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Yosemite 1938: On the Trail with Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe from the National Museum of Wildlife Art

May 30 - September 1, 2008


The Adams's album documents a wonderful excursion through Yosemite, but it is more than a typical photo album; it is a work of art in and of itself, carefully laid out and assembled by hand by Adams. The 48 photographs on 42 pages present highlights of the trip, with a fine combination of broad landscapes, earthy close-ups, and posed portraits. The album gives a clear sense of the journey, while it also reveals Adams's philosophy on photography, art, and life.

Adams, O'Keeffe, McAlpin, and the Rockefellers departed for the High Sierra on Sunday, September 11, 1938. With them came a pack-string of 14 mules, enough animal-power to haul all the camping, kitchen, and photo equipment, with a few extra mounts for those who wished to ride. The ten-day trip through the high country was not particularly arduous, outfitted as they were with plenty of blankets, food, and hired help. Assisting the group were local backcountry experts Al Kay, Alvin Rhode, Robert Barnett, and Lile Pierce, who assumed the duties of guiding, packing, unpacking, setting up camp, and cooking. Five campers with four hired hands is a luxurious ratio when it comes to wilderness treks. Adams had arranged everything with convenience in mind, so the campers could photograph, hike, or relax as the mood struck them.

It was reportedly quite cold on a number of evenings, particularly after the group climbed to 10,000 feet and camped near Tuolumne Pass. Ever positive, Adams recalled that everyone considered it a "prime adventure." Mornings began with hot coffee and a good breakfast. Adams was an early riser, who liked to be up with the sun so he could take advantage of dawn's dramatic light. During the day, the party made small excursions from their base camp or trekked to their next campsite. Gas lamps enhanced the light of the campfire at night and the party scheduled dinner for after sunset, to allow for more photography at dusk.

To have the group in Yosemite, seeing and appreciating the land that he loved, must have been uplifting for Adams. His later reports of the excursion are glowing. In his autobiography, he wrote, "O'Keeffe loved campfires and would stand close to them in her voluminous black cape, her remarkable features and her dark hair gleaming in the flickering light. She never seemed bored or tired and enjoyed every moment of the trip."

Yosemite 1938, the album and the trip, tell a number of important stories about Ansel Adams and his relationships with friends, patrons, artists, and nature. The photographs show us many of Adams's favorite spots in the Sierra, from the Tuolumne Meadows and the Cathedral Peak region, to his beloved Lyell Fork of the Merced River. Adams designed the excursion to show off Yosemite at its best for some of his best friends. He hoped that the restorative and spiritual power of Yosemite would affect his companions the way it had affected him. We will never know the conversations that happened around the campfire or be able to recreate the feeling of looking at Half Dome for the first time with Adams at our side, but we can experience the pleasure of looking through this album, a remarkable record of a singular journey through the Sierra with one of its greatest proponents.


Exhibition Related Programming

The exhibition will open with a reception at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 5, 2008 at the Rockwell Museum of Western Art.  Museum members are invited FREE of charge. The public is encouraged to attend; fee for not-yet-members. Reservations can be made by calling 607.974.2810 or by email at campbellp@rockwellmuseum.org.



(above: Ansel Adams, Unicorn Peak, 1938, Black and white photograph. National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, WY, Gift of Sarah S. and David H. McAlpin. Used by permission of the Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. All Rights Reserved)


(above: Ansel Adams, Echo Ridge, 1938, Black and white photograph. National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, WY, Gift of Sarah S. and David H. McAlpin. Used by permission of the Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. All Rights Reserved)


(above: Ansel Adams, Untitled (Helen Rockefeller), 1938, black & white photograph. Used by permission of the Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. All Rights Reserved)


Editor's note:

Yosemite 1938: On the Trail with Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe (8/10/06) contains wall texts and additional images

RL readers may also enjoy:

approximately 280 other Resource Library articles and essays citing Georgia O'Keeffe, including these selected texts:

online audio:

The National Gallery of Art offers on its web site O'Keeffe on Paper. Barbara Buhler Lynes, co-curator of the exhibition, author of Georgia O'Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné, curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and Emily Fisher Landau Director of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center, discuss new insights on the stunning watercolors, charcoals, and pastels presented in the exhibition of O'Keeffe's most innovative works on paper. Aired May 6, 2000. (description courtesy NGA)

online video:

The WGBH/Boston Forum Network includes a number of videos on Art and Architecture. Partners include a number of Boston-area museums, colleges, universities and other cultural organizations. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston partnered with the Forum Network for Modern Art in America, (43 minutes) in which Heather Cotter, Museum of Fine Arts Gallery Lecturer, gives an overview of the roots of American modern art using examples from the Museum's collection. This talk in the galleries of the Museum of Fine Arts investigates the foundations of modern art in America, focusing on works by Georgia O'Keefe, Arthur Dove, Charles Sheeler, and Stuart Davis. [September 28, 2003]

VHS videos:

Georgia O'Keeffe was produced by Perry Miller Adato in 1977 by WNET for The Originals: Women in Art series and distributed by the Educational Broadcasting Corporation. The video is 59 minutes long and is self-narrated by O'Keeffe. The artist talks candidly about her work and life, showing how nature and the mountains and desert of New Mexico figure prominently in her work. The video includes comments by sculptor Juan Hamilton, who was her assistant, and critics Barbara Rose and Daniel Catton Rich.

Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life in Art Adato, Perry Miller, producer and director. A 2002 video from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe. The Museum's orientation film created by the acclaimed, award-winning filmaker Perry Miller Adato. The film presents O'Keeffe's life and the origins and development of her art. VHS and DVD.

Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz 60 minute / 1998 / CTC - "Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe, companions in life and art in spite of a 23-year age difference, symbolize the juxtapositions characteristics of the American modernist period. In this program, Professor Wanda Corn from Stanford University uses O'Keeffe's paintings and Stieglitz's photographs to show the impact each had on the other's work and on the evolution of American art. Corn emphasizes the artistic collaboration between the couple and points out O'Keeffe's modernist style of abstraction in her use of strong form and color and unusual vantage point on a traditional subject. As O'Keeffe is influenced by her sojourns to New Mexico, so does her art consciously change in subject matter as a reflection of her strong artistic spirit and determination to reconnect with traditional America." Quotes are from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye is a 90 minute 2000 American Masters series WNET video directed by Perry Miller Adato. From the Back Cover: "Stieglitz, who is revered as one of the most innovative photographers of the 20th century, played a primary role in fostering new talent. Through his three galleries in New York City, he mentored emerging artists such as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter and Georgia O'Keeffe; and introduced avant-garde Europeans such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso.... This revealing look at "The Father of Modern Photography" features a rare interview with Georgia O'Keeffe, Stieglitz's wife and muse, as well as archival footage of other artistic giants he inspired, including Edward Steichen and John Marin. Additionally, the film presents countless images from the Stieglitz archives, ranging from early European peasant life to later views of New York's urban landscape." VHS/DVD


these additional Resource Library articles and essays concerning Ansel Adams and American photography:

more articles on American photography:

online video:

Master Photographers "ANSEL ADAMS" 4 of 6 part series - (1983) 32:52
Explore the gallery of legendary nature photographer Ansel Adams at the Detroit Institute of Arts. visitdetroit.com 1:58
Masters of Photography - Ansel Adams 3:12
Roy Firestone interviews Ansel Adams 5:54

and these videos:

Ansel Adams is a 100 minute 2002 American Experience PBS Home Video directed by Ric Burns and Narrated by David Ogden Stiers. From Warner Home Video. Ansel Adams's photographs have made him one of the most recognized and admired names in art. A staunch environmentalist, the pictures that Adams took reflected a larger world view the photographer held to strongly.

Ansel Adams, Photographer 60 minutes "This film captures the spirit and artistry of the man as he talks about his life and demonstrates the techniques that have made his work legendary. As Adams talks of the country he loves, viewers glimpse his photographs juxtaposed with the landscapes he photographed. In a conversation with artist Georgia O'Keeffe, Adams discusses his association with her husband, pioneer photographer Alfred Steiglitz." "Outlines the long and prolific career of American photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) as an artist, conservationist, and teacher. Follows him to the locations of his most famous photographs, including Yosemite." [2] By John Huszar. 1986 (available through Las Positas College Library)


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