ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Photographer, Environmentalist, American Icon
“Art is the Affirmation of Life”
At the time of Ansel Adams’ association with Chadwick School in early 1941, he was not an American “folk hero” as he is now remembered but rather a talented, pictorial photographer embarking on what would become his most productive decade.
Some of Adams’s accomplishments just before and after his short visit to Chadwick are worth noting. In 1940, Adams was the consultant to the first photography show “60 Photographs” held at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. That show was instrumental in establishing photography as a legitimate art form. That same year, he was the curator of the “Pageant of Photography” show at the Golden Gate International Expedition on San Francisco Bay, which millions of people would view.
While teaching at the Art Center School in Los Angeles (1941), Adams would reveal his “Zone System” that helped perfect better control in printing photographs. In the fall of 1941, the Department of the Interior would hire Adams to photograph the National Parks and in October of that same year, during a photographic trip through the Southwest, Adams would take his most famous photograph “Moonrise, -- Hernandez, New Mexico.” The fall of 1943, found Adams photographing the Manzanar Relocation Camp in the Owens Valley.
Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Seacliff section just south of the Presidio Army Base. His grandfather had been financially successful in the lumber business and was able to provide the family an upper class lifestyle, but by the time Adams’ father assumed control of the family business, times had become difficult and the family suffered severe financial reverses that they never surmounted.
Adams, an only child was very close to his father. His parents were quite progressive in their thinking and allowed Adams to drop out of school so he could be homed school and tutored. Although Adams only completed the eighth grade, his father saw to it that his son was tutored in Greek and gave him a season pass to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, held in San Francisco; the expectation being that Adams would spend each day taking in the various world exhibits. Soon, Adams discovered the piano and dreamed that he would become a concert pianist. His father also gave him a Kodak Brownie box camera and these two art forms, music and photography, along with his lifelong reverence for the Yosemite Valley, ultimately became Adams’ life long passions.
Through music, Adams learned self-discipline but he was also mentored by talented individuals older than he. The composer Henry Cowell was an early tutor. Cedric Wright was another early mentor who became a life long friend. The two had met at a joint family outing (Wright’s father was the attorney for Adams’ father). Although Cedric was some twelve years older than Ansel, they shared common interests in music (Wright was an accomplished violinist), photography, Yosemite, and the Sierra Nevada.
Throughout the 1920s, Adams pursued his dream to become a concert pianist, while working in Yosemite and making photographs of the Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada. In 1926, he married Virginia Best, the daughter of Harry Best, who was an early painter in the Yosemite Valley and owner of Best’s Studio. By the late 1920s, Adams realized that his dream to become a concert-pianist was unrealistic and would require many more years of study. With the encouragement of many early photographers who praised his photographic talents, Adams decided to abandon music as his primary career and to put his energy into establishing himself as a professional photographer.
Ansel Adams and Chadwick School
When Mrs. Chadwick founded her “home school” in San Pedro in 1935, little did she realize that within five years the school would be located in Rolling Hills on thirty-five acres, with 103 students and $150,000 in new buildings. For the fifth anniversary of the School, the Chadwick’s decided to create a new artistic catalog that would describe in words and supportive images their unique educational philosophy and vision.
In December, 1940, the Chadwick Board approved the concept and by March 26, 1941 it was reported that “progress” had been made on the new catalog. At a faculty meeting held March 10, a memo made mention under the section “New Yearbook and Catalog” of the name “Mr. Ansel Adams.” More than likely, Adams was employed by the school at the annual ski trip to Yosemite the first week of February.
Sometime in mid-March, Adams drove his 1940 Pontiac station wagon, with air conditioning, down to Chadwick to begin photographing the images needed for the new catalog. Based on the surviving negatives in the Ansel Adams Collection at the University of Arizona, Tucson, it would appear that Adams drove down from the Art Center School in Los Angeles via Vermont Blvd since he took several photographs of the Palos Verdes Hills from a distance via that direction.
Adams must have also offered to handle the production of the entire project because the printing was done in Berkeley at the Gillick Press (where he had had previous publications printed), and the typography/layout was done by Wilder Bentley who had worked on other projects with Adams’ including his 1938 book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. Interestingly, Wilder Bentley would later be a faculty advisor at the school in 1944.
In discussions with several surviving faculty members through the years who remember Mr. Adams, it is known that he stayed on campus for several days and sat at the head lunch table with the Chadwick’s. He probably stayed at the Chadwick home on campus that had several extra bedrooms and probably over the weekend since the Abalone Cove images would have been taken on a Saturday or Sunday during a recreation period.
Mrs. Chadwick mentions in her book A Dipper Full of Humanity that Adams set up the first dark room on campus which was located in Roessler Hall. Faculty meeting notes also mention that the School purchased a new enlarger and that $100 was appropriated for dark room supplies. More than likely Adams would have used the new dark room to print some of the photographic proofs that now survive in the Chadwick Collection.
The production run of the catalog was probably less than a 1,000 copies. A revised second edition was printed sometime later during the War. The original edition had an introductory page written by A.E. Hanson, the developer of Rolling Hills, and an early Chadwick Board Member. Since that page was removed in the second edition, it can be speculated that his company, the A.E. Hanson Company, paid for part or all of the first edition. The catalog would have been a wonderful sales tool for potential new residents to the Rolling Hills area.
The New Chadwick catalog was completed sometime before mid-July, 1941 because the surviving board minutes state that “Mrs. Chadwick commented on the favorable reception of the new catalog which has been prepared under the direction of Ansel Adams. It was moved and seconded that the Secretary be directed to convey to Mr. Adams and his associates the appreciation and gratification of the Board upon their splendid work in preparation of the catalog”
Adams returned to the campus in October, 1942 to photograph an exhibition tennis match. He must have been impressed with Mrs. Chadwick’s “Adventure in Education” because within a year several children from Yosemite Valley were attending the school as were the children of his close friend Cedric Wright.
CEDRIC WRIGHT (1889-1959)
Photographer, Musician, Poet, Naturalist, Teacher
“Cedric believed that any man’s spiritual horizon would be expanded through contract with nature, and his life was dedicated to this idea”
-- Ansel Adams
Much of what is know about Cedric Wright is based on the viewpoints Ansel Adams expressed through the years. Their lengthy friendship and similar interests paralleled their lives until Wright’s death in 1959. According to Adams, Cedric Wright’s greatest gift “was that of imparting confidence to those who were wavering on the edge of defeat and indecision.”
Although the Adams and Wright families were old friends, Ansel and Cedric re-acquainted in 1923 during a Sierra Club camping trip to the High Sierras. Their interest in music, photography, nature, the outdoors, and the Yosemite Valley assured unending discussions. Because Wright was twelve years Adams’ senior, he became a mentor to Adams and introduced Adams to an artistic world that otherwise would not have been easily accessed.
Wright was a concert violinist who earlier in the century studied six years in Prague and Vienna with Ottacar Sevick and Louis Persinger, the concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1915/1916. Wright later taught at Mills College in Oakland. He was known to have artistic “house parties” in the 1920s that the intellectual and artistic elite from the Bay Area regularly attended. Adams, as a young man, was introduced to that circle where he met many important contacts that would be influential in directing his career.
Undoubtedly a free spirit, Wright was financially comfortable which allowed him to pursue his varied interests without consideration for making a living. Adams did not have that luxury until his later years, and was somewhat disapproving of Wright’s undisciplined lifestyle. That life might have been undisciplined but it was a definite creative life force. For over thirty years, Wright was the un-official photographer of the Sierra Clubs’ annual outing to the Sierra Nevada. He photographed what he saw each day and at nigh time entertained the Club members with an impromptu violin solo around the campfire or a recitation from a poem he had written to express the beauty he had observed that day. Remarkably, Wright felt his music training was much more influential to his photographic work than anything he had learned through photographic journals —a musical composition was similar to a photograph just as a musical interpretation was similar to an original photographic print.
Wright never issued a photography book of his work during his lifetime. He did prepare a private publication in several versions that he titled Words of the Earth. It included some of his poetry supported by some of his photographic images of the Sierra Nevada. After Wright’s death, Adams proposed a commercial version of Words of the Earth and wrote a loving foreword to the publication that was designed by Nancy Newall, who had collaborated on many of Adams’ own publications. It was published by the Sierra Club in 1960.
Sadly, during the last years of Wright’s life, he suffered a series of strokes that impaired his vision. Never a person to be concerned with organization, Wright left his thirty plus years of un-cataloged negatives to the Sierra Club. His rich legacy as a teacher, poet, and mentor is largely forgotten. Regarding his photographic output? – Wright is the most undiscovered of Twentieth century photographers.
Cedric Wright and Chadwick School
Cedric Wright’s two children, Joanne and David, both attended Chadwick School and graduated in 1948 and 1951 respectively. During the 1947/48 semester year, he and his wife joined the Chadwick community with his wife teaching piano at the school temporarily. The Wright’s took up residence at the gate house above Abalone Cove directly across the street from the main Portuguese Gate. (One of the conditions for the school to use Abalone Cove in the early years was to have a gate keeper guarding the cove).
Unlike Ansel Adams, who was on the Chadwick campus for a very short time and for a specific purpose, Cedric Wright spent much more time at Chadwick campus and was able to capture a variety of images portraying everyday life at the school. He contributed the photos for a new series of remarkable post-war school catalogs that were designed in a landscape format and contributed extensively to the 1948 Chadwick Annual. In addition, he took a series of stunning photos of Chadwick students skiing at Badger Pass in Yosemite (1948).
In 1948, an exhibit of his work was shown at the Palos Verdes Library in Malaga Cove. It is assumed that some of the photographs displayed and signed by Cedric Wright for the exhibit were part of the collection now on display. Wright was known to have a marvelous sense of humor and his photographs often reflected some of that humor. Perhaps the photo of the young men on the outdoor basketball court suspended in the air is an example of that humor.
Sometime in the mid-1950s, Wright graciously donated his mounted photos of the school to Mrs. Chadwick along with a set of smaller duplicate images. Written on the outside of the small envelope in his hand were the words “Your copies, photos from long, ago.” Mrs. Chadwick retained the photos throughout her lifetime. They were returned to the school in the mid-1980s.