began her life in photography in the Buffalo, New York, portrait photography studio of her older brother Frank Sipprell. At sixteen she ended her formal education in order to work at the studio full time and prepare herself for a career in photography. In 1915 Sipprell and long-time family friend and teacher Jessica Beers moved to New York, where Sipprell opened her studio and began her connection with the Clarence White School of Photography.

Sipprell’s work reflects not only the early influence of her brother and his colleagues of the Buffalo Camera Club but also her appreciation of Gertrude Kasebier and other members of the New York Pictorialist community. Throughout her seventy-year career Sipprell created photographs that typify Pictorialism: expressive rather than narrative or documentary, suggesting "the spiritual quality of the subject rather than a physical likeness."


Clara E. Sipprell (1885-1975) [Ruth St. Denis] 1942. In the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Sipprell photographed some of the most famous writers, scientists, artists and cultural and political icons of the time including Robert Frost, Ida Tarbell, Max Weber, Alfred Stieglitz, W. E. B. Du Bois, Dag Hammarskjöld, and Svetlana Allilueva. During the 1920s and 1930s, Sipprell's landscape, still-life, and portrait work was recognized in both national and international exhibits. During these years, Sipprell made major photographic expeditions to Sweden, Yugoslavia, Russia, Mexico and Japan. Her photographs can be found in in the collections of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Getty.

In 1937 Sipprell moved her Vermont summer studio from Thetford Hill to her permanent residence in Manchester Center. Shortly thereafter Sipprell met writer and librarian Phyllis Fenner, who became her housemate, traveling companion, and close friend for the next thirty-eight years. In 1966, Sipprell produced Moment of Light: Photographs by Clara E. Sipprell, an annotated catalog that features her most important works. Sipprell maintained a large portrait clientele until her death in 1975 at the age of 89.


Clara E. Sipprell (1885-1975) [Kabuki theater scene] ca. 1920-1929. In the Clara E. Sipprell Collection. Amon Carter Museum of American Art

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Ida W. Pritchett (1891-1965) Untitled photograph [Garden, pool, classical sculpture, pergola] Castaña Portfolio. McLean Library and Archives. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Gardens and Grounds of Castaña

An early description of the grounds of Castaña appears in King's Views of Philadelphia (1900), as "The William H. Joyce Residence. William H. Joyce, general freight agent of the Pennsylvania Railroad. A miniature lake, rustic bridges, creek and waterfall adorn the grounds. A chestnut tree, claimed to be the oldest and largest in this country, is on the estate." Alba B. Johnson (1858-1935), president of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, purchased the estate and in 1910, he and his wife, Leah Goff Johnson, began work on the creation of the gardens and structure of the estate grounds.

The Johnsons hired Philadelphia architect Alexander Mackie Adams (1879-1967) and landscape architect John S. Cope (1857-1915) for the project. Castaña was to be Adams's first design project and included an elaborate and massive concrete pergola for the upper garden and a Temple of Love for the lower.

Cope's gardens are described in Country Life in America (1915) as "based on English traditions, with the typical abundance of greensward, and the plants are dependable native perennials and shrubs. Still in its youth, the garden has already acquired atmosphere."

The Johnsons liberally adorned their gardens with cast stone urns, fountain and pool ornaments, and classically-inspired statuary. Of note is Eve Repentant by American sculptor Edward Sheffield Bartholomew (1822-1858) that may have been purchased at the 1910 sale of "the remainder of collection" of noted Philadelphia art collector Joseph Harrison, Jr., and the Neptune Fountain created by Walter Gilbert (1871-1946) and Louis Weingartner (-1934) of the Bromsgrove Guild of Fine Arts, Worcestershire, England.

After the death of Leah Goff Johnson in 1944, Castaña was purchased by the New Sharon Convent of the Holy Child Jesus in 1946.

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Ida W. Pritchett (1891-1965) Untitled photograph [Garden, Pool, Neptune with Three Hippocamps) Castaña Portfolio. McLean Library and Archives. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Further Reading

Adams, Alexander Mackie, and John S. Cope. 1915. "The Garden of Mr. & Mrs. Alba B. Johnson". Country Life in America.

Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Clara Sipprell Photograph Collection.

Bryn Mawr College Alumnae Association. 1927. Bryn Mawr Alumnae bulletin. Philadelphia: Alumnae Ass. of Bryn Mawr College. "Class Notes" p. 264.

Grenfell, Wilfred Thomason, and D. Ross. 1934. The romance of Labrador.

McCabe, Mary Kennedy, Clara Estella Sipprell, Nancy Stevens, Tom Dawson, and Bill Maize. 1990. Clara Sipprell: pictorial photographer. Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum.

New Sharon Convent of the Holy Child Jesus. "Saga of Hope faith and Charity." Pylon, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Winter 1959-60

Philadelphia: the most American of all cities. 1900. New York: Moses King.

Philadelphia architects and buildings. 2000. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project.

Pritchett, Ida W., and Marjorie Thompson. 1934. Bryn Mawr College. Bryn Mawr, Pa: [publisher not identified]

Pritchett, Ida W.. 1932. "Carroll G. Bull". Journal of Immunology : Official Journal of the American Association of Immunologists.

Pritchett, Ida W., 1917. "Specific Preventive and Curative Therapy, with Special Reference to Gaseous Gangrene". The Scientific Monthly. 5 (4): 310-316.

Rossiter, Margaret W. 1992. Women scientists in America: struggles and strategies to 1940. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.  

Sipprell, Clara E., and Elizabeth Gray Vining. 1966. Moment of light.

Tilney, F. C. 1928. Pictorial photography exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, 1928: a critical dissertation. London: Fountain Press.


Adams, Alexander Mackie, and John S. Cope. 1915. "The Garden of Mr. & Mrs. Alba B. Johnson" Country Life in America

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Ida W. Pritchett (1891-1965) Untitled photograph [Garden room, lawn, cast stone planters, classical sculpture] Castaña Portfolio. McLean Library and Archives. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Generous support for this exhibition is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities CARES Act.

Two Women, One Garden: Selections from the Castaña Portfolio