McVicar-Stein and Wollin Photo Collections
Adapted from an article Historic Madison's Journal, Volume XVI
by Ann Waidelich and John Danielson
On May 13, 1999, Historic Madison bought the McVicar-Stein and Wollin photo collections from Tim Romano. The collections contain over 100,000 negatives and prints from three prominent Madison commercial photographers who were active between 1926 and 1980.
Angus B. McVicar was born in Sheboygan Falls, WI in 1903. The family moved to Madison in 1917. Angus attended Carroll College in Waukesha for two years then returned to Madison to marry his childhood sweetheart, Genevieve Milward, in 1925. He started the McVicar Photo Service in 1926 at the age of 23 in the basement of the family's floral shop at 723 University Avenue. He was the first in Madison to use a flash. A large part of his early work was taking pictures for The Capital Times. In 1942, he sold the photograph business to George Stein and concentrated on running the family's floral business which was more lucrative. After World War II, competition in the floral business was so intense that Angus closed the University Floral Shop and went back into photography, working for George Stein's Photo Copy Service.
George Stein was born in Madison in 1913. He attended Central High School and took UW Extension photography classes from Prof. Freeman Brown, who was director from 1913 to 1957 of the UW Photographic Laboratory. George married Bernardine Annen in 1922. George's first photo job was working for the WI Blue Print Company making photostats of documents and exhibits for the federal oil trial held in Madison from October through January 1937-38. He bought his own photostat machine in 1938 and went into business for himself. He acquired Angus McVicar's Photo Service in 1941, moved the equipment from University Avenue to 206 E. Main Street and changed the business name. In 1943, George moved the Photo Copy Service to 211 W. Mifflin Street. During WW II, he took class and individual ID photos of the servicemen and women training at Truax Field and at the University.
After the war, a subsidiary of Photo Copy Service, known as Madison Film Productions, shot movie film of news events in WI for television broadcasts. Angus' son Richard was the cameraman for Madison Film Productions.
E. William "Bill" Wollin was born in 1914 in Beloit, WI. He attended the UW School of Journalism. He and fellow student Burton M. "Max" Smith opened the Smith/Wollin Studio in 1945 at 20 N. Carroll Street with encouragement from the Arthur Towell Advertising Agency and Louis Heindel, advertising manager at the Madison newspapers.
The Wollin Studio grew to be the second largest advertising-photography studio in WI.
In 1949, he married Darlene Quinn Vernon. Darlene was a well-known jazz accordionist and served as a model and photo stylist for the Wollin Studio, becoming a portrait photographer in her own right. Bill was inducted into the Professional Photographers of America and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1979. The studio moved to 151 E. Gorham Street, currently the Madison Urban League, in 1960 and stayed there until 1977. At that time, the business moved to 433 Grand Canyon Drive and was downsized. The Wollins bought a motor home so that they could go "on location" to shoot photographs. In 1980, the business was sold to James W. Forrestal. By chance, the Wollin negatives were saved from the trash when the Wollins discovered that Forrestal was throwing them away. The Wollins moved to Melbourne Beach, FL where they continued to take photographs until Bill's death from heart disease at the age of 79 in 1993. Darlene died at Daytona Beach, FL in 2004. In 1991, Tim Romano, who works as a movie projectionist, struck up a conversation with George Stein who worked as a ticket taker with him at the Point Cinema. George told Tim about his photo business and said he wanted to dispose of the old negatives and prints. Tim offered to buy them, and with the purchase he started his own business called Historic Photo Service, selling copies of the photographs. In 1993, Madison Magazine published an article on Tim's business which Bill Wollin saw. Wollin offered to let Tim sell prints from his negatives and split the profit 50-50. After Bill's death, Tim bought the negatives from Bill's widow.
By 1998, Tim realized his Historic Photo Service could not provide a living wage and announced he wanted to sell the collections. Historic Madison decided to raise the money to buy the collections. Because the society has no permanent space, the collection was donated to the Visual Materials Archive at the Wisconsin Historical Society library, fourth floor.
There are about 10,000 negatives in the McVicar-Stein collection and another
10,000 negatives in the Wollin Collection. 6,000 of the McVicar-Stein negatives
were indexed when Tim Romano owned the collection. That index is available on
the computers in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Room. There is also a
Register Book to the McVicar-Stein collection which they kept at the time the
photos were taken. It is arranged chronologically by the date of when the pictures
were taken. The Register Book for the Wollin collection has been lost, but a few
of the photos were indexed by Tim Romano.