John J. Tillman was born in Sweden in 1868. He immigrated in 1883 living in Minnesota until moving to Port Wing about 1900. The 1905 US Census lists him as a single farmer living on his father’s farm. He was also a professional photographer. From his photos we see that he was active in the town band and was interested in taxidermy and in bee keeping. He also applied for a Class B License to sell liquor in 1934 in the old Emporium building. Port Wing was his residence through 1940. After that we find no record of him until his death on July 11, 1950. We do not know where he is buried.
About his Photographs
Many Tillman’s photos were taken in the early 1900s before the area had been logged over. His photos cover logging camps, the harbor, the lumber mill, the brownstone quarry, the town band, various town events and much more.
Thanks to Dick Rewalt of Iron River who spent hours and hours making digital scans of over 350 of Tillmans’ original 5 x7 glass plate negatives. The resulting high resolution images of early 20th century Port Wing are true treasures. You can see the entire collection on display at the museum starting summer of 2019.
About his Camera
Anyone who has been through the museum has seen J. J. Tillman’s camera. It appears to be very similar to an Eastman “Home Portrait” model which were made in the 1920s. From Tillman’s self portraits we know that he used at least one other camera.
For you camera buffs, here is some information about the Velostigmat Series II F:4.5 Lens on his portrait view camera. It had a soft focus feature, a common effect used in portraiture.