Collection ID:

Collection context


George Eastman Museum
Spencer Douglass Crockwell was a commercial illustrator, experimental filmmaker, inventor, Mutoscope collector, amateur scientist, and Glens Falls, New York, resident. The Douglass Crockwell Collection contains Mr. Crockwell's personal papers, professional documents, films, Mutoscope reels, flip books, drawings, and photographs documenting his professional, civic, and personal life.
30.1 cubic feet (1 document box, 1 oversize box, and 96 Mutoscope boxes)
English and Collection materials are in English .
Preferred citation:

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Douglass Crockwell Collection, 1897-1976, George Eastman Museum, Moving Image Department, Stills, Posters, and Papers Collection


Scope and Content:

The Douglass Crockwell Collection consists of paper documents (including correspondence, notes, manuscripts, and legal records), photographs, drawings, moving-image technology, and moving images in three different formats: 16mm film, flip books, and Mutoscope reels. The bulk of the materials created by Crockwell date from 1939 until his death in 1968, though some documents appear to have been added to the collection as late as 1976 by persons other than the creator. The earliest materials collected by Crockwell are Mutoscope reels dating from 1897.

Materials in the collection are mostly related to Crockwell's work in commercial illustration and amateur experimental filmmaking, as well as his involvement with civic organizations in and around the town of Glens Falls, New York. Materials related to his personal life are primarily correspondence to friends and family members. Geographically the materials are limited to the Glens Falls, New York, area, where Crockwell settled in 1932 and lived for the remainder of his life.

Biographical / Historical:

Experimental animator, commercial illustrator, inventor, and amateur physicist Spencer Douglass Crockwell was born in Columbus, Ohio, on April, 29, 1904. His father,Charles Roland Crockwell, was a mining engineer with theCrockwell Mine & Mill Supply Company; his mother,Cora Amelia Crockwell(née Smith), was the daughter of an Iowa attorney. In 1907 the Crockwell family moved to St. Louis, Missouri where, after graduating public high school in 1922, Crockwell entered Washington University. Originally intending to study engineering, Crockwell soon switched to the university's business college, graduating with a B.S. in 1926. While still an undergraduate, however, Crockwell had begun taking courses at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts and would later claim he knew even before commencement that he "wanted to be an artist." (1) After graduation Crockwell continued to study at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts until 1929; the following year he relocated to Chicago where he continued his studies at the American Academy of Art. Crockwell received fellowships to travel to Europe during the summers of 1930 and 1931, and in 1932 Crockwell relocated to Glens Falls, NY. The following year he married painter and Glens Falls native Margaret J. Braman, whom Crockwell had first met while they were both studying art in St. Louis. Settling permanently in Glens Falls, the Crockwells soon became part of a small circle of upstate-New York artists which included the sculptorDavid Smith(whose work the Crockwells collected), Smith's then-wifeDorothy Dehner, andJohn Graham. (2) In 1937 their son Douglass Jr. was born, followed by daughters Johanna (b. 1941) and Margaret ("Magsie," b. 1945).

Crockwell's successful career as a freelance illustrative painter began in the early 1930s and would continue until two years before his death in 1968. In addition to providing cover and story illustrations for such magazines asColliers,Country Gentleman, andThe Saturday Evening Post(which first hired Crockwell for a cover in 1933), Crockwell received advertising commissions from a wide variety of companies. Prominent among these wereGeneral Electric,Welch's,General Motors,Brown & Bigelow(best-known for their illustrated calendars), the drug manufacturersWyeth PharmaceuticalsandLederle Laboratories,Republic Steel, andMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer, for which Crockwell created the poster art for the 1946 feature filmThe Yearling. Illustrations were also commissioned by theUnited Service Organizations(USO) and theU.S. Army,Marinesand theNurse Corps.In 1947 Crockwell was hired by theUnited States Brewers Foundation(USBF) to provide paintings for their influential "Beer Belongs" ad campaign. Launched in 1946, the campaign rebranded beer as "America's Beverage of Moderation" and attempted to convince post-Prohibition Americans of beer's centrality to wholesome American living -- the kind often depicted by Crockwell in his magazine work. Of the 136 advertisements produced before the campaign came to a close in 1956, 120 were numbered and considered to comprise a subseries titled "Home Life in America." The exact number of ads featuring Crockwell's work is uncertain: According to brochures and biographical notes found among his papers, Crockwell provided illustrations for 110 different ads. More recent research into the "Beer Belongs" campaign, however, estimates the actual number to be closer to 70, roughly half the total number of ads produced.

In addition to private commissions, during the 1930s and early 40s Crockwell received federal funds from New Deal agencies to create several important public works. In 1934 he paintedPaper Workers, Finch Pruyn &Co.for theWorks Progress Administration. The canvas, which depicts workers at a Glens Falls paper manufacturing plant, currently belongs to theSmithsonian American Art Museumin Washington, DC. A second version painted that same year was later donated to theHyde Collection, the Glens Falls art museum of which Crockwell was a founding trustee and where he served as director from 1964-1968. Crockwell also created threeU.S. Post Officemurals on commission from theTreasury Section of Fine Arts, formerly the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture. The first wasVermont Industries(1937) for the U.S. Post Office in White River Junction, Vermont, followed byEndicott, 1901 -- Excavation for the Ideal Factory(1938) in Endicott, NY, and theSigning of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on September 27, 1830, (1941) in Macon, Mississippi.

Concurrent with his work as a commercial illustrator, Crockwell also created short animated motion-pictures, many of which employed techniques and devices of his own invention. The earliest of these largely abstract films date from the mid- to late-1930s and bear titles such asFlower Landscape,Parade,Frustration, the seriesFantasmagoria I,II,III(1938, 1939, 1940), andThe Chase(1940). Screenings of these films took place at venues such as theMuseum of Modern Art(where, according to a 1940 letter fromDana Bennett, one film was exhibited via a "continuous projection machine" [3]) and cinema clubs. As part of the 1946 Art in Cinema program at theSan Francisco Museum of Art, Crockwell compiled several of these early films under the titleGlens Falls Sequence. Many sections of this 10-minute 16mm film (which Crockwell intended to be projected at "silent speed" of 16 frames per second) were created using his own patented paint-on-glass apparatus that enabled Crockwell to photograph images one frame at a time as he applied slow-drying plastic paint to the reverse side of a sheet of glass. Crockwell would then manipulate the paint using razor blades, brushes or his fingers, adding and removing color at will. Crockwell described this device as "an animation easel with the camera mounted overhead and the work area arranged much as a draftsman desk, except that the working area consisted of several movable layers of glass slightly separated."(4)

Crockwell filed papers for this painting-on-glass apparatus with a patent attorney in 1937; the patent on this "Method of Producing Animated Pictures" was granted in 1940. In 1947 Crockwell compiled a second film titledThe Long Bodieswhich included old as well as new material. Nearly all the new footage was produced using Crockwell's wax-slicing machine, patented in July 1948. This device used a rotating meat-slicing blade to shave thin slices from the "long body" of a varicolored block of wax; with each slice, a slightly different shape and color arrangement was revealed. Newly exposed cross-sections were then photographed at a rate of one frame per slice. According to Crockwell's own description, the aim of the device was to produce a "precise and fluid transition between the separate frames of a simple animated sequence" by reducing "the variation between the shapes to almost a mathematical formula." (5) (While Crockwell's wax-slicing machine bore a remarkable resemblance to a similar device constructed in 1919 by the German-American abstract animatorOskar Fischinger, there is no evidence that Crockwell had ever seen Fischinger's films or was aware of his techniques.)

A third animation machine used by Crockwell in his non-commercial work was the Mutoscope, a coin-operated, moving-image peep-show device patented by the American inventorHerman Caslerin 1894. Designed for single-user viewing the Mutoscope traditionally used sequential stiff-backed photographs radially mounted onto a circular core. This reel was then turned by a viewer-operated hand crank, the manipulation of which "animated" the images in the manner of a flip-book. Each reel contained approximately 850 cards and lasted about one minute, although the running time depended on the speed at which the spectator turned the crank. Fascinated by the device and its ability to present "sequential art" (Crockwell was less interested in the moving-image aspect of the mechanism), Crockwell became one of the foremost collectors of Mutoscope reels and machines in the U.S. Beginning in the late 1930s Crockwell created many reels of his own, including theColor Wheelsseries,A Long Body,Random Glow,Stripes,Ode to David,Around the Valley,Duopusses,Animation #1, andPlayboy and Dancer Reel. One of these reels was printed by theInternational Mutoscope Reel Companyand exhibited in a Mutoscope machine in the offices of theMuseum of Modern Artin 1946.(6) In addition to reels using sequences from his own abstract films, Crockwell also created Mutoscope reels from non-sequential "found" images appropriated from advertisements, "girlie magazines," and other media.

The culmination of Crockwell's interest in this pre-cinematic device was the exhibition "Mutoscopes," mounted by theMuseum of Modern Artfrom August 2 through October 1, 1967. In addition to four old "Iron Horses" from Crockwell's collection the exhibit included six Plexiglas-enclosed Mutoscope viewers designed by Crockwell and containing reels he created through a variety of techniques, including painting, photography, printing, lettering, and found imagery. (The use of Plexiglas rather than the cast iron, sheet metal, or oak used in the older machines permitted more than a single person to view the reels at one time). Posters and stills from Crockwell's personal collection were also on display alongside the continuous projection ofThe Classic American Mutoscope, a film compilation of nine early Mutoscope reels organized by Crockwell.

In 1967 Crockwell also produced several "Thumb Prints," small flip-books featuring his own artwork.

In addition to experimental animation, Crockwell also maintained a great interest in the sciences, particularly atomic physics. He wrote and illustrated several unpublished papers on the subject, including "A Special Case of Inertial Induction," "The Magnetic Field Postulate," "Web Space," and "Geometric Forms in the Periodic Table of Elements.” In 1954 Crockwell's theory of the particle field was the subject of an "Amateur Scientist" column of>Scientific Americanmagazine. Crockwell's additional interests in anthropology and epistemology resulted in the papers "Theory of Totems" and "Two Forms of Knowledge," respectively. Throughout the 1960s Crockwell was working on a new invention: a "Pan-Stereo Sweep Camera" that would produce 360-degree panoramic photographs in 3-D.

A resident of Glens Falls, New York, until his death in 1968, Crockwell was also an active member of numerous civic organizations. From 1945 until 1948 he served as director of theGlens Falls Chamber of Commerce, and was a member of theMunicipal Civil Service Commissionfrom 1947 until 1963 when he resigned to become a member of theCity Planning Board. Crockwell was also a member of theGlens Falls Board of Educationfrom 1951 through 1965 and acting director of theHyde Collectionfrom 1964 until his death. His work as both a commercial illustrator and an experimental animator garnered Crockwell numerous awards, including two St. Louis Artists Guild Awards (1930, 1931); the 1942 Art Directors Club of New York Award for best poster; the 1944 and 1945 Art Directors Club of New York Award for best human interest color illustration; the 1947 Art Directors Club of New York Gold Medal for best poster; the Most Outstanding Film Award by Audience Vote at the Sixth Annual Festival of Contemporary Arts at the University of Illinois in 1953; and the 1957 Los Angeles Art Directors Award for best painting.

According to his obituary in the Glens Falls'Post-Starnewspaper Crockwell died at his home at 245 Sanford Street on November 30, 1968, after a short, unspecified illness. (7) He was 64 years old.


1. "Douglass Crockwell Dies; Famed Artist, Illustrator; Also Known as Civic Leader," The Post-Star (Glens Falls, NY), Dec. 2, 1968.

2. Anthony F. Hall, "In One Work of Sculpture, the Stories of Three Local Families,"Lake George Mirror Magazine, December 14, 2011.

3. Dana Bennett to Douglass Crockwell, Douglass Crockwell Collection, George Eastman Museum, Moving Image Department, Paper, Posters and Stills Collection, Rochester, NY.

4. Douglass Crockwell to Frank Stauffacher,Art in Cinema: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society, ed. Scott MacDonald (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006), 30-31.

5. Douglass Crockwell to Charles H. Andros, 29 September 1943, Douglass Crockwell Collection, George Eastman Museum, Moving Image Department, Stills, Posters, and Paper Collection, Rochester, NY.

6. Douglas Crockwell, "Peep Show: The Past and Future Mutoscope" draft, Douglass Crockwell Collection, George Eastman Museum, Moving Image Department, Stills, Posters, and Paper Collection, Rochester, NY.

7. "Douglass Crockwell Dies."

Acquisition information:
The earliest acquisition of collection materials occurred on August 20, 1973, when one table Mutoscope and three Mutoscope reels were received by the George Eastman Museum as an unrestricted gift from Mr. Crockwell's widow, Margaret Crockwell. On March 22, 1974, Mrs. Crockwell transferred most of the Douglass Crockwell Collection to the Eastman Museum with the understanding that one third of the collection would be received as an immediate gift. The remaining balance of the collection -- which included the films -- would be received as a loan for study purposes with the understanding it would be accessioned into the permanent collection as a gift within the next two years. On December 6, 1978, an unconditional gift of one 16mm film print of Glens Falls Sequence was made to Eastman House by Mr. Crockwell's son, Douglass Crockwell Jr. Mrs. Douglass Crockwell made an additional gift to Eastman House of Mr. Crockwell's Pan-Stereo cameras and viewers on October 15, 1980.

Collection materials are arranged in four series according to genre, with each series further divided into sub- and sub-subseries according to subject (or in the case of Moving Images, further subdivided according to format). Folders within each series are generally organized according to subject. Though items within folders were not found to follow any discernable arrangement, they were generally left as found. Exceptions include rehousing due to size or instances of obvious misfiling. Any relocation of items is noted within the original folder description.

The series and subseries arrangement of the collection materials is as follows:

  • Series 1, Documents,1934-1976
    • Subseries 1, Moving Images,1934-1970,undated
    • Subseries 2, Commercial Illustration,1966,undated
    • Subseries 3, Personal and Civic Affairs,1941-1976,undated
    • Subseries 4, Inventions,1939-1968,undated
    • Subseries 5, Scientific Research,1963-1967,undated
    • Subseries 6, Biographical Information,1966,undated
  • Series 2, Photographs and Illustrations,ca. 1966undated
    • Subseries 1, Photographs,ca. 1966,undated[bulk]
    • Subseries 2, Drawings,undated
  • Series 3, Moving Images,1897-1968
    • Subseries 1, Films,ca. 1937,ca. 1946
    • Subseries 2, Mutoscope Reels,1897-1907,1915,1965,undated
      • Sub-subseries 1, Collected,1897-1907,1915,undated
      • Sub-subseries 2, Created,1965,undated
    • Subseries 3, Flip Books,ca. 1967
  • Series 4, Technology
Physical location:
Collection materials are located onsite.



Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Douglass Crockwell Collection, 1897-1976, George Eastman Museum, Moving Image Department, Stills, Posters, and Papers Collection

900 East Avenue
Rochester, NY 14607, United States