Borrelli closing Artcraft Studio started by father in 1925
PARKERSBURG — While talking about his grandfather’s first job in Parkersburg as a tailor at the Woolen Mills, Paul Borrelli pointed to a wall in Artcraft Studios where a photo showing a billboard for the garment factory hung for years.
Then he laughed because he was only pointing out of habit.
That photo, and hundreds of other historical images that adorned the walls of his business in the basement of the Dils Center are gone, the white walls bare. The repository of more than 12,000 photo negatives and images of visits to Parkersburg by the likes of Amelia Earhart, John F. Kennedy and the singing munchkins from “The Wizard of Oz” is nearly empty.
“We just decided to close her up and ride into the sunset,” said Borrelli, who is 89 years old.
Borrelli’s father, Vincent, opened Artcraft in 1925 after the Woolen Mills left the area. Borrelli started working in the studio for his father when he was around 10 years old.
“I used to get a quarter on Saturdays,” he said of his compensation. Borrelli and a couple of friends would go to the Hiehle theater, get into the show for 10 cents and buy popcorn for a nickel. “And then when we were done, we’d run up to Nelson’s Drug Store and get the latest comic books.”
A number of factors played into the decision to close the business after 92 years, 22 in the current location, Borrelli said. It started in March, when Artcraft was robbed after hours.
“They stole personal things. They got some cash, of course,” he said. “(I) didn’t feel right being in the studio. … That robbery took a lot out of me.”
Most of what was taken had little or no value to anyone besides Borrelli — chemicals used to develop photos, a pair of scissors he used while working in the dark room when he was an Army soldier in 1951-52, coins minted the years his grandchildren were born.
The generosity of friends and acquaintances helped him replace items like the coins, but something had changed.
“I just didn’t want to come back in,” Borrelli said.
With encouragement from others, he eventually returned to work, but age and health had taken their toll as well. Borrelli said it took him two hours to print four pictures, a process that once lasted about 20 minutes.
“I can’t work like I used to,” he said.
Then there are the advancements in photographic technology and, more importantly, their effect on people’s attitudes and actions.
Borrelli said his daughter has found her father’s and his father’s photographs on the Internet, posted without permission and sometimes with claims that someone else took them. He used to put photo displays in the windows of the Dils Center facing Market Street, but people would take pictures of them with their phones.
“Well, shoot fire, they don’t need me and my camera,” Borrelli said. “It used to be that people wouldn’t do that kind of thing.”
So Borrelli, his son and others have been moving equipment and negatives and pictures taken by him, his father and a few other photographers out over the last few weeks. He’s donated about 700 negatives of images in Marietta to the Marietta College Legacy Library, but he’s hanging on to most of his collection.
“They’re being stored away,” he said.
In 2011, a state development grant was awarded to help digitally preserve Borrelli’s collection. Due to miscommunications and other issues he declined to elaborate on, “it never materialized, and that’s it,” he said.
Borrelli said he’s concerned that he would lose control of the images if he turned them over to someone to digitize and he wants he or his family to continue to be compensated if the images are used commercially.
Wood County Historical Society President Bob Enoch said he’s sorry to see Artcraft close, but he understands Borrelli’s reasons.
The society plans to honor Borrelli at its November meeting. Both the business and the man have been tremendous resources to the community, Enoch said.
“There’s (other) photos around, but Paul’s were in a collection,” he said. “Not only did he have the photos, but he had the stories to go with them.”
And Borrelli is still willing and eager to share those stories. Whatever else may have diminished with age, his memory and sense of humor remain sharp.
He recalled speaking to a photographer at his granddaughter’s wedding who used a digital camera.
“She said, ‘How do you know that you have the picture'” without seeing it on a digital screen? Borelli said. “I said, ‘Honey, that’s why they call us professionals.'”