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California Cornerstones
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Abstract
  • Pictorial Collection Overview
  • Scope and Content
  • Biographies

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: California Cornerstones: Selected Images from The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collection
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is available for use.

    Digital Representation 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.

    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 Cornerstones: Selected Images from The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collection, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.


    California Cornerstones is a collection of significant historical images from The Bancroft Library and provides a preview of recent technological developments and their application in a series of Library research and development projects. These projects are designed to solve problems involving access to and control of digital images and information on electronic networks, such as the Internet.
    California Cornerstones also serves as a showcase for a series of digital images that are now available worldwide through electronic network technology. These images were selected from the Pictorial Collection of The Bancroft Library to illustrate the entire span of California's modern history, from exploration through early European settlement, to the present.
    This is a sampling of the kinds of material that appear in a project called California Heritage Digital Image Access Project, a large digital archive of important California images that is part of an ambitious collaboration with other state archival institutions. Through digital access projects, such as California Cornerstones, the University of California, Berkeley Library is positioned to be the catalyst for other valuable project collaborations.

    Pictorial Collection Overview

    The Bancroft Library, founded as a private historical research library in the late 1850s by Hubert Howe Bancroft, was purchased by the Regents of the University of California in 1905 and moved the next year from San Francisco to Berkeley where it now functions administratively as a branch of The Library, University of California, Berkeley. The Bancroft Library is one of the largest libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and special collections in the United States. Among its components are the Bancroft Collection of Western Americana, the Rare Books Collections, Pictorial Collections, the Mark Twain Papers and Project, the Regional Oral History Office, the History of Science and Technology Program, and the University Archives. The Bancroft Library's holdings include over 400,000 volumes, 32,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 3,500,000 photographs and other pictorial materials, 67,000 microforms, and 21,000 maps. The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collections, comprising an estimated 3.5 million items in a variety of media, documents and illustrates the history of the settlement of California and the American West. Scholars from all parts of the United States and the world make use of The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collections for the rich documentation of local history, emphasizing California and the West. In addition to important materials on aboriginal settlement, The Bancroft Library holds papers and family pictures relating to thousands of settlers in California and the American West, from the Spanish era to the present time (e.g., the Vallejo and Cooper-Molera families, James Phelan, Earl Warren).
    The Bancroft Library's pictorial documentation of early exploration is unparalleled and includes unique, original drawings and paintings that were made by official expedition artists accompanying the La Perouse Expedition (1769), the Malaspina Expedition (1791), Vancouver's Expeditions (1792 et al.), the Langsdorf Expedition (1806), the Rezanov Expedition (1816), and later American expeditions and surveys. The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collections also contain paintings, drawings, photographs, and other visual representations from the earliest recorded images to the present. The collection uniquely document the history of western North America, particularly from the western plains states to the Pacific Coast and from Panama to Alaska, with greatest emphasis on California and Mexico.
    The development of photography and the growth of the American West are chronologically parallel, which allows the Pictorial Collections to provide a complete panorama of settlement and expansion. Special emphasis is given to the California Gold Rush and 19th-century images of California transportation. Other major subject areas significantly represented in the collections include Yosemite and other wilderness areas; mining in California, Nevada and Alaska; the lumber industry; Native Americans in California; early exploration; California Missions; the Monterey Peninsula; vacation and leisure activities; major industrial projects (bridge and dam constructions, shipyards, etc.); World War II in California; Japanese American relocation; Chinese Americans in California; and immigrant labor. The Bancroft Library owns the first pictures ever made of San Francisco, Monterey, and countless other locations along the Pacific coast and Hawaii. One of Bancroft's greatest strengths in photography lies in the thousands of nineteenth-century images of California cities and towns. In the collections are found photographs by the famous, such as Eadweard Muybridge, C.E. Watkins, Edward Weston, George Fiske, Arnold Genthe, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, and Ansel Adams, by commercial photographers, such as San Francisco's Isaiah West Taber, and by hundreds of lesser-known California photographers who are just now beginning to be documented. Also of great historical and human interest are the thousands of photographs taken by amateur photographers over the past 140 years which provide researchers with an extraordinary insight into daily lives, personalities, and events.

    Scope and Content

    California Cornerstones is a selection of images from various collections in The Bancroft Library. The images have been organized by provenance; that is, they have been grouped around the individual or corporate body that created or collected the materials. Most come from collections of photographs, such as the William C. Barry Collection or the Frank B. Rodolph Collection. Some come from collections made up primarily of textual records. These, like the Henry J. Kaiser papers or the Sierra Club records, are large collections that include, in addition to photographs, materials such as correspondence, reports, minutes of meetings, diaries, and published pamphlets. A number of the oldest images have been reproduced from illustrations in published books, such as Georg von Langsdorff's Observations on a journey around the world, an account of an exploring expedition that visited the California coast in 1806. One particularly important source has been the Robert Honeyman Collection, an extensive group that includes paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs, most of which relate to the history of California in the 18th and 19th centuries.
    California Cornerstones contains images created by prominent photographers and artists, many of whom received international recognition for their work. These include early San Francisco photographers like Eadweard Muybridge, Isaiah West Taber, and Carleton E. Watkins. The work of Arnold Genthe is represented by one of his acclaimed portraits of the dancer Isadora Duncan, a native of San Francisco. There are also reproductions of prints by explorers of early California, such as Louis Choris and August Bernard du Hautcilly. More recent photography is represented by works of Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams. Images in California Cornerstones cover a range of subjects of great significance to the history of the state. Many document California's diverse population, including photographs of Native Americans, the Chinese American community in San Francisco, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The gold rush is represented in reproductions of daguerreotypes. The development of transportation can be seen in images of horse-drawn, rail, automobile, and air travel. Urban growth is depicted in images of 19th century cities. There are also a variety of genres present, including portraits, bird's eye views, and aerial photographs. There are portraits of people prominent in the state's cultural and political life, as well as people whose identities are unkown. And many locales are present, from San Diego in 1850 to turn-of-the-century Los Angeles to scenes from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.


    Following are short biographies of photographers, artists and corporate bodies responsible for the images in California Cornerstones.

    Browne, J. Ross (John Ross), 1821-1875

    Born in Ireland, [he] was brought to Kentucky age 11, and as a young man became a shorthand reporter for the U.S. Senate. His love of travel soon took him to a wide range of places and occupations, out of which came his diverse writings. His first major voyage, aboard a whaler in the Indian Ocean, resulted in Etchings of a Whaling Cruise (1846), influenced by Two Years Before the Mast. He next got an appointment in the Revenue Service, which took him to California on a voyage around the Horn and in time provided part of the material for Crusoe's Island... with Sketches of Adventures in California and Washoe (1864).
    After three months in California (1849) he found his post gone but got another for himself as official reporter of the Constitutional Convention that led to California's statehood. He next made a Mediterranean tour, reported in Yusef (1853), a volume of his text and witty drawings, anticipating Clemens' Innocents Abroadin its amused depiction of Americans and the foreign lands to which they traveled.
    Granted a government appointment to inspect federal custom houses, Browne returned to California (1854) and the next year moved his family to Oakland into a house later enlarged to become known as the exotic edifice, Pagoda Hill. In succeeding years he held other governmental posts, which led to reports (including "Indian Reservations" printed in Harper's, 1861) that exposed corruption and mismanagement and also revealed the complex causes of Indian wars in Oregon. The work also resulted in a book for the general public, Adventures in the Apache Country, a Tour through Arizona and Sonora with notes on the Silver Regions of Nevada (1869). Another federal appointment, as commissioner of mines and mining, led to further reports, was followed by his final governmental post, as minister to China (1868)...
    Hart, James D. A Companion to California. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 54.

    Choris, Ludovik Andrevitch, 1795-1828

    Ludovik Choris was born in the Ukraine, the child of German and Russian parents. He was educated in Moscow, and by age twenty had already become an experienced traveler in the Caucasus Mountains where he worked as artist-naturalist for Marshall von Biederstein, a German botanist. During the same year, 1815, Choris embarked on a new adventure when, as he later wrote, "the brig Rurik commanded by Captain Otto von Kotzebue, sailed from St. Petersburg for a voyage of discovery around the world. At scarcely twenty years of age, I went as draftsman with this expedition, the expenses of which were covered by Count Romanzoff, Chancellor of the Russian Empire... During the course of this voyage, which lasted three years, all the objects which struck my youthful imagination and my eyes were gathered and drawn by me, sometimes with the leisure permitted by an extended sojourn, sometimes with the rapidity made necessary by a short appearance." These drawings and studies were later arranged and mounted to serve as models for finished paintings and illustrations. His first set of illustrations, prepared for Kotzebue's report on the voyage of the Rurik, Entdeckungs-reise in Südsee, prepared for publication after their return to Europe in 1817, were disappointing in quality. Choris's unfamiliarity with the intaglio techniques of engraving, etching, and acquatint produced rather stiff and unattractive results, but after his move to Paris he continued his art studies. Having mastered the technique of lithography, a much more appropriate medium for the expression of his style, Choris prepared and published his Voyage pittoresque autour du monde in fascicles (1820). As he wrote later, "I reproduced, for the most part, characteristic portraits of the peoples visited by the Rurik, including their habitations, arms, musical instruments, and ornaments; and a few landscapes that I had drawn." The beauty and artistic quality of this work made it an immediate success, and in 1822 it was re-published in book form by Firmin Didot at Paris. The lithographic plates designed by Choris and printed by Langlum were supplied with or without added color, and The Bancroft Library is fortunate to own good examples of the volume in both states.
    Choris's final publication before his untimely death in 1828 was the rarely-seen Vues et paysages des régions équinoxiales, Paris (1826), based on expedition drawings which had not been used in the Voyage pittoresque... [In this work,] Ludovik Choris found new and inventive ways to combine narrative interest with detailed studies of anthropological subjects and botanical detail. It is much to be regretted that he lost his life to robbers less than two years later, while on the road to Vera Cruz; his work was not finished.
    Lawrence Dinnean Bancroftiana. No. 89. (August 1985), p. 5-6

    Fiske, George, 1835-1918

    One of the very best [of Yosemite's photographers of] the pioneer era was George Fiske. After a brief stint in Sacramento as a banker, the former resident of Amherst, New Hampshire, took up residence in San Francisco as a photographer in 1864. During the next two decades he perfected his art, and in 1879-1880 he became the first photographer to live in the spectacular Yosemite Valley through the winter season. With his 5-by-8-inch and 11-by-14-inch cameras, he produced a fine series of "winter wonderland" albumen photographs.
    Clearly enraptured by the valley's beauty and economic potential, Fiske and his wife built their home and studio on the valley floor in 1883. For the next 35 years, George Fiske wandered over the region with his wet and dry plate cameras, transported in a wagon, "cloud-chasing Chariot" (wheelbarrow) or, during the winter months, a sturdy sled. No other photographer had spent so much time in the valley or produced such a comprehensive pictorial interpretation. However, most of his great Yosemite landscape views, according to his biographers, were made between 1879 and 1887.
    Despite the generally fine quality of his work, Fiske did not receive the same acclaim as his contemporaries, Eadweard Muybridge and C.E. Watkins. Only in recent years has his memory been revived and his work applauded.
    Kurutz, Gary F. California State Library Foundation Bulletin. Number 23. (April 1988), p. 27, 29.

    Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942

    Genthe was born to a sophisticated academic household in Berlin. Although his first love was painting, the family's economic difficulties forced him to a plan a university career. He pursued classical literary studies in Germany and France, publishing a dictionary of German slang and writing a thesis on philology. He eventually found work as the tutor to the son of a German baron and a California heiress, and in this capacity he came to San Francisco in 1895. Deciding to stay on the Pacific Coast, he taught himself photography and created a noteworthy series of images of Chinatown (1896-1906).
    Eventually Genthe became an established portrait photographer. His clients included the city's wealthy families and visiting celebrities. His highly personalized style was considered both glamorous and artistic, and his work emphasized the most attractive elements of his subjects. After the earthquake of 1906 he recorded now-famous scenes of the burning city and the refugees from the fire.
    In 1911 Genthe moved to New York City and achieved great success with his images of Manhattan's social and artistic elite. Among his close friends was the innovative dancer Isadora Duncan, and it was Genthe's portraits that Duncan considered the most truly representative of her art. In 1925 he conducted an extensive photographic study of New Orleans, and he later went on photographic tours of the Far East and Latin America.
    His fame grew considerably in the 1920s, but by the late 1930s his aesthetic had become passé. At the time of his death he viewed contemporary trends in photography as "glorifying the ugly."
    Quitslund, Toby. Arnold Genthe : a pictorialist and society. (Exhibit program for the Oakland Museum, 1985).

    Hare, Alice Iola, 1859-1926

    Born Alice Iola Schnatterly in New Geneva, Pennsylvania, Mrs. Hare married James W. Hare in 1877. She had four sons, the oldest of whom, John, became a photographer working for various San Francisco newspapers. Her family moved to Santa Clara, California, in 1895, and then to Winton in Merced County in 1911. She spent her last few years in Berkeley, where she died.
    Hare was a very active woman who displayed a variety of interests throughout her life. Between 1895 and 1912 she worked as a amateur photographer, advertising in the business section of the Santa Clara News. Her photographs were exhibited and published in books, albums and magazines such as Camera Craft and Sunset Magazine.She was a member the Photographers Association of California.
    In addition to photography, she was involved in local community work. She helped establish the Santa Clara Women's Civic Improvement Club and others like it in the area. She was also interested in local history, as well as improving the appearance of neighborhoods and the state of education in her community. She produced a number of papers and articles on these subjects.
    At the end of her life Hare worked on her autobiography and wrote several short stories. Her obituary in the Berkeley Daily Gazette does not mention her photographic activity and refers to her as "A. Hare, Writer..." The core of Hare's photographic collection, together with her personal papers, is held by the Bancroft Library. Smaller collections of photographs can be found in the San Jose Historical Museum, the California Historical Society, and in the collection of historian Clyde Arbuckle.
    Palmquist, Peter E. Shadowcatchers: A Directory of Women in California Photography 1900-1920. (Arcata, Calif., 1991); Henry, Michael. "Alice Hare: Views of California Beauty" in Palmquist.

    Kuchel & Dresel

    A firm of San Francisco lithographers that flourished in the 1850s, made up of Charles Conrad Kuchel (1820-ca.1865) and Emil Dresel. They were best known for their series "Kuchel & Dresel's California Views," a group of lithographs depicting the state's towns and cities. These usually included smaller views of individual buildings or farms arrayed around the border of the main image. Many of these were printed by the firm of Britton & Rey.
    Charles Kuchel was a native of Zweibrüken, Switzerland. He came to the U.S. in the 1840s, living first in Philadelphia, where he worked for P.S. Duval, and by 1853 he was located in San Francisco.

    Lange, Dorothea, 1895-1965

    Lange was born in New Jersey in 1895. In New York she worked for photographer Arnold Genthe and studied under Clarence H. White. She came to California in 1918 and set up a portrait photography studio in San Francisco, eventually marrying the painter Maynard Dixon. Outside of her portrait studio, Lange specialized in social documentary photography, with the goal of social reform through portrayal of human hardship. Her early work includes photographs of San Francisco's Unemployed Exchange Association, documenting the state of urban laborers during the Great Depression. She is best know for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration, which included now-famous images of migrant laborers and farm families. These images were published in An American Exodus (1940) a work she produced with her second husband, the agricultural economist and social reformer Paul Schuster Taylor. During World War II she photographed the internment of Japanese-Americans by the War Relocation Authority. In each of these major documentary projects, Lange's sympathetic, candid, and revealing portraits are emotional expressions of the human side of historical events.
    Hart, James D. A Companion to California. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 230; Santa Barbara Museum of Art's Watkins to Weston: 101 Years of California Photography. (Niwot, CO : Roberts Rinehart, 1992), pp. 119-121.

    Langsdorff, Georg Heinrich von, 1774-1852

    Born in Wöllstein, Germany, Langsdorff studied in Göttingen with the anthropologist and naturalist Johann Blumenbach, receiving a medical degree there in 1797. After a journey through Portugal he accompanied Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov on the Russian expedition to Japan and Alaska in 1806.
    In Alaska Rezanov purchased the U.S. ship Juno and set sail for Spanish California. There the group stayed in the San Francisco presidio and toured the region surrounding the bay. Langsdorff recorded scenes from the entire voyage in detailed drawings, many of which were eventually made into engravings that appeared in his Bemerkungen auf einer Reise um die Welt (Observations on a journey around the world, Frankfurt, 1812). Langsdorff was later named Russian Consul-General at Rio de Janeiro, and there he participated in an extensive tour of the interior of Brazil.
    Hart, James D. A Companion to California. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 230; Joppien, Rüdiger. "Berich über eine sowjetische Konferenz zur Person des Entdeckers Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff". (Typescript, Bancroft Pictorial Collections Artists File).

    Muybridge, Eadweard, 1830-1904

    Born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston-upon-Thames, England, Muybridge came to the U.S. in the early 1850s and opened a bookstore in San Francisco in 1855. After being seriously injured in a fall from a stagecoach, he returned to England, where he turned to photography. He came back to San Francisco in the late 1860s and did photographic work for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
    Muybridge achieved great fame through his photographic studies of animal and human locomotion, published in such works as Animal locomotion (11 vols., 1887), and The human figure in motion (1901). His studies began in 1872 when he was hired by railroad magnate Leland Stanford to prove that all four hooves of a horse left the ground during a trot. In the course of these studies he invented devices to trip the shutters of a series of cameras in order to record animals in motion. He later developed a viewer called the zoopraxiscope, which allowed runs of motion photographs to be seen as if moving. These projects are now considered the forunners of modern motion pictures.
    Aside from his motion studies, Muybridge was known for the wide variety of photographs he took of scenes in California and western North America. These included stereo views of Alaska, Canada, California cities, Mexico, and Central America. He gained notoriety in 1874 when he murdered his wife's lover and was acquitted of the crime in a much publicized trial. After a period of exile he returned to San Francisco in 1876, and in the following two years he produced three massive panoramas of the City taken from Nob Hill.
    Harris, David. Eadweard Muybridge and the photographic panorama of San Francisco, 1850-1880. (Montréal : Canadian Centre for Architecture, c1993); Hart, James D. A Companion to California. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978),p. 292-293.

    Nahl, Charles Christian, 1818-1878

    Born in Germany, Nahl came from a family of prominent artists and craftsmen in Kassel. After moving to Paris in 1846, Nahl's family went to New York in 1849 and to California in 1850. En route through the Isthmus of Panama, Nahl sketched the scenes he saw along the way, one of which he used later for the painting "Incident on the Chagres."
    He tried his luck in the gold fields but eventually returned to art. He worked in Sacramento in 1851 and came to San Francisco in 1852. There, in addition to painting, he went into business in partnership with his half-brother Hugo. The brothers produced daguerreotypes and photographs and developed a reputation for fine lithography. They also specialized in souvenir stationary illustrated with pictures of the California mines.
    Nahl's style, a result of his training in Germany and Paris, was influenced by the romanticism then fashionable in Europe. In addition to his California scenes he painted historical subjects such as "The rape of the Sabine women," a series of three panels now housed in the M.H. de Young Museum. His mining scenes, especially "Sunday morning in the mines" (1872), were said to have been an inspiration for the stories of Bret Hart. Over the years Nahl developed a close association with the Crocker family, and many of his works were commissioned by Judge E. B. Crocker for his private art gallery.
    Neuhaus, Eugen. Charles Christian Nahl : the painter of California pioneer life. (San Francisco, 1937); Hart, James D. A Companion to California. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978).

    Narjot, Ernest Etienne, 1826-1898

    Born in Brittany, Narjot studied painting in Paris and came to San Francisco via Cape Horn in 1849. Although he devoted himself to prospecting for gold, he continued to paint. He went to Mexico with a mining expedition in 1852, and there he met and married his wife in 1860. Returning to San Francisco in 1865 he set up a studio on Clay Street and began to paint professionally. His best known works were his illustrations for Albert S. Evans's A La California : sketches of life in the golden state (1873), his "New Year's Festival in Chinatown," and a painting titled "The sacrifice of a Druid priestess."
    While painting the tomb of Leland Stanford, Narjot was allegedly blinded by drops of paint. He died destitute in a tenement on Vallejo Street in San Francisco. Many of his paintings were destroyed in the burning of the San Francisco Art Association following the earthquake of 1906.
    Dressler, Albert. California's pioneer artist : Ernest Narjot (pamphlet, 1936).

    Rodolph, Frank Bequette, 1843-1923

    Rodolph was a commercial photographer active in Oakland during the 1870s and 1880s. Born in Wisconsin, he and his family travelled overland to California in 1850. They settled first in Placerville and later operated a ranch on Cache Creek. Moving to Oakland in 1869, Rodolph attended business college and opened a stationary store on Broadway in partnership with his father. The store also sold school books and sheet music, and in the 1880s Rodolph began doing printing work as well. Many of his photographs were taken on his extensive travels throughout California.
    Based on an autobiographical sketch: Schlichtmann, Margaret. Materials concerning Frank B. Rodolph and the Rodolph family, [ca.1967-1968]. (Manuscript collection in The Bancroft Library).

    Taber, Isaiah West, 1830-1912

    Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Taber went to sea when he was fifteen and worked on whaling ships in the North Pacific. He came to California in the gold rush and, after brief careers in shipping, mining, and farming, returned to New Bedford and became a dentist. He soon turned to photography, however, opening a gallery in Syracuse, New York, and finally going back to California in 1864 at the inducement of the photographers Bradley and Rulofson. He worked for them until 1871, when he opened his own gallery on Montgomery Street. His highly successful business was well-known for portraiture and a vast stock of California and Western views --many of which were the unacknowledged works of other photographers. His career ended in 1906 when his entire collection of glass plates, view negatives and portraits on glass were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake and fire.
    Hart, James D. A Companion to California (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 439; Murray, W. H. The builders of a great city : San Francisco's representative men...(San Francisco : The Journal, 1891), p. 329-330.

    Vance, Robert H., 1825-1876

    A pioneering California photographer, Vance came from a prominent family in Maine and opened his first studio in Boston at age 19. He came to California via Cape Horn in 1851, and in San Francisco he established a successful portrait gallery. Later that year he recorded two of the city's devastating fires, and these and other images he brought to New York City for an exhibition titled "Views in California." Back in San Francisco, Vance set up an elaborate two-story gallery and studio at Montgomery and Sacramento Streets. In 1858 and 1859 he sent his partner Charles Weed into the field to document mining scenes on the American River and the scenery of Yosemite. It was through Vance that Carleton E. Watkins received his first training.
    By 1860 Vance had expanded his operations as far as Hong Kong, but losses from mining investments forced him to sell his San Francisco studio to the firm of Bradley & Rulofson. After operating another studio in Nevada he went to New York City and became a mining broker.
    Palmquist, Peter E. Robert Vance : pioneer in Western landscape photography.

    Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916

    Throughout his long and eventful life Carleton Watkins created a massive photographic record of California and the western U.S. He was born in Oneonta, New York, and there, in his youth, he met Collis P. Huntington, then a tin peddler. The two came to California during the Gold Rush and continued a life-long friendship that survived their divergent fortunes.
    Watkins' career in photography began when he met the San Francisco daguerreotypist R. H. Vance, who gave Watkins a job and taught him the rudiments of the trade. Watkins then opened his own studio in San Francisco in the late 1850s. In 1861 he travelled to Yosemite and made a series of photographs using a mammoth-plate camera. These began his long association with the Valley and earned him international recognition. His Yosemite work would later be instrumental in helping to preserve the area as a national park.
    In 1871 Watkins opened his Yosemite Art Gallery on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. Throughout the next two decades his activities multiplied, although his financial situation was severely weakened by the depression of the mid-1870s. His extensive travels throughout the West resulted in many celebrated series of photographs, including images of Oregon, the California missions, Southern California agriculture, the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the interiors of Montana copper mines, Yellowstone Park, and panoramas of Western towns like Virginia City.
    Beginning in the early 1890s Watkins's health began to deteriorate along with his economic well-being. Nearly blind and impoverished in the mid-90s, he was helped somewhat by the generosity of his friend Huntington, by then a multi-millionaire. A great blow came in 1906 when Watkins's equipment and his entire stock of valuable prints were destroyed in the fire following the San Francisco earthquake. The shock precipitated his mental breakdown, and he was finally sent by his family to the state hospital in Napa, where he died in 1916.
    Johnson, J. W. C. E. Watkins : pioneer Pacific Coast photographer. (Typescript [carbon] in The Bancroft Library).