William H. Kibbe was born in the city of Johnstown, Fulton County, New York in 1846. Johnstown is the place he called "home" all of his life. During his school years at Johnstown Academy, he displayed impressive talents for pen and pencil sketching, much to the dismay of his rigid professors. After leaving school, Mr. Kibbe allowed his artistic inclinations direct his career search. When working briefly as a paint-shop decorator proved to be less than satisfying, he found work at the prestigious studio of renowned engraver Vistus Balch. During this time, he assisted in steel engravings produced from the drawings of Felix Octavius Carr Darley, famous for his illustrations of Charles Dickens' novels. During this association, Mr. Kibbe became acquainted with Napoleon Sarony's portraits, which led to another career change. He became James F. Ryder's photographic apprentice, and over the next year, he learned every intricate aspect of the profession from background painting to portrait posing.
In 1871, Mr. Kibbe opened his own photographic studio, and his years of experience cemented his reputation for superior portrait craftmanship. Located at 123 West Main Street, on the third floor of a structure known as 'the Kibbe building', the quarters reflected the master photographer - aesthetically appealing and accommodating. The paintings that adorned the studio walls attested to his talents in oils and watercolors. A truly family enterprise, Mr. Kibbe was often joined in the studio by his wife, who assisted with retouching and printing, and his young son Arthur Fonclair Kibbe, also got into the act, serving as a model for the popular "Our Picture" section of an issue of The Photographic Journal of America. A fire in 1881 destroyed the building, but Mr. Kibbe immediately rebuilt on the site and remained at the same location for the rest of his life. He was a frequent contributor to several industry publications including The Philadelphia Photographer, Photographic Journal of America, Photographic Mosaics, and Wilson's Photographic Magazine. Always eager to share his wealth of knowledge with other photography enthusiasts, Mr. Kibbe advocated using Newton's acetate lead bath for albumen prints for its economy of time and water. He also believed that this method of washing enabled his prints to last longer when exposed to direct sunlight than when washed by conventional means.
In addition to an esteemed professional reputation that was shared by colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Kibbe was also active in Johnstown civic and social affairs. He became one of the town's best known and most beloved citizens. Working until the very end, William H. Kibbe died in Johnstown on March 9, 1910.
1999 Johnstown by Lewis G. Decker (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing), p. 100.
2013 Mystery Photos - the Irish in Johnstown, NY (URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/55834542@N06/8582536707/in/set-72157633071588830).
2015 Old Portraits (URL: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~lee7/fulton_photos/port5.htm).
1893 The Photographic Journal of America, Vol. XXX (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 373-374, 444.
1910 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XLVII (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 192.
1881 Wilson's Photographics: A Series of Lessons (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 209.
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