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California Gold Rush Mining Towns Photographed by Alma Lavenson, 1930-1968
BANC PIC 1987.021--PIC  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: California Gold Rush Mining Towns Photographed by Alma Lavenson
    Date: 1930-1968
    Collection Number: BANC PIC 1987.021--PIC
    Photographer: Alma Lavenson
    Extent: 373 photographic prints, 21 x 26 cm. or smaller. 367 digital objects
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection stored off-site. Advance notice required for use.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish photographs must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Pictorial Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
    Copyright restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], California Gold Rush Mining Towns Photographed by Alma Lavenson, 1930-1968, BANC PIC 1987.021--PIC, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Digital Representations Available

    Digital representations of selected original pictorial materials are available in the list of materials below. Digital image files were prepared from selected Library originals by the Library Photographic Service. Library originals were copied onto 35mm color transparency film; the film was scanned and transferred to Kodak Photo CD (by Custom Process); and the Photo CD files were color-corrected and saved in JFIF (JPEG) format for use as viewing files.

    Related Collection

    Photographs from California and Other Locations, BANC PIC 1981.115 -- B

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The California Gold Rush Mining Towns collection was received as a gift from Alma Lavenson Wahrhaftig in 1987.


    Alma Lavenson was born in San Francisco in 1897, the daughter of a successful dry-goods businessman. After the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906, the Lavenson family moved across the Bay to Oakland. At some point before she entered the University of California at Berkeley, where she would study psychology, Alma Lavenson began to practice photography with a small, folding Kodak camera, which she initially used for snapshots of family and friends. After several years of self-directed study in the pictorialist tradition, her Zion Canyon photograph "The Light Beyond" --the first she had ever submitted for publication --was chosen to appear on the cover of the December 1927 issue of Photo-Era magazine. Similar successes were soon to follow, all acknowledging her formalist approach to landscapes and occasional genre portraits and architectural subjects. Around 1929 Lavenson began to incorporate industrial and urban subjects into her work, exploring the abstract shapes and patterns suggested in their surfaces.
    Around 1930, Lavenson made the acquaintances of Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and Conseulo Kanaga. She and Cunningham would remain friends until Cunningham's death in 1976. At the encouragement of Weston, Lavenson abandoned her pictorialist approach to photography and began to develop a sharper, more tightly composed and austere style. Also at this time, Lavenson began to photograph in the Mother Lode region of California, concentrating on the architecture, mining equipment and landscape features remaining from the Gold Rush era.
    In 1932 Alma Lavenson's work appeared in three important exhibits at San Francisco's M.H. De Young Museum. The first exhibit was "A Showing of Hands," which included Lavenson's "Hands of an Etcher." The second was for a contest of photographs of California trees, in which her "Tree in Winter" received second prize (after the winning photograph by Weston). The third and most important exhibit was the watershed "visual manifesto" produced by the newly formed Group f/64, which included Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, John Paul Edwards, Sonia Noskowiak and Henry Swift, as well as other invited photographers, and which sought to rigorously explore the potentials of "straight" photography.
    In 1933 Alma Lavenson married the lawyer Matt Wahrhaftig and moved to nearby Piedmont. Her pursuit of photography gradually declined after this point, though she would continue to practice through the 1960s, primarily during her travels abroad. Unlike her contemporaries, Lavenson never considered photography her livelihood, nor did she pursue her practice to such an extent as did, for example, Cunningham, Weston or Adams. "For me," she said in 1978, "photography was just a small part of my life." Alma Lavenson died in 1989.
    (Source: Fuller, Patricia Gleason, text to Alma Lavenson (exhibit catalog), Riverside, CA: The California Museum of Photography, c1979.)

    Scope and Content

    The California Gold Rush Mining Towns collection contains 373 photographs taken between 1930 and 1968 by Alma Lavenson. The collection consists of views of several of the towns and camps of the Mother Lode region --the area located roughly between Georgetown and Mariposa --which was heavily mined for its great quantities of gold-bearing quartz. Approximately 60 communities which originally developed during the Gold Rush period following 1848 are represented in the collection. Many of these communities were apparently nearly-abandoned by the time of Lavenson's visits. The towns range from more well-known areas such as Nevada City, Grass Valley, Columbia, North San Juan and Coloma, to smaller, more obscure areas such as Rough and Ready, Copperopolis, Goodyear's Bar, Fiddletown and Timbuctoo. Especially featured in the collection are Gold-Rush-era structures such as hotels, residences, stores, restaurants, banks, churches, post offices, and jails, as well as cemeteries, farms and mining developments. Many street scenes feature storefront architecture remaining from the Gold Rush period.
    Other notable features of the collection include photographs of the homes of Lola Montez and Bret Harte, a replica of the cabin of Mark Twain, the Hangman's Tree of Second Garotte, and several buildings used by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Native Sons of the Golden West, and Wells, Fargo and Co.
    The collection is arranged by town, in alphabetical order. The photographs are captioned in manuscript, usually indicating location, date and photographer. Duplicates exist for some of the photographs.