E. (Edgar) Decker was born in New York to David and Hannah Van Aken Decker in 1833. His childhood was spent on the family farm and he attended public schools until age 13, when he became a mercantile clerk to help support his family. After seven years, he went into business for himself, enjoying some success as a merchandiser. After relocating to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1856, Mr. Decker resumed his interest in photography, which began during his years as a teen merchant. He married Julia English in February 1857, and two years' later he felt sufficiently confident enough in his artistic abilities and business prowess to open his own photographic studio at 249 Superior Street, in a partnership with Thomas T. Sweeny.
Mr. Decker's Civil War portraits of Ohio's Western Reserve regiments cemented his reputation as an excellent portrait photographer. He would later photograph famed ornithologist and John James Audubon biographer Francis Hobart Herrick, Union General Philip Sheridan and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William McKinley. By 1870, the successful business was selling 1800 dozen photographs and had expanded to include four assistants. As Mr. Decker's business grew, so too did his need for a larger studio. After his partnership with Mr. Sweeny ended, he established another successful alliance with gifted retoucher and crayon artist Charles E. Wilber (or Wilbur). The Decker & Wilber Studio, which later moved to 143 Euclid Avenue, became one of the most illustrious portrait galleries in Ohio.
Following Mr. Wilber's retirement, Mr. Decker - whose establishment was renamed simply the Decker Studio - maintained the highest aesthetic and moral standards believing one could not be sacrificed without adversely affecting the other. He was one of the first photographers to infuse humanity into the often austere daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. He later applied the same uncompromising expertise to his oil crayon and watercolor works, copying, and photographic enlargements. With Mr. Decker's success came increasing professional and civic responsibilities. He became a member, director, and later president of the National Photographic Association, and also served on the Cleveland city council. In 1889, Mr. Decker was awarded the Photographers' Association of America's prestigious Eastman cup for his impressive bromide enlargements.
In July of 1900, failing health forced Mr. Decker into retirement. Thankfully, he left his business in the capable hands of his latest partner George Mountain Edmondson, who was at the time Vice President of the Photographers' Association of America, and would become himself one of the Midwest's finest photographers. Pioneering photographic trailblazer E. Decker died on December 1, 1905.
1889 American Journal of Photography, Vol. X (Philadelphia: Thomas H. McCollin & Co.), pp. 323-324.
2000 Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press), p. 219.
1910 A History of Cleveland, Ohio: Biographical (Cleveland: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.), p. 1004.
1879 Industries of Cleveland (Cleveland: Richard Edwards), p. 94.
1894 Memorial Record of the County of Cuyahoga and City of Cleveland, Ohio (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company), pp. 202-203.
1998 Ohio Photographers: 1839-1900 (Nevada City, CA: Carl Mautz Publishing), p. 4.
2012 Ohrstrom Library Digital Archives (URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lizastintypes/3550130642).
1900 The St. Louis and Canadian Photographer, Vol. XXIV (St. Louis, MO: Mrs. Fitzgibbon-Clark), pp. 429, 431.
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