|Dates & places of birth and death||
b. 1879 Centralia, IL
Herman Schnitzmeyer, Flathead Photographer, 1879 – 1939
The opening of the Flathead Indian Reservation to homesteading in 1910 brought many
adventurous land-seekers in search of a new life. Among those early arrivals was
Herman Schnitzmeyer who promptly settled on 160 acres on Wildhorse Island in
Schnitzmeyer had left his native Illinois where he was born in Centralia on November 1,
1879, the son of German immigrant parents. As a young man he had become interested
in photography, eventually operating a commercial studio in Nashville, Illinois for eight
years before heading west.
Full of idealism, Schnitzmeyer named his homestead "Apollo Heights" and set about
planting and building, but spent more time philosophizing as he was by nature a dreamer,
not a farmer.
By 1912, Schnitzmeyer was again producing photographs to supplement his income and
joined in partnership with fellow homesteader Louis Desch. Together they sold real
photo postcards of the local area.
In 1915, having "proved up" on his island homestead, Schnitzmeyer moved to Polson
where he returned to photography as a full time profession and opened the Polson Studio.
After gaining a favorable reputation and some local notoriety, in 1917 he sold his
Wildhorse Island holdings to Henry Bierman, a Kalispell meat marketer and dedicated
his energies to capturing scenic views. It is this quest that inspired him most and
occupied his interest for the remainder of his career.
Herman Schnitzmeyer has been characterized by those who knew him as "eccentric", "a
perfectionist", "a genius with a camera", "a philosopher", "a rugged individualist", and
ultimately "an artist". In spite of these qualifications for greatness, Schnitzmeyer and his
work have remained relatively unknown outside the Flathead Valley and Western
Several reasons for this lack of national recognition can be postulated.
As a photographer, Schnitzmeyer was far more interested in capturing the perfect image
than in self-promotion. He would often spend hours getting just the right lighting and
cloud formations, a trait that produced spectacular photos, but did not contribute to
prolific productivity. He was particularly noted for a lack of business sense and failure to
keep regular studio hours.
Much of the local marketing effort was left to his friend and partner Louis Desch, who
hand-tinted Schnitzmeyer's images, adding the element of color, and selling wholesale
lots to retailers around Montana.
Secondly, Schnitzmeyer operated in the same time and place as renowned Glacier Park
photographer Tomar J. Hileman, who was heavily promoted by both the Park and Great
Northern Railroad. Hileman himself was a successful businessman with the foresight to
retain the copyrights on his scenic photos.
Thirdly, in 1926, Schnitzmeyer sold much of his equipment along with many scenic
views and negatives to Johan W. Rode, a Polson acquaintance, who first issued prints
with the ink stamp "J.W. Rode, Polson, Mont. Successor to H. Schnitzmeyer".
Later, Rode copyrighted and produced these photos under his own name, marketing them
as "Scenic American Views" and selling from his headquarters in Berkley, California,
Rode often changed the original photo titles assigned by Schnitzmeyer to captions of his
own choosing. Rode also produced massive enlargements which far exceeded
Schnitzmeyer's limited print size capabilities.
Finally, when Herman Schnitzmeyer took free-lance assignments offered by the Northern
Pacific Railroad, the copyrights on his work and negatives were often retained by his
employer. These were used in promotional publications and as documentation of railroad
Regardless of the reasons for the relative obscurity of Herman Schnitzmeyer and his
work, his photographic contributions continue to inspire us and provide a valuable insight
to the history and scenic beauty of Western Montana, elevating moments in time to
timeless works of art.
"The creative mind is the real and genuinely strong mind." Herman Schnitzmeyer
"Photography is 90 percent man, 10 percent equipment." H. Schnitzmeyer to apprentice
(image and bio from http://students.cte.umt.edu/PrevStudents/2011/ks188458/Index.html)