The Holsinger Studio Collection

The Holsinger Studio Collection constitutes a unique photographic record of life in Central Virginia from before the late 1800s through the first decades of the twentieth century. The collection consists of approximately 10,000 wet-plate glass negatives and 500 celluloid negatives from the commercial studio of Rufus W. Holsinger—and later his son, Ralph. Approximately two-thirds of

the collection are studio portraits, and among these are over 600 portraits of African-American citizens of Charlottesville and the surrounding area (for more information on this subset of the collection, visit The Holsinger Studio Portrait Project). Many of the portraits are unidentified, but some are of visiting celebrities and dignitaries. In 1915 while teaching art at the University of Virginia, Georgia O’Keeffe sat for a portrait at the Holsinger Studio.

The collection also include scenes and events from the community and from the University of Virginia. Perhaps the best-known views are those of the University Rotunda before, during, and after its burning in 1895, but many other events are depicted, including parades, fires, exhibitions, and train wrecks. Prints made fresh from the original negatives are models of clarity and detail. They give new life to times long past.

Rufus W. Holsinger came to Charlottesville from Pennsylvania by way of Manassas in the late 1880’s to establish a photographic business. His “University Studio” at 719-721 West Main soon became the leading studio in town, with a reputation for first-quality work. Holsinger himself served at various times as president and treasurer of the Photographic Association of Virginia and the Carolinas, and as treasurer of the Photographer’s Association of America. He was a long-time member of the Charlottesville City Council, president of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce, and an organizer and director of the National Bank of Charlottesville. After his death in 1930, the studio was owned and operated by his son, Ralph W. Holsinger, Jr., who moved the studio in 1935 to its familiar location at 908 West Main. Upon the son’s retirement in 1969, the studio passed from the hands of the Holsinger family, and the business ceased operation in 1977.

A studio fire in 1912 destroyed the early business ledgers and some negatives. Those negatives surviving the fire range in size from 5 x 7 to 14 x 17 inches.  Special Collections of the University of Virginia Library accepted the collection on deposit in 1973-1974 with support from a grant by the University’s Rotunda Restoration Committee, whose primary interest was to locate negatives that would aid the restoration. The Holsinger Studio Collection was acquired in 1978 by the University of Virginia through generous contributions made by the Alumni Association and an anonymous donor.

You can find the collection online as part of the Library’s VIRGO catalog.

Creation of the Holsinger Studio Collection image database was made possible through the generous aid of:

  • The Perry Foundation of Charlottesville
  • The Charlottesville-Albemarle Community Foundation
  • Associates of the University of Virginia Library
  • The John Allan Love Foundation
  • Mr. and Mrs. J. Wallace Sieg
  • Jefferson National Bank
  • Mr. John J. Owen
  • University of Virginia Alumni Association
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation
  • Crestar Bank
  • The Beirne Carter Foundation of Richmond
  • The Whitney and Anne Stone Foundation