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 Joseph Leeland Roop  (1869 - 1932)

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Lived/Active: Kentucky/California      Known for: portrait sculpture, monuments, film modeler

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Joseph Leeland Roop
An example of work by Joseph Leeland Roop
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is by David L. Roop, a great grandson of the artist:

Joseph Leeland Roop (some records show his name as Joseph Lee) was born December 22, 1869 in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.  His father was Joseph William Roop (1842-1893), born in Roopsburg, Centre County, Pennsylvania; he grew up in Tippecanoe Co., Indiana and Decatur, Alabama.  He served in the Confederate Army in the 9th Alabama Cavalry.  After the war Joseph William moved to Louisville, where he married Grace Elizabeth Murray (1850-1911).  She was born and raised in Louisville. Joseph Leeland had five younger brothers, two of which died as infants, and Marshall Scott (1876-1918), Edmund P. (1878-1928), and Houston (1879-1942).

Source: From family papers and records

Joseph Roop went to school in the Louisville Public School, and graduated from the same.  It is said that "he was born with natural talent and even at the age of 4 years was able to model frogs, dogs, and animals of all kinds and portraitures".

Source: (Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville. This includes newspaper articles, letters, telegrams, and photostat copies of other publications.)

First, at that young age, he began modeling such figures from clay he would get from a creek near his house when his family lived on a farm near Louisville.

(Conversation with S.E. Roop, J. L. Roop's grandson, 1983)

He worked as a photo-engraver and a photographer after graduating from high school.  Mentioned being in the Kentucky State Guard.

(Source: Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville)

He married February 6, 1889, and Joseph L. and Lula H. Roop divorced in 1893. They had a daughter, Aline Tupper Roop.
(Jefferson Circuit Court, Jefferson County Courthouse, Louisville, Kentucky)

He married Rena Elston Mills February 25, 1894 in Jeffersonville, Clark County, Indiana. Their children:
Joseph William Roop 1895-1953
Elwood Elston Roop 1896-1896
Elston Aaron Roop 1897-1959
Rena Elizabeth Roop 1900-1988
Marshall Houston Roop 1903-1980
George Shelby Roop 1908-1929
Robert Benjamin Roop 1910-1983

Source: family papers

His first sculpture work was Perry's Centennial for the arch at 4th and Broadway in Louisville; was submitted for bids and he was appointed to the work.  His next work was the Chicago World's Fair, called the World's Columbian Exposition.  It was the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. It was held in Chicago in 1893. [He most likely sculpted the statue of Daniel Boone for the Kentucky state building].

Source: Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville

The Louisville Directories for 1895 show him employed by J.S. Clark Co., W. Broadway, as a Draughtsman.  He is mentioned as having made an Egyptian-like mummy dubbed the name "Annie", a mummified mother and child "in the late 1800's, using wire, wood, burlap and plaster of Paris.  Her ribs are sheep's ribs; her skin is sheepskin." It is in the Filson Club collections in Louisville.  They were revealed as fakes in 1929, when they were x-rayed.
(Louisville Times Feb. 11,1985, no source for information given).

He also sculpted a statue of George Rogers Clark at the St. Louis World's Fair, called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.  It was an exposition in celebration of the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase held in St. Louis in 1904. The statue of George Rogers Clark was the central figure of the Kentucky state building for the World's Fair.

He carved horse heads in relief at Churchill Downs, at one time the horse head medallions adorned special places there, where every first Saturday of May, the Running of the Roses is held on Derby Day [he and his family reportedly had life-time passes to the Kentucky Derby].

He is said to have completed the statue of Daniel Boone (unsure who the original sculptor was) in Cherokee Park in Louisville.

His studio was located on 4th Street and Main in Louisville.

He made a life-size statue of Stephen Collins Foster.  It was unveiled June 14, 1906 in Louisville, during Louisville's Homecoming. Money for its production was raised from donations from school children.  It is on display in Louisville.

He made a bust of Louisville poet, Madison Cawein. I t too is on display in Louisville.

He made a bust of Abraham Lincoln. [It may be at Bardstown, KY, at Stephen Collins Foster's "Old Kentucky Home"].

He also made a life-size bust of the poet James Whitcomb Riley, modeled from life and is at his home in Greenfield, Indiana.  Riley gave a breakfast to 100 guests and had Mr. Roop model a plaque with Riley's portrait in relief in the upper left hand corner and with a shock of fodder and a pumpkin beneath, presenting each guest with a plaque.  Mr. Roop and Mr. Riley were friends and visited occasionally.

Mentioned as having made a life-size statue of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet.

Mentioned as having done a work (bust or statue) of the English poet John Keats.

Made a death-mask of poet and song-writer Will S. Hays.

Source: Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville

He took charge of the bronze foundry in Indianapolis to finish the Sailor and Soldier Monuments for Princeton, Indiana, [completed in October 1912] and Vincennes, Indiana [completed in October 1914]. These were begun by Rudolph Schwarz. (1)Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville; 2) These two sources make no mention of J.L. Roop: Vincennces Sun-Commercial Feb. 2 1987; Letter from Byron R. Historical Library, Vincennes University, June 11, 1991)

He is mentioned as having made a bust of Andrew Carnegie, which was placed in Carnegie Hall in New York. (In a letter from Rena-Beth Smith, J.L. Roop's grand-daughter, 1988)

Before the 1900's (about 1896), he pieced together 25 feet of single pictures in sequence, wrapped them around a spool and ran off a few seconds of action. Later he invented a camera . . . applying for a patent Mar. 24, 1913, receiving it Mar. 30, 1915, "Moving Picture Camera and Projecting Device" (#1,133,580). In his book on the May family, John May, Jr. of Virginia: His Descendants and Their Land, genealogist/family historian, Ben Coke mentions Joseph L. Roop "is said to have invented and patented a camera, and to have projected movies before Edison" (he cites the Louisville Courier Journal 10 March, 1940) . . . well, he did in fact invent and patent a movie camera, yet to document the claim: Edison is not credited with projecting the first or even inventing the first as dozens of men the world over were working simultaneously (if independently) on this and would thus all be credited (as noted from The American People encyclopedia). (Copy of patent from U.S. Patent Office)

In 1916 he left Louisville for Dayton, Ohio where he worked as a newsreel cameraman. He was sent back to Louisville to "shoot" a fire, but arrived too late. Whereupon, the story goes, he made paper models from pictures of the buildings and set the miniatures ablaze. Photographing these, he "faked" the real fire.

In 1917, while in Dayton, he made the models in miniature and animated the "Birth of Christ" for the International Bible Students.

He became so fascinated with miniatures and animation, he moved to Hollywood, California in 1917, where he became affiliated with the major studios making animated miniatures. (the above entries from Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville)

Worked on silent films in California, his first major effort being a production of Pastor Russell's "Burning of the Christians".  He is credited with working on over 700 productions, among these are as listed:
"Tom and Jerry" animated models of a black man and his mule, called animated cartoons, shown at the California Theatre on Main and 8th in Los Angeles, circa 1922.
"Prehistoric Mammals" - (1920's) a planned production featuring dinosaurs.
"Black Cyclone" - (1925) the horse fight between Rex and Marcus.
"The Lost World" - (1925) the dinosaur scenes.
"The Gorilla Hunt" - (1926) supplementing real life pictures with his figures.
"The Greater Glory" - (1926) the "Four Horseman" appearing in the clouds.
"Tarzan's Return" - superintended the making of the sets.
Other films, dates unknown:
"Sahara Desert"
"The Girl from Visalia"
films for the Bray Studios
"The Isle of Surprise"
film(s) of Briar Rabbit
film(s) of the mule "Maud"

Other films he is credited with working on the "trick photography" or special effects include these Hollywood stars of the Silent Film Era (though the specific films are not known):
Charlie Chaplin
Al St. John
Larry Semon
Mary Miles Minter
George Beban
Bryant Washburne
(The above is taken from 1) Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville. This includes newspaper articles, letters, telegrams,
and photostat copies from other publications. 2) Arnold Production and Releasing Corporation publicity papers. 3) New York Times Film Reviews 1913-1968. 4) Papers and photographs from his daughter, Rena Ellington.)

Filed patent application August 25, 1919, for "Film Driving Means", to be used for movie cameras. Received patent on November 28, 1922 (#1,431,152).(Copy of patent from U.S. Patent Office)

Featured in the "Los Angeles Times", June 24, 1923 Times Rotogravure with photos of his sculpture work and stop-action animation film work under the heading "Angeleno Makes His Own World". (Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville)

Sculpted the large American Indian statue at Arrowhead Springs near San Bernadino, California, most likely during the 1920's. (Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville. Visit and photos by S.E. Roop in 1985)

In 1924, he went on a scientific expedition into the Painted Desert in Arizona with Charles W. Gilmore, head of the American Museum of Natural History. With his "advice and counsel" he made his miniatures for many movie productions and other projects. (The Louisville Times, Oct. 19, 1927)

Worked on the "special effects" for the 1925 silent film, "The Lost World", using the stop-action animation, sometimes referred to as "sequences of miniature animals in motion" or "animation from miniature". (Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville)

He has some sculpture work at the William S. Hart home at the Friends of Hart Park in Newhall, California. Molded a small statue of Hart and his favorite Pinto horse, "Fritz". William S. Hart was a western star for silent films. ( 1)Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville. 2) Visit and photos by S.E. Roop to Hart home in 1985. 3) Letter from Rena-Beth Smith, J. L. Roop's grand-
daughter, 1988)

From around 1928 until 1932, he was "engaged in sculpturing miniature figures of animals and men for a series of historical groups depicting the highlights of California history" at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. Among these dioramas of California history are "The Founding of Los Angeles", "Selling Cattle Hides Dana Point", "Capturing a Grizzly Bear", "Battle of the Bulls", "Chumash Indian Village", "The Battle of San Pasqual",and others. ( 1)This is mentioned in various Los Angeles newspaper articles that are included in the Museum of History and Science papers in Louisville. 2) Visit and photos by S.E. Roop to Museum in 1985. 3) The 20 Dioramas of California History in the California Hall of the Los Angeles County Museum of History and Science, ed. Ruth I. Mahood, Bulletin No.2, 1965.)

As late as 1932, he was working on sculptures of pre-historic animals, namely saber-toothed tigers or cats and a dire wolf. These were for the Rancho La Brea tar pits at Hancock Park. He worked with Hermann T. Beck on these projects.( 1)Museum of History and Science papers, Louisville. 2)Terra, the magazine of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries, Sept.-Oct. 1985, pp. 23-29.)

It has been said that many of his sculptured works are privately owned throughout Kentucky and California.

Died December 22, 1932 in California on his sixty-third birthday. It is said he died from pneumonia after getting sick from a hunting trip in Kentucky. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Glendale, California. His wife, Rena Elston, died in 1947 in Louisville, she too is buried in Forest Lawn. (His daughter, Rena, related the story of the hunting trip)

Magazines, Periodicals

McCormick, Pamela, "NFPF Approves $200,00 for DVDs of Rare Pics" Daily Variety, April 17, 2002 as posted on the website

Schallert, Edwin "Trick Photography in the 'Gold Rush'" Science and Invention, December 1925

"California Theater, Weekly Magazine and Program", Citizen Print Shop, Los Angeles, California (circa 1923)

Hubbard, Samuel, "Discoveries Relating to Prehistoric Man by the Doheny Scientific Expedition in the Hava Supai Canyon Northern Arizona", October and November 1924, with supplement, Sunset Press, San Francisco, 1927

"Intoducing the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries" (a program guide, circa 1985)

Mahood, Ruth I., editor, "The Twenty Dioramas of California History" in the California Hall of the Los Angeles County Museum of HIstory and Science, Bulletin No. 2, printed by the Ward Ritchie Press, Los Angeles, 1965.

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